(If you just want to see pretty Ottawa photos, keep scrolling because there are a few throughout. If you are actually interested in my life, read on.)
Nearly a year ago I went to Ottawa for the first time. My teacher had told our class about Encounters With Canada years ago, and I had been wanting to go for a year or two before I could sign up. Me and my friend signed up for the Science and Tech week, partially because of my love of Sherlock. I went and had an amazing time, and knew I had to go again. I had met so many amazing people, and the city was amazing. So a few months later when it was brought up again in class I signed up with two of my friends to go to the Arts and Culture week.
The week before the trip was a big wake up call for me. I had nothing packed, I hadn’t made a packing list, I had no idea what I needed to buy, and I still hadn’t found a new pair of boots. I freaked out at like 2am exactly a week before we left, and spent a few hours trying to make a complete packing list. (It wasn’t complete – I forgot a towel.)
I figured everything out eventually and had nearly everything together the night before we left. I had to participate in a haunted house that night, so I couldn’t double check my bags, but I thought I did okay. (I blame the haunted house on my lack of a towel.)
The day we left I spent some time at the mall with my parents and one of my sisters and grabbed some last minute things. I said my last goodbyes to everyone, made a few jokes about the plane crashing, then we left.
My friends hadn’t traveled alone before, and neither had been in a plane for years, so I was the guide. Airports are my favorite place to be, so that day was a good day. I could honestly live in an airport. I’m hoping that’s a sign that I’ll find a way to spend a lot of time in airports in the future. (Maybe travel blogging full time? That sounds nice.)
We got to the center and settled in. It was really late, so not many people were awake which was really nice. I remembered that Saturday night didn’t have a curfew, so I told my friends to meet me in the lounge downstairs after they unpacked. We got down there and met with four other people throughout the night, three of whom we spent the rest of the week with. We played cards all night, and that was honestly the highlight of my trip. All four of those people were pretty great.
(I think I’m being long winded here, so I’m going to divide the rest of this post be day and try to be a bit less detailed.)
Lots of people were still arriving, so there wasn’t anything planned until after supper. I spent the day with my new friends playing cards and ping pong. I met a few new people, but I didn’t get really close to anyone. After supper, we did some ice breakers, then had our first group meeting. At Encounters everyone is divided into six groups, and your group dictates things like what bus you take to different activities. We had assigned seating this time, which took a lot of the stress away. I sat between two people who knew each other already, but they were both super nice. We went over the next day’s activities and worked on memorizing names, then we were sent to bed. NOTE TO ANYONE GOING TO ENCOUNTERS: The showers kind of suck, but the downstairs one is okay. Bring your own pillow and blanket, both of the ones given to you are a bit thin. And don’t toss and turn, the beds are really squeaky.
We got to attend the media literacy week at the Nature Museum. We did workshops with Instagram, Twitter, Shopify, and one other company
that I forget the name of I’m really sorry. It was a really interesting event, and I’m really glad that I had the chance to go.
After that, we visited the Parliament. Usually Encounters participants have a group photo taken on Parliament Hill, but there was a protest going on, so we took it on the steps of a beautiful building that was nearby. We got to go to the question period in the House of Commons, and I can now say that I’ve seen Justin Trudeau debate. It was a crappy debate where neither advanced at all, but it’s still something.
Monday was HALLOWEEN!!! We were expecting to trick or treat at Trudeau’s and at the governor-general’s houses, but for some reason that didn’t happen. We went to a rather disappointing haunted house at the governor-general’s yard, then went home. It was pretty sad, but at least there was a bit of candy involved! After that, I think I watched some people play ping pong then went to bed.
In the morning a man came in and gave us a presentation called Foundations of Canada. He was a First Nations man and told us the First Nations creation story. It wasn’t a bad presentation, but I was too tired to really get into the whole repeat-after-me-and-do-the-hand-motions-thing. The story itself was interesting, though.
Later that day I did a workshop on animation. My group made a short movie using a sand table, which was really fun. We made a really strange story about a worm who falls in love with the spider, but the spider cuts him in half but the worm is still alive because worms can do that and the worms make a heart together because it’s like they were introduced to a long-lost worm brother bu then the worms become a spider and the love interest spider falls in love with the worm spider thing and everything is happy. God, I miss the people that helped me come up with that.
The last activity that day was called Vignettes of Canada. That’s when everyone is divided by province and we have to make a short play about our province. It was a lot like you’d expect – The Saskatchewan and Manitoba people begged tourists to come to them, the Albertans trashed ourselves, the New Brunswick kids talked about potatoes… I think Canada is the only country where all of the stereotypes really fit!
Wednesday started with a guided tour of Ottawa, and a bit of Montreal. I’ve taken this tour before so I didn’t really pay much attention but being able to just sit and take in the sights was really nice.
