Funnybones: Rounding off

Meeting up in Ottawa

Copyright: Getty Images

Ten years ago Stephanie Sanderson set up a small software company, Steffsoft. It makes educational material for use in schools and colleges, and has done very well. At the beginning of this year, Stephanie decided to share her good fortune with some of the young people using her company’s products, and invited youngsters to take part in a competition. She asked high school students around the world to write an essay on ”Today’s greatest challenge for teenagers”, and offered a two-week stay in Canada to the ten who wrote the best entries. Our four friends Jenny, Kaja, Tommy and Sean were among the thousands who entered the competition and – believe it or not – they each won one of the prizes. Here they are, on a beautiful summer day, in the capital of Canada.

Jenny: So how do you two already know each other?

Tommy: Sean and I met on the Internet about ten months ago, and we’ve been in touch ever since. But meeting up like this is a chance in a million!

Sean: It sure is. Hi, you must be Kaja.

Kaja: That’s right. Glad to meet you all. You’ve travelled a lot further than me: I only had to take the train from Minneapolis.

Tommy: So you’re from the States?

Kaja: No, as a matter of fact I’m Norwegian, but I’ve just spent a year as an exchange student in Minnesota. By the way, what did you all write about?

Sean: I wrote about consumption: the enormous amounts of money we all spend on entertainment, transport, holidays, junk food, clothes, you name it, while kids are dying by the million in the Third World. All this consumption means massive production, which means enormous pollution, and this causes climate change, and . . . well, I’m scared. Politicians don’t seem to care very much, but I do, and so do lots of other people. Something has to be done!

Jenny: That’s connected with what I wrote about: peer pressure at school. To be honest, I’m glad I’m through with school now. You’ve got to have the right telephone, the right mobile music, the right clothes, and you’ve got to do the right things. As far as I’m concerned, the ”right” things are often the wrong ones. And if you’re not one of the gang, if you’re different in some way, you get bullied. It didn’t happen to me, because I can take care of myself, but it happened to a lot of other kids in my year. So what should we do about it?

Kaja: Yes, I know all about peer pressure and bullying, believe me. I saw a lot of it in Minnesota, and even more when I was at junior high in Norway. But I wrote about what Americans talk a lot about: family values. They seem to me to be more important in the USA than in Norway. Some of my friends back home have a really bad time at home, and lots of them have left home to live with friends who have also left their parents. This generation gap thing is a real pain, and there are hundreds of parents who don’t have time for their kids – at least, that’s what I hear all the time. But I wonder if we’re to blame, at least some of the time. Maybe we should make an effort to talk more with our parents? Come on, Tommy – your turn!

Tommy: My essay was a lot less personal than yours, Kaja. I wrote about the dangers of globalization and the ways in which the rich countries in the northern hemisphere exploit the poor ones in the south. Shannon and I have e-mailed each other a lot about different issues, and I think she influenced me quite a bit. Just think: American and European corporations produce goods in countries like Brazil and India, and pay workers there about a dollar a day. Is that right? But the whole thing makes me feel guilty and dishonest, because I drink Coke and go to McDonalds and do most of the things other teens do. So there’s peer pressure here, Jenny, and the problem of consumption, Shannon. What a world! I think we’d better take a break and talk about something else for a while. What are your plans for the next couple of weeks?

Jenny: I want to spend a couple of days here in Ottawa first, and then I’m making my way slowly to Halifax. I have an aunt and uncle there, and I’m staying with them for a few days.

Kaja: You said ”slowly”. Does that mean you’re going to Montreal first?

Montreal, Canada (Copyright: Getty Images)Montreal, Canada (Copyright: Getty Images)

Jenny: Yes, and Quebec too. Why do you ask, Kaja?

Kaja: Because I’m going to Quebec first, then Montreal. Maybe we could travel together?

Jenny: Great. But I’ve got an even better idea. Why don’t you come all the way to Halifax with me? My uncle and aunt are terrific people, and they’ll be glad to put you up. Why don’t you think about it?

Kaja: Gee, Jenny, I don’t have to. But are you sure?

Jenny: Absolutely. I’ll call them later today. And how about you two?

Tommy: Well, Sean and I . . .

Kaja: Don’t tell us! You’ve already arranged a trip by e-mail. Will you be coming with Jenny and me?

Sean: Afraid not, Kaja. You see, Irish people and Australians are a little more adventurous. We’re going west, all the way to Vancouver, stopping off at Toronto, Winnepeg and Edmonton. With stops, it ’ll take us eight days each way.

Jenny: Then you’ll be spending the nights in a sleeping car, I suppose.

Tommy: Sleeping car? Have you ever met an Aussie in a sleeping car? They’re for softies. We have sleeping bags with us, and if we can’t use them on the trains, we’ll sleep sitting up. Sleeping car! Right, Sean?

Sean: Right. But what about a bite to eat before we leave Jenny and Kaja?

The others: Good idea! I’m starving! Let’s go!


1 Understanding the conversation (1)

In the left-hand column are four essay titles, and the right-hand column contains the names of our four friends. Which title might be suitable for whose essay?

1. Everyone should have the same opportunities to enjoy a good life.a Sean
2. What is needed is better communication. b Jenny
3. Stop spending so much! c Kaja
4. Respect and appreciate other people’s values. d Tommy

2 Talking

None of our four friends suggests concrete solutions to the problems they mention. Choose one of the problems, find two or three other students who are interested in it, and discuss how it might possibly be solved – to some extent, at least.

3 Writing

When you have discussed the problem of your choice, write a paragraph or two in which you suggest what you and your friends could do to tackle it.

4 Understanding the conversation (2)

The following statements are false. Correct them, using your own words as far as possible.

1. Sean believes politicians want to solve the world’s problems.

2. Jenny was bullied at school.

3. Kaja has a bad time at home.

4. Tommy does not eat junk food.

5. Jenny is in a hurry to get to Halifax.

6. Kaja needs time to think about her offer.

7. Sean and Tommy will be travelling for eight days.

8. Travelling in comfort is important for Sean and Tommy.

5 Research

Go to the website of VIA Rail Canada and plan our friends’ journeys. Find out when trains leave and arrive, and how much the journeys will cost. Remember that the young people want to stop off at certain places. Remember, too, that VIA Rail Canada offers discounts for students. When you have completed your plan, compare it with those made by classmates.

Web resource

VIA Rail Canada