Students experience "Encounters with Canada"

By Amber Zirnhelt
Columneetza Senior Secondary
Williams Lake, British Columbia

I really didn't think it was possible to visit all of Canada in just seven days until I took part in Encounters with Canada.

Encounters with Canada is a program which brings youth ages 15-17 from every province and territory in Canada to Ottawa for a week. During their stay at the Terry Fox Center in Ottawa, participants meet youth from all the regions of Canada and learn all about our country and the capital. Each week, Encounters with Canada offers a different theme such as Science and Technology, Law, Sports and Recreation, Art and Culture, and Journalism and Communications.

The centre block of Parliament Hill,
as viewed from the Ottawa River

During our stay in Ottawa, we visited Parliament Hill where we went on a guided tour of Parliament, sat in the Senate, and witnessed a question period in the House of Commons. We visited the Museum of Civilization where many of us watched the Omnimax show, "Everest". While we were there, we explored the history and traditions of different cultures through incredible exhibits. We even saw real mummies from Egypt.

At the National Art Gallery, we observed art work from world famous artists including my favourite Canadian artist Emily Carr, and impressionists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, and Monet.

I chose the theme "Journalism and Communications". The main highlight of the Journalism theme was visiting the National Press Gallery and talking to several members of the Board of National Directors. We were also able to take part in various workshops on freelance writing, television production, media relations, and radio broadcasting.

My favourite workshop was the freelance writing workshop. During that session, we learned that the art of being a good writer and communicator is to accumulate as much life experience as you can and to take risks. By meeting all types of people, you will hear many different views and opinions, so you are less likely to be biased. Another important characteristic of a good journalist is being curious and analytical.

For people who are interested in going in to the field of journalism, the members of the Board of National Directors recommended that you are fluent in a minimum of two or three languages. Also, it's important to have a strong academic background in whatever field you want to go into and report on. After all, how can journalists inform the public of an issue if they don't have any background in the area they are writing about?

The experience of Encounters with Canada was great. For many of the participants, it was their first time seeing Ottawa. Ottawa is a gorgeous city with incredible architecture. Many of Ottawa's buildings such as the Parliament Buildings and the church of Notre Dame are very old and detailed.

For myself, and the majority of the other youth taking part in Encounters with Canada, it wasn't the workshops and activities, the traveling or seeing Ottawa that made the trip so incredible -- it was the people. At the beginning of the trip nobody knew anybody, and by the end of the trip we had made friendships to last us a lifetime. Even the shyest people were outgoing because everyone felt equal. We all came from different places and different backgrounds, which brought us close together.

The only downfall to Encounters with Canada was the greasy cafeteria food. After a week of it, a fresh garden salad tastes delicious!

Encounters with Canada is sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion and in most provinces, by the Ministry of Education. If you are interested in taking part in Encounters with Canada talk to your school guidance counselor, or get in contact with the legion. After my experience in Encounters with Canada, I would definitely recommend it to other teens.


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