NEENAH — Based on his personal experience last July, Ben Matthews highly recommends that area high school students consider the faith-based European trip offered in conjunction with the Global Outreach Summer Camp.
“It was awesome. Everything over there is so different,” said Matthews, a senior at Neenah High School. “The architecture is really colorful and cool. There is a lot more culture. We were in Poland and Slovakia, where the actual camp was held. I went to Hungary. We were also in Austria for a day.”
The Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program provides U.S. Catholic high school educational opportunities for students from five European countries. The annual summer camp gathers incoming exchange students, prospective students, alumni and an American group, including Fr. Larry Seidl, Global Outreach spiritual director, and Barbara Tota-Boryczka, program director. Matthews’ participation in the summer camp was spurred by his family’s experience hosting Marcell Bakos of Hungary during the 2012-2013 school year. Bakos attended St. Mary Central High School in Neenah.
The American group traveled throughout Europe the week prior and week after the camp. Matthews spent a week living with the Bakos family.
“It was fun to reverse that experience,” he said. “(Marcell) showed me around the city and the surrounding areas. We saw a couple castles and spent a day in Budapest, the capital. We were able to tour the parliament building, which was awesome. All the decorations inside are amazing. We don’t have anything like that here.”
Matthews, a member of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish, Neenah, also enjoyed seeing the other exchange students from last year and meeting the current group before their arrival in U.S., including a couple who live in the Neenah-Menasha area.
“They are now around church and stuff and I already knew them,” he said. “Máté (Tasko) is staying with a family from church. He is from Hungary and goes to SMC. I see him at coffee and donuts after Mass and we talk.”
Each day at the camp, representatives from a different country led the activities, including a dance from their homeland. Scripture passage discussions, daily prayer and Mass supported the strong faith element. Campers stayed at a seminary in the mountains.
“We tried to go to an English Mass in Slovakia, but it turned out to not be in English,” said Matthews, who will study electrical engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering after high school. “We didn’t understand the language, but tried to follow along. The organ music was really interesting. We had Mass every day. We prayed in the morning and the last thing we did at night was pray. It was definitely a really good faith building experience.”
Matthews set a goal to try as many new foods as possible on the trip.
“I tried to order the least American things off the menus and it was all delicious,” he said, “but towards the end of the week, back in Poland, I just ordered some steaks.”
A favorite meal was a cookout over an open fire in the Bakos family backyard.
“They take homemade bread and slice it and use bacon fat instead of butter and roast it over the fire,” explained Matthews.
The 2014 Global Outreach Summer Camp will be held in the Czech Republic. Matthews hopes to return in 2015 when the camp is scheduled for Hungary. He said his parents, Dan and Lori Matthews, are interested as well to see the Bakos family and Marcell, who will be visiting Wisconsin this summer.
Ben plans to spend his third year of college at a university in Germany. His family will host an exchange student again in the future, he added.
“Marcell had to do his junior year again, so he’s not going to graduate until he’s 20, but he said it’s worth it. We will be lifelong friends,” said Ben. “We Skype him every other week or every third week.
“I’ve learned that foreign exchange students are some of the coolest people you will ever meet. It takes a special person to be able to do that.”
For more information about Global Outreach, go to www.globaloutreachprogram.com.