After lunch, I did a workshop on making felt. I wasn’t really excited about this, I only signed up because it was the least terrible of the options. It could have been worse, I suppose. I doubt I’ll be going into felting for a living, though.
After supper we did a Peace Module, where a veteran came in and showed us a slideshow and talked to us for a bit, then we went to a cemetery where a lot of veterans are buried and did a candlelight ceremony. It was a really good opportunity to give our thanks to those who served. A few people were walking right over where the veterans were buried and I honestly wanted to smack them. If you’re going to be in a cemetery, especially where veterans are buried, please walk right beside the backs of the headstones of the row in front of you. It’s the least you can do to honor them.
Le R came in to do a mini concert for us at the end of the day. He was a french rapper, and honestly? He sucked.
The first thing scheduled for Thursday was theater workshops. I’m really introverted, so that didn’t sound good for me. We went to some arts school and it turned out that I was in a group with the two friends that I came here with, which was comforting. It really was a shame that the theater people took the comfort and shredded it when we were divided into smaller groups and I wasn’t with either of them. The girls I was put with were really nice, though, and I made it through the day.
We got to spend some time at the National Gallery of Canada. I accidentally got split up from my friends really early on, but it was actually a lot better to go through that gallery alone. It gave me time to reflect on each exhibit without feeling obligated to talk to other people. I really enjoyed a giant exhibit of photography from Josef Sudek. His photography was really beautiful, I would recommend googling him.
We got to pick what activity we wanted to do this night. I was going to go to a Vancouver vs. Ottawa hockey game, but I wanted to get back early so I went to the Canadian Museum of History. We saw an Imax movie about sharks, then got Beaver Tails. I can’t eat Beaver Tails, so that kind of sucked, but all in all it was a good night.
This was the last day of the trip. Cue the tears. We got to spend the morning and some of the afternoon downtown. It was the only part of the week where we could really do whatever we wanted, so that was nice. Me and my friends were going to spend it trying to find some obscure coffee shop or something, but it was pretty chilly so we just went to the mall with most of the group.
After that we had quite a bit of free time, then our last group meeting and the banquet. The last meeting was pretty bittersweet since I didn’t talk to my group friends enough to really be friends with them, but I really liked them. The banquet was nice, but it was really just a normal meal with a lot of dresses and some tablecloths on the tables. We had a variety night a bit later, which was actually really good since it was Arts week and everyone was talented. One girl performed a really powerful piece of poetry that she wrote about one of her friends dying of cancer, and I really struggled to not cry. One of my friends rapped, and he was actually really unexpectedly good. You should have seen everyone’s faces when he started. And for a grand finale, someone got on stage and put her whole fist into her mouth. It was a good time.
The last thing we did before our dance was the talking stick circle. Everyone gathered in the cafeteria, sat in a circle, and had a chance to say whatever they wanted without the adults around. It started with people just saying things about how they enjoyed the week and that they were really glad that they met certain people, but it got really personal really fast. One guy talked about how he’s trans, but his parents are super unsupportive, so he has his birth name on his nametag and he has to sleep in the girl’s dorm. One girl came out as pansexual to everyone, including her home friends, at once. One of my group friends talked about how he should have died during a surgery a while ago. One of my friends talked about having a family that doesn’t really like him, and about how his dad, who was his best friend, died when he was little. My best friend talked about having suicidal thoughts and about one of her friends being diagnosed with cancer just hours earlier. It was really emotional and really hard to hear about friends going through those things, but it helped everyone feel a little closer to each other. I only wish that I would have said something that mattered.
Then came the dance. Everyone’s sob stories were forgotten as we danced the night away. I accidently wore a sweater and couldn’t get to my clothes so I got really really sweaty, but it could have been worse. We had a good time until it was time to go. I only really had one close friend to say goodbye to, so I actually didn’t cry. The one thing that I really loved about that week was that it was 90% girls, so even though I only had one close friend that I was leaving behind everyone was hugging me. Honestly, I almost cried just because I’m not really used to everyone being that nice to me.
I took my first flight with the other two new good friends I made, and I went all the way home with one of them, as well as the two friends I came with. The bitter goodbyes were spaced out, so it wasn’t so bad. I’m seeing one of my new friends next weekend, one of them lives half an hour away from me, and the other lives close to a city that I visit once or twice a year, so I’m not that sad. At least we’re all close to each other.
I’m just going to apologize for using this blog as a diary again, and THANK YOU to anyone who read this to the end. It’s nice to have a place to get these feelings out since I’m not very good at journaling. If you’re going to Encounters in the future I really hope that this post helped you know what to expect, both with events and emotions. If you’re a Canadian student in grades 9-12 I really think you should check this program out. It sounds cheesy, but it’s really a life-changing experience.
Thanks again to those who read this all. You people are the real champions.