Herald Journal, Jan. 9, 2006
Anonymous letters sends Winsted youth to Europe
By Liz Hellmann
Amid the usual stack of bills, junk mail, and occasional letters, Matt Hirsch of Winsted found his ticket to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
An anonymous stranger nominated Hirsch to take part in the People to People Ambassador Program travelling to Europe this summer.
“I had never heard about it before I got the letter,” Hirsch said. “But it sounded cool and I was interested right away.”
Hirsch is currently in 10th grade at Watertown-Mayer High School.
The People to People Ambassador Program was started in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower. The goal of the program is to educate people on different cultures in order to foster peace and friendship.
But Hirsch was not guaranteed a spot in the program, yet.
Hirsch’s nominator, who still remains anonymous, even to Hirsch, only did half of the work. If Hirsch really wanted to go to Europe, he had to take the next step to make it happen.
So, he called the leaders of the People to People Ambassador Program. Soon, he found himself amid 150 other students vying for only 46 spots available for the trip.
“I knew two people from my school, and nobody else,” Hirsch said.
Hirsch attended a meeting with the other students at Sibley High where the skills his nominator had such great faith in were put to the test.
“We had to go into individual meetings with delegate leaders and tell them why we would be a good student ambassador,” Hirsch said.
Hirsch explained his love for meeting new people, his people skills, and desire to learn more about other countries.
The delegates must have seen what Hirsch’s nominator did, as he was one of the students chosen.
Although Hirsch successfully made it through the interviewing process, he still has work to do.
The trip is set to kick-off in June with 46 students and several supervisory delegates (about one for every three to four students).
The 20-day experience will include meetings with government officials, interaction with other students, a chance to stay with host families, and other educational activities.
“I’m hoping it will help me with my leadership skills,” Hirsch said, who would like to become a Navy Seal after completing college.
Hirsch and the other students are also required to journal their experiences daily and hand them in to the head delegate.
When Hirsch returns, he would like to share his experience with schools and civic clubs in the community.
The crew will see sites in Paris, Venice, Sicily, Rome, and Vatican City.
Hirsch is especially looking forward to visiting Italy. His grandpa spent 18 months stationed in Italy while in the Army, and told Hirsch how wonderful it was there.
But before Hirsch can set his feet on foreign soil, he needs to work on some projects back home, including fundraising.
“We have to find assignments to do to prepare for the trip,” Hirsch said. “I’m doing a tripod (layout on a tripod) of a culture.”
These preparation assignments, along with studies that take place abroad, will earn Hirsch extra high school credits.
When the busy 10th grader isn’t immersing himself in culture, studying current events (also a requirement for the trip), or competing in wrestling and Business Professionals of America (BPA) at his high school, he is searching for ways to raise money for the trip.
The total cost of the trip is $5,653, which includes all transportation, accommodations, meals, and educational activities.
Right now, Hirsch is looking for sponsors who are willing to donate some money, any amount, towards his trip.
As the summer approaches, Hirsch will tackle more fundraising projects, although he has not decided which ones, yet.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the People to People Ambassador Program, or would like to sponsor Hirsch, call him at (320) 485-2814.