Monday, 2 April 2012

That Forum magic...

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Forum for Young Canadians, a program aimed at academically-inclined students, aged 15-19.  Students had the opportunity to go to Ottawa for a week to learn about government and politics through elections and cabinet simulations, policy group discussions and through a series of speakers  ranging from The Honourable, Andrew Scheer, M.P. Speaker of the House of Commons, to Peter Stoffer, M.P. for Sackville-Eastern Shore, to parliamentary pages.  We toured Rideau Hall and had the opportunity to briefly meet the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, and we also had tours of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate.  What was my role in all of this?  Unfortunately, I am well past the age of being able to attend as a student, but, I got to do the next best thing.  I was a group leader!  I was primarily responsible for a group of 12 students, we were Group #6, (out of 144 students total) and it was my job to guide the students through their simulations, chaperone on the various tours, translate between French and English and help the students in any other way that was required.  So, in honour of last week, I would like to take a bit of time to recap my thoughts on the experience as well as how my IBS was affected for the duration. 

Let me start off by saying that I had the most amazing time ever.  I found out last minute that I was attending, as there were more students than originally anticipated, so more group leaders were required.  I left for Ottawa on Friday afternoon, straight from work to catch my plane.  On Saturday all the group leaders met for the first time for our training session.  We were a mixture of Francophones and Anglophones from coast to coast, but all of us are bilingual.  It was a jam-packed day that ended with a slight feeling of information-overload; I felt a strong desire to brush up and study before the arrival of the students. 

Students began to arrive on Sunday, therefore, our day was devoted to travelling back and forth to the airport via school bus to greet the students.  We were there as they descended into the baggage claim area, all of us apprehensive about the week ahead and excited that it was finally beginning.  I probably introduced myself to half the airport that day, welcoming travelers to Ottawa, only to find out that many of them were not Forum participants.  But, as with everything else last week, I quickly learned to go with the flow and not get hung up on slight glitches.  Sunday evening the students found out who was in their group and we had our first group meeting.  My group consisted of 11 Anglophones, two of whom were bilingual, and one Francophone, who did not speak English.  To say that I was intimidated about the week ahead is an understatement.  How was I going to create a comfortable group dynamic when everyone could not communicate with each other?  The answer?  Translation.  One of my most important jobs for the week became the creation of an atmosphere conducive to discussion and camaraderie.  It was my desire to ensure that everyone felt comfortable, that everyone knew what was going on and most importantly that everyone could learn from this experience as they had all intended to.  I did not want my student to be at a disadvantage because he only spoke French.  In the same token, I did not want any Anglophones to be at a disadvantage because they only spoke English.  In conclusion, this was the perfect opportunity to exercise my second language skills!  And oddly enough, it worked out great!  My Francophone student wrote me a note to thank me for the translation throughout the week and even mentioned that he now has the desire to learn English as a result of this experience.  I consider this to be a great success, I emphasized all week how important second language acquisition was and how helpful it could be in their future. 

In terms of how the rest of the week went, well, it flew by, there is really no other way to describe it and I am shocked and saddened that it has already come to an end.  I met so many amazing people at Forum, but the most important of those are my 12 kids, we had a great group dynamic and we really stuck together and got along throughout the week.  Thank goodness for this, otherwise, the week would have been excruciating.  I cannot even begin to describe how busy the week was; breakfast began at 7am and the group leaders had a meeting right after curfew, this normally lasted until 12:00am or 12:30am.  The students had virtually no downtime; we had back-to-back activities scheduled each day.  But, they were all troopers, they were able to handle it and I think eventually everyone just got used to functioning on no sleep. 

I learned a lot this week, and I am quite certain the kids did as well, but the group leaders likely learned as much as the students.  The biggest eye opener for me was how intelligent and driven these kids are.  I met one student who is hell-bent on becoming Prime Minister, he has it all planned out, down to his party platform.  When I think about myself at the age of 16 I am pretty certain my deepest thoughts consisted of giving cute boys nicknames so that we could talk about them in the hall at school.  I certainly read a lot, but more along the lines of Jane Eyre rather than pieces of legislation.  He asked if I ever wanted to be Prime Minister, I said no, never, and I never will, but I would keep an eye out for him as he comes up the ranks.  In all seriousness though, some of our country’s future leaders were definitely in attendance at Forum.  They had a keen interest in politics and government and were both inquisitive and opinionated.  They were certainly not afraid to share their opinions or question others.  I was also impressed by the support that they showed for one-another as well as to us as group leaders.  By the end of the week I was crying on the phone with my husband at the thought of leaving the kids, and then I cried when I told the students that I would miss them.  And then I cried when they said that they would miss me too.  And then I cried when they wrote me sweet notes.  And then I cried when they took pictures of me ugly crying.  And then I cried when they had to leave.  And then I cried when I had to leave.  And then I had a glass of white wine on the plane… and then a few more when I got home. It was like my wedding day all over again.  I was mentally, physically and emotionally drained.  Did I mention we had to take the stairs the whole time we were there?  My room was on the fourth floor, my meeting room with the students was on the eighth floor, and the meeting room for staff was on the twelfth floor.  My mantra for the week was: buns of steel, buns of steel.  So, in response to the burning question: no, I did not go running this week.  There was a run scheduled the first morning at 6:00am, ha! good joke.  I am not a morning person, nor could I ever have dragged myself out of bed any earlier than I did last week, so instead, I kept walking, and sometimes running, up those stairs.  So today, as a tribute to Forum, I made my way up the seven flights of stairs to my office, and then back down at the end of the day. 

I guess the other question about this week would be, how did I do with my IBS?  Fantastic.  Shock of my life!  I visited the loo as many times last week as I did today.  Why is this?  I would love to know, because then I would replicate it and live happily ever after.  The really crazy part about this result is that my eating habits were weird, and I mean, really bizarre.  I was a bit afraid to eat the food served at lunch and breakfast as I did not want to have to run out of the House of Commons in a panic.  So, I usually ate a yogurt for breakfast and possibly some fruit depending on the look of it.  For lunch I normally had a Special K bar (we were not allowed to eat nuts all week due to some allergies) and a fruit leather thing.  For dinner I normally had some plain lettuce.  As a result, full on starvation.  So, when we went up to the staff room at 11:30 at night I would have a pear from the stash of fruit and some candy or some chippies.  I know this sounds completely and utterly disgusting and bizarre, but I would not touch the deli meat, and I could only eat so many pears or apples given the fibre content.  I felt fairly confident eating such food at that hour because I knew that I would have enough time to digest before our day really got started, this was also why I was tentative about eating throughout the day, as we were so busy that I was paranoid I would be faced with an awkward situation.  No one could have ever prepared me for a full week free of IBS symptoms, especially given when and how I ate.  So today, as I had a Shakeology for breakfast, chicken, broccoli and potatoes for lunch, I cursed healthy food as I made trip after trip after trip after trip…. to the bathroom.  

As much as I miss my students, I am relieved to be home with my husband again, and to be sleeping in my own bed.  I was also happy to return to the land of peanut butter, one of the greatest things on this earth.  I have also been hydrating myself, which I did not have an opportunity to do while away.  I will, however, always carry with me very fond memories of this last week with some really wonderful Canadians, both young and old(er).  I hope to stay in touch and follow the lives of these students as they bridge the gap between youth and adulthood, and maybe, just maybe, if that student really does run for Prime Minister, I will be able to say, “I met him at Forum”.  Thank goodness for that Forum magic!

Above is a Youtube video from our Forum experience titled: "Stuff Forum Kids Say".

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