Interview – Roberto Calfat, Loonie cultural interchange agency

By Arthur Vianna

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Among the destinations most sought after by Brazilian students last year, Canada holds the lead. One in four students considered Canada as the best country to study abroad. Likewise, Canada has been one of the most researched countries by Brazilians interested in living outside Brazil. To meet this demand, two Brazilians with a lot of experience regarding everything Canadian, have set up a company in Toronto called Loonie. To talk about Loonie Canada, Wave went to talk to one of its partners, Roberto Calfat.

Wave – What led you to create Loonie Canada?

Roberto Calfat – Among other activities, I was an entrepreneur in Brazil in the real estate business. The typical multi task curriculum, which has its value in Brazil, but here in Canada is worthless. In 2014, I moved to Canada because my wife got transferred by the company she works for. I was studying English at this time and I was already thinking about starting a business here. Talking to a principal at a large English school here, he told me that, in his opinion, there was room for a serious agency with a differentiated service. Right then I became interested in the subject. Luiz Almeida, nowadays my partner, had already been living here for 20 years and was an executive of a multinational company, but also had the desire to start something new. In a conversation, he told me that he had already had experience in the education market here and that he liked it a lot. And so, he proposed that we should open an agency together.

Wave – What differentiates Loonie in relation to the competition, especially to the agencies located in Brazil?

Roberto Calfat – Loonie knows what it sells inside out. We only work with Canada, and that’s precisely why. From English schools and High Schools to Colleges and Universities. In the event of an emergency we’re physically here to help out, whatever it takes. Agencies in Brazil sell Canada, the USA, Malta, Australia, Europe, etc. There is no way for those assistants to know what they are selling. At most, they did one or two exchanges at one of these places.

I would like to divide the rest of this answer into two parts:

1. English. As I mentioned, we are well acquainted with all the schools we work with. We make a point of everyone who comes to work at Loonie, spending some time visiting and talking to the key people at these schools. Consequently, we know each one’s profile well and we are able to identify and compare the profile of the student with that of the school. We do not force the sale of a particular school just because it pays more commission, a highly common practice in the market. We offer the school that we believe the student will identify with most. In fact, for a long time the school we sold the most was the one that paid us the least.

2. Colleges and Universities – Most of our students nowadays are looking for Colleges considering future emigration. I believe that for these people, Loonie is not playing the role of a “course salesperson.” In these cases, Loonie “sells” the labor market. We spend hours with the client understanding their previous work experience and talking about the different profiles and markets that exist here.

We explain that, in certain cases, the person’s profession in Brazil does not work here and vice versa. And about the differences, similarities and costs of living between the various cities, like Toronto, Hamilton, London, Waterloo, etc.

An important detail: Loonie doesn’t charge the student a penny. Many agencies charge “administrative fees” or consulting fees. We do not charge anything. We are paid 100% by the schools.

Wave – What services can Loonie provide to Brazilians?

Roberto Calfat – We are basically educational consultants with a strong bias towards the local labour market. We offer anything from high schools and summer English camps for teenagers, to English courses, which can range from 2 weeks to 1 year. Even colleges and universities.

We also help our students with accommodation, whether in Homestays or student residences, and we also partner with Realtors for families wishing to move here. In the case of families, we help explain the cities, where it is good, where it isn’t good, characteristics of the various neighbourhoods in Toronto, introduce these families to the banks to open accounts and some other services according to each student or family’s needs. And we also offer health insurance.

Wave – In your opinion, what are the reasons that, today, Brazilians prefer to study and / or live in Canada?

Roberto Calfat: In this regard, I think Trump has helped us a lot. Nowadays Canada is a more viable option than the US, especially for those seeking to study with a view to emigrating in the future. Another thing is that Brazilians have always been attracted to the US and I feel that this is changing a little, or a lot. Canada is increasingly in people’s minds because there are many articles and research on quality of life and we are always in the top positions.

Even for those who want to study English, it is easier here in comparison with our southern neighbour. To give you an idea, a huge number of English schools there have closed their doors over the last year. In some cases, there was a drop of over 40% in the number of enrollments in these schools. That’s huge!

Unfortunately, we all know the crisis Brazil has been going through in recent years. I think this is a factor, but not the only one. There are many professionals who want to improve their English so that they can fare better in the job market, which is highly (and will become increasingly) competitive. Same with post-graduate cases.

An interesting factor: if you are from a smaller city and want to go to college in Brazil, you will probably move to a capital, state or a larger city than where you live. In these cases, especially if we are talking about cities like São Paulo, Rio, Salvador, in other words, big capital cities, the living costs will be very high. Add to that the amount paid for the studies. Now imagine this student coming to a college in Canada, a city or province with a low cost of living, such as New Brunswick, which has excellent universities and colleges. If you do your math properly, you will see that coming here to live and study, can cost almost the same amount as living and studying in a large city in Brazil. And if this student graduates here, with a diploma from a high-end, top institution, he will end up fluent in English and will return to Brazil with a huge advantage over his competitors when applying for a job.

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