This year we were lucky enough to host students from Biggar, Saskatchewan. Thanks to the amazing people in the Westmont community, we were able to show them an incredible time in Victoria. Our visitors had such a great time that many remarked they would be moving here or coming back as soon as they could. Below is a reflection of the week and the experience as a whole.

The first thing we decided to do was to show off the natural beauty of our school. On day one, we walked down to the beach and spent the morning there. The Biggar students were really excited to find things like crabs and shells, which just don’t exist in Saskatchewan. In the afternoon, we hiked up Mount Metchosin. You can see the school and the beach from the top of the mountain. Many of the Biggar students had never hiked up a mountain before. It was really fun to see how all these things that we do daily without even thinking about are a completely new experience for someone else. Many students from Biggar were surprised at the size of the trees as trees don’t get that tall in the Prairies.

On Tuesday, we went to the museum. In the museum, we learned a lot about the wildlife, early towns, and First Nations peoples of the West Coast, as well as Stonehenge, among other things in new and old visiting exhibitions. The Biggar students were impressed by the size and diversity of the museum. One student, Ares, had their petition that they had been working on presented to the Legislature. Originally, the other students would have been able to come to see it get presented, but due to seat reservation conflicts, it couldn’t happen. The presentation went well, and hopefully, there will be future discussions in the Legislature on whether a mentorship program can be implemented. Afterward, we ate lunch on the grass lawn outside the Legislative building and went on a walking tour of Victoria. We visited the waterfront and walked on Johnson Street Bridge, which is a cantilever bridge, meaning it has a counterweight on one side that lifts up to allow boats to pass through the channel. After that, we walked through Fan Tan Alley into Chinatown. We then had forty minutes to explore Chinatown. Many people bought bubble tea and explored the different shops. This was an awesome bonding experience for us all, as our local Victorians were able to take our visitors to all the interesting spots and share their own stories and experiences.

Wednesday arrived, and we took a bus to Beacon Hill Park. We hiked up to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean and talked about the importance of local flora and fauna, specifically Garry Oak Meadows and Camas. We went into the petting zoo as it opened, so we got to see the goats run from the barn to the petting area. We spent some time petting the animals, and some people even got goats to climb on their backs! We walked through the beautiful park to the playground where we ate our lunch and played for a while. Then we got on another bus and headed down to the whale-watching boat. We got hot chocolate, coffee, and tea as we sailed out into the ocean. We went into US waters for most of the trip, but it’s legal if you don’t go ashore. We stopped alongside a small rock island crawling with sea lions. After watching the sea lions for a while, we continued in search of whales. The boat was actually heading to a specific spot where a pod of orcas had been seen. It was two pods, traveling together. Pods are matriarchal, with a leading female and her young children, and any brothers and sisters. Daughters usually break off and form their own pod when they have enough children. We were following pods T-124 and T-124A, named after the mother and daughter who were the matriarchs of the pods. It was really exciting for everyone, but especially for the Biggar students who had never seen a whale in person before.

On Thursday, we took the bus to Royal Roads University. We walked through the woods that are part of the property and learned about the history of the buildings and toured the gardens. Then we ate our lunch on the grass just outside the old castle. After that, we each found a stick that represented a memory that would stick with us (get it? Because it’s a stick, and it’s going to stick with us? It’s a pun about sticks in case you didn’t get it) for the rest of our lives. Then we walked over to WildPlay. Some people even did the extreme course! It was very fun to go on the zip lines and test our skills on the moving logs and ropes suspended high in the air. That evening there was a barbecue at the Manieri’s house. It was a time for everyone to chill and hang out. There were burgers and a Jenga game where the bricks kept getting stolen by siblings. It was still very fun. There was also ping pong, darts, and cornhole. Near the end of the barbecue, we had a pickup basketball game. The rules were very relaxed, and there were roughly 20 people playing. It was a blast!

On Friday, we started the day off walking down to the city hall of Metchosin and meeting the Mayor, Marie-Terese Little. We learned how Metchosin is run and got to ask her questions about her role as Mayor and what it’s like to run a small town on the outskirts of Victoria. We then took a bus downtown, and half of the group kayaked while the other half went shopping. After an hour or two, the groups switched. We went kayaking in the upper part of Victoria Harbor. One particularly fun part was when we played a passing game where the way to win was to pass the ball to all your teammates without losing possession of it (my team won, by the way). Seeing Victoria from the water was very eye-opening because everything looks bigger from the water. The shopping was also very enjoyable because we got to explore all the shops in Fan Tan Alley and Government Street. It’s interesting how many very different shops all coexist in the same place. We then came back to the school and had a more proper game of basketball with actual rules. It was very fun and a good sendoff for the week. Everyone said their goodbyes as they had to go to the airport early the next morning. Showing the students from Biggar around Victoria was super fun. It’s sad to have the experience end so soon, but as they say, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

This was an unbelievable end to an amazing experience. Many of us bonded quickly and strongly with our visiting guests, and the fun we had will remain as memories for the rest of our lives. We want to deeply thank all those involved in organizing the exchange and all the kind members who donated something to enable us to do such fun things! We all look forward to participating in another future exchange, as these travel experiences not only enable us to have a lot of fun but teach us valuable lessons about the country we live in and the people we live with.

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