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Close encounters of the family kind

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For most high school students, Encounters with Canada is an opportunity to leave behind the familiar and embrace the new and unknown as they mingle and live with more than 100 students from across Canada for a week.

But Brianna and Chelsea Ewald were able to bring a bit of an umbilical cord to Ottawa with them from Rainy River.

The two Rainy River High School students returned home March 8 from a week-long excursion to the nation’s capital, where they attended seminars, visited the House of Commons and Senate, and toured the National Art Gallery.

These were the group activities. The rest of the time, the cousins went their separate ways for the most part.

For Brianna, much of the time was spent at seminars covering calligraphy, poetry, music, and improvisation. Also on the agenda for her was attending a concert by the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

“I really enjoyed that [the symphony],” she remarked. “The featured violinist was Katherine Cho and she was great.”

Brianna said she intends to pursue a post-secondary education close to home in Manitoba. “I’m hoping to get into the University of Manitoba or the University of Winnipeg to study kinesiology,” she noted.

So far, she seems to be on the right track. She is active in athletics, playing volleyball, soccer, and badminton at RRHS, while also maintaining an 80 percent average.

Her cousin, Chelsea, had a somewhat different week in Ottawa. In addition to the art gallery and touring Parliament Hill (which included an opportunity to actually sit in the Red Chamber), she took in all the tourist sites the city has to offer.

She said she was particularly impressed with the architecture of the numerous churches. But for her, too, the best part was the symphony.

Chelsea said it was a pleasant surprise to have her cousin picked to go with her on the same trip since it was not really under their control. It was more like the luck of the draw.

“The teachers and staff nominated us to go,” she explained, adding the criteria for selection was based on good marks and being representatives of the school.

The timing also was fortunate as their trip came right before March Break. “Two weeks off school,” Chelsea said. “That’s awesome.”

She added she quickly made friends from all over the country during her stay in Ottawa and by week’s end, she was reluctant to come home.

“It was kind of like moving when we left,” she remarked.

Like her cousin, Chelsea has her sights set on university and also is holding down an 80 percent average. However, she is aiming a little farther afield in the hopes of winning an athletic scholarship to a school in the States.

The track and field athlete specializes in the 100m and 200m distances as well as the long jump. Last year, she finished 14th out of the top 70 sprinters in Minnesota at the True Team State Meet in Blaine, Mn.

That was when she was in Grade 10. This year, it starts to get serious.

“This year I hope to talk to some [U.S.] coaches, but next year I’m hoping will be the big one,” she said.

Since RRHS doesn’t have a track team, Chelsea trains and competes across the river in Baudette, which exposes her to more competition and recognition than she might have here.

And that definitely has its advantages. “Sports are taken much more seriously in the States than they are here,” she said.

Encounters with Canada, which is partially funded by the Ministry of Education so the students paid only a portion of the full cost, brings together Grade 11 students from across Canada to the nation’s capital to expose them to cultural and educational experiences not available in their home towns.

It runs throughout the school year.

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