Fort Dodge students are ready for Kosovo

Three Fort Dodge Senior High students and one St. Edmond Catholic School student are heading to Kosovo this summer.

There they will learn about European traditions and interact with other teenagers in a camp setting.

Students Tyreike Mericle, 17, a senior at FDSH; Olivia Mitchell, 17, a senior at FDSH; Cayden Brinton, 16, a junior at FDSH; and Nathan Montgomery, 17, a junior at St. Edmond Catholic School, will travel overseas in August.

Maddie Brehm, 17, a junior at FDSH, is serving as the alternate.

Four students from Johnston will be joining the Fort Dodge students on the trip.

The students will start their journey at Camp TOKA, which is similar to a Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts camp.

A third of the students there will be from Kosovo. The rest of the camp population will be made up of students from other European countries such as Romania, Italy, Finland and Macedonia.

For the students going from Fort Dodge, it will be their first major international experience.

Mericle said he has yet to leave the United States.

“I have never been out of the U.S. before and I have been wanting to go further,” he said. “The culture over there is way different.”

He’s looking forward to one particular activity.

“Hiking,” he said. “I am an outdoors guy, so I am glad we are going to be hiking. It’s going to be fun to learn their activities.”

Mitchell agreed.

“I love hiking,” she said.

Mitchell also said she wants to “get more informed about having a sister city with Fort Dodge.”

Gjakova, located in Kosovo, became a sister city to Fort Dodge in 2016.

Cayden Brinton, 16, a junior at FDSH, said the outdoor activities should be enjoyable.

“There’s a lake we get to go and swim in it,” he said. “That’s going to be fun.”

He also wants to make new friends.

“I am really excited to meet other people I have never gotten to meet before,” Brinton said.

Montgomery said the trip aligns with his future goals of pursuing an education in international relations.

“I believe learning more about different cultures would broaden my horizons and really what there is and how we can communicate and connect with other people,” Montgomery said. “It’s really interesting how we are sister cities with them and how two different cities from two different countries can bounce ideas off each other to work for the common good of the citizens. It’s really neat.”

Brehm said the long flight will be worth it for the education.

“Learning their rituals, holidays, things they celebrate is really cool to learn about their culture and country as well,” she said.

If Brehm gets to go, she said a change of scenery would be nice.

“Going somewhere else,” Brehm said. “I have been to pretty much Illinois and that’s about it. Seeing new people.”

She added, “My friend said her favorite part was hanging out and talking with people in the down time.”

Jolene Hays, FDSH school counselor, will be accompanying the students.

She was in Kosovo last year when Fort Dodge students visited there.

“I took a group last year which was totally amazing,” Hays said. “We choose students who would not normally get this opportunity. Our kids are great leaders and are good ambassadors of Iowa.”

Hays said this summer, eight students from Kosovo will visit Iowa.

“They will participate in the state 4-H conference at Iowa State,” she said. “Three days they will assist adults in running a global citizenship camp just outside of Ames for middle school kids.”

She said four students from Kosovo will visit Fort Dodge.

The dates have not been finalized, but they are anticipating a visit in late June or early July.

Hays said traveling to Kosovo is a valuable experience for students.

“Some of the big things I saw from kids last year, was they can communicate with anyone whether you can speak the language or not, you can figure out a way to communicate,” she said. “Teenagers are teenagers, it doesn’t matter where you live. To realize people are people. It doesn’t matter skin color or where you live, they are just the same as us. They like pizza, we like pizza.”

She added, “Having that world experience makes them much more open to others. The four that I have taken have been willing to step out of their comfort zone. I think they are going to do really great things.”

Jeannie Boro, MaKayla Pingel, Jordyn Kloss and Kristen Rapp are the students who went last year.