During an icebreaker at this year’s Global Issues Retreat for high school students, intern Matt DeFrange dubbed himself “Mysterious Matt” as a mnemonic device the students could use to remember his name. Turns out that there is no way they could have forgotten him, and neither will the staff at CCWA. Always willing to take on tasks big and small for the overall betterment of the organization, Matt’s attitude and sense of humor were some of his best qualities, seconded by his competence in understanding international affairs.
“You can’t ignore global issues and just look inward. You have to look outward,” Says Matt, of the responsibilities of youth today, who are charged with the looming task of becoming the world’s next leaders.
Matt is a student at the University of Akron, where he studies Political Science with an international emphasis. Through the university, he and several of his peers were able to work at internships in the Columbus area. Other students got the opportunities to work in the government, among other positions. He recently completed an internship at the Council and has returned to Akron to finish his undergraduate career. Matt will graduate in the spring and he plans to take his talents to Latin America to teach English. “I feel a strong need to give back to the world because I’ve been fortunate enough to get an education,” Matt said. After returning to the US, he has many different ideas for where his future could take him. On the table include plans to work at an NGO in DC and get his Masters in Politics. With a wealth of good experience under his belt, it is easy to imagine him achieving these goals.
While many aspects of his CCWA internship have been rewarding for him, two experiences stood out above all others. The first allowed Matt to have dinner one-on-one with a leading expert in the field of global health, Dr. Nandakumar of Brandeis University. His remarks, Matt said, were incredibly interesting and advocated for a less hierarchal approach to healthcare. Not only was this speaker’s symposium content important, but working for the Council gave Matt a unique chance to develop important networking skills by helping host Dr. Nandakumar in our city.
More recently, Matt assisted the Director of Youth Programs with the aforementioned Global Issues Retreat. He traveled to Hocking Hills, Ohio, over the first weekend in April with twenty-some high school students, both locals and students from exchange programs. It was obvious at the end of the weekend that the students had learned a lot, but Matt feels that he got a lot out of the experience as well. He was able to see, first hand, how intelligent and dynamic international students can be. “It was fascinating to see that students from all over the world are being shaped into thoughtful and globally-minded leaders, just like in the United States,” he says. On a more personal level, he was able to form friendships with some of the student attendees. Matt enjoyed hearing the perspective of a Russian student who contrasted US public opinion of Vlamir Putin with those of his fellow citizens. Americans often think of Vladmir Putin as an over-the-top character who rules with an iron fist, and our media often portrays him in a comedic light, this student explained, while, Russian citizens have looked at him as a strong and inspirational leader for years. Meeting so many international students really helped open Matt’s eyes to a diversity of perspectives.
In the future, Matt would like to see the Council do an event focusing on the Balkans region. Specifically, he suggests an angle that would highlight that governments in that region are often run by young people in their 30s. These leaders have a very unique perspective on the creation of a state and how it should be run. At a time when so many youths in the Middle East are working to bring about reform, this could be a very timely topic for the Council.
Ohio is becoming an increasingly globally-minded area. For years, many of Ohio’s cities relied on factories but today, we are becoming a more knowledge-based economy. Organizations like the Council help Ohio with this transition in focus by educating locals on increasingly important world issues. Matt is excited to be a part of this change. He sees success stories in Europe and elsewhere in the world – where people are more globally-literate and multilingual — serving as a great template for the United States and advises that we can learn from our intelligent and unique neighbors across the globe.