Editor’s note: The following story was submitted by Yasmin Zadunaisky, a Grade 10 student at Sands Secondary in North Delta and aspiring journalist.
The clock seemed to tick faster than the days passed. One month left. Fifteen days. One week. One day. Before I could even comprehend what I was getting myself into I was on an airplane, sending myself to the other side of the country for a program with a lot of other like-minded individuals.
I was going to Ottawa for a one-week stay at the Terry Fox Canadian Youth Centre for a program called Encounters with Canada. I had heard about it in my school announcements and then found out more from a few teachers who had also mentioned it. After deciding I wanted to go, I was told to write an essay on why.
A week after I completed it, I found out it was official, I was in.
Now what is Encounters exactly? Every year, youth across Canada between the ages of 14 to 17 have the opportunity to travel to their nation’s capital, where they take part in various Canadian excursions and cultural activities such as visiting Parliament Hill. A thematic element of your choice is also available, depending on the week you choose to travel.
I was lucky enough to be able to get the first week of the entire 2018-2019 school year, doing “Arts and Culture.” Because of this, I was able to head to Ottawa the week before the start of school and come back home just in time to tell everyone all about it.
The crowd coming from the Vancouver area to Encounters was a rather large one, to say the least. Upon arrival, we all seemed to stick with our little groups that we met on the plane. This did not last very long. Soon, we all began to mingle and learn more about our respective cities and towns. It didn’t take very long for me to learn that a city of 90,000 isn’t small, and a school of 800 isn’t either. Many kids I met at the centre came from very rural communities and had very different daily realities.
Like anybody, I did feel quite uneasy on that first day. It had been my first time on an airplane without my parents and now I was arriving somewhere where I wouldn’t know anybody or the routine that lay ahead of me. I prayed I would have a good time and remained calm, knowing that the best was ahead.
Having arrived on Saturday rather than Sunday, my first one and a half days at the centre were slow and uneventful. However, by Sunday afternoon all of the 130-plus kids had arrived and we began icebreaker games. Things picked up by Monday and we were off to parliament, followed by a guided tour of Ottawa and workshops on Tuesday, a museum visit and workshops on Wednesday, etc.
Perhaps one of my favourite parts of the entire trip was Tuesday evening when we did a little something called “Vignettes of Canada.” Here, we split up by province or territory to make a little skit about why you should come to visit each one. There is nothing funnier or more entertaining than promoting your province and also lightheartedly making fun of it along the way.
One of the most important parts of having participated in Encounters was probably the lifelong friendships that I made with people that live both 10 minutes away as well as maybe a five-hour plane ride away. I learned about the diversity of our country and how different, yet so similar, we all are. It also gave me a small sense of independence, as I learned to navigate an airport on my own and not depend on somebody else to make my bed.
As I return to Sands for Grade 10 and continue my regular life, I will constantly think of Encounters and the memories I’ve made, as well as the things I’ve learned. It is something that will always be in the back of my mind. Many teens hear about Encounters at their schools but do not make an effort to take part or care very much. I say that if you hear about it, you should find out more ways to get involved. If Encounters isn’t mentioned at your school, I would definitely recommend asking about it.
You have the opportunity. Why miss it?