Ottawa is a beautiful city rich with history, heritage, and culture, all of which I was fortunate enough to experience and discover a month ago. In Ottawa I participated in a youth program called Encounters with Canada, which is a government-sponsored weeklong program open to Canadian high school students. Each week has a theme that focuses on different real-world occupations and opportunities, and participants sign up for a theme week based on their interests. The program presents the participants with the opportunity to learn about their chosen topic in a fun, interactive way, while also experiencing the city of Ottawa.

Encounters with Canada changed me and changed my life, and to date, possibly might have been the best week of my life. For a year I had been looking forward to this trip, then all of a sudden, it was happening. I remember that I was full of nervous and excited energy before departing the Vancouver International Airport. It was my first trip alone and I was going to a city on the other side of the country without my family and I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that it would be an incredible experience. It definitely was.

The theme week that I chose was Science and Ecology and the activities we did as a part of our week were quite fun and interesting. We spent a day at the St Lawrence River Institute catching fish and invertebrates, and then learning how to tag the fish and looking at the invertebrates under microscopes. We also tested water samples for acidity and temperature among other things and discovered some Ontario trees. The next day we travelled to Montebello, Quebec, for a wildlife safari at Parc Omega. I’ve never seen most of those animals in real life before and it was really cool to be so close to them. Speakers were also brought into the Terry Fox Canadian Youth Centre where we were staying and we learned about conservation, the environment, and wildlife.

One of the best things of the whole experience was meeting new people from all over the country and becoming friends with many of them. After one week I now have friends in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, more places in British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory. One thing I love to do is make friends with people who live in other places. Some of our lifestyles are so different and I found it very interesting to learn about them, it gives me a new outlook on my own life. For example, I always considered my school to be small at around six hundred students, and it is for the North Shore, but when I met people who lived in towns of two hundred it really gave me a new perspective on what small actually can be. The biggest difference I found to be was that of my North Vancouver coastal life compared to that of my friends in the prairies, many of whom live on ranches on the outskirts of small towns. A month later I am still discovering new things about my country from friends in other provinces, and even different regions of British Columbia.

Encounters with Canada is a bilingual program and this enables students to be exposed to both of the country’s official languages. It provides an opportunity to learn and improve one’s French or English communication skills. In my case it helped to improve my French, which I am proud to say because I love the French language and I want to become fluent in it. I made some new friends from Quebec and New Brunswick and spoke with them a bit in French, and now we keep in contact by texting in French.

One of the biggest sponsors of the program is Historica Canada, so on the last day we did activities involving Canadian Heritage Minutes, watching existing ones and coming up with ideas for new ones. We visited museums, monuments, and other important buildings. The first day we toured the Parliament Building and learned about its history and the history of our government. Another historical aspect of Encounters was Wednesday’s Peace Module, when we listened to Canadian veteran Major Wayne McCulloch speak about his peacekeeping career and then after we went to Beechwood Cemetery for a candle-lighting ceremony. Being there amongst many of the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting for Canada in World War made me feel something I can’t explain, a sense of sadness and regret, but also thankfulness and patriotism. It is a deeper feeling, a more meaningful awareness that can’t come from learning about the wars from a textbook.

Travelling to different places and meeting people from other regions of Canada is a great way to learn about the country. Ottawa has so much historical and current importance to the development of our country. I certainly learned more about Canada, especially in regards to politics and culture, by visiting and touring the city in person. I am very thankful that I had an opportunity to participate in such a valuable program like Encounters with Canada because it helped me gain appreciation for our large and wonderfully diverse country and its heritage. The best advice that I can give to someone who would like to learn more about our country, or really any country, is to get out and meet new people and see new places. The experience is life changing and eye opening, and one that you will remember forever. It also helped me feel more connected to my fellow Canadians and to my country for having had this incredible experience



By Siobhan