Euro Challenge: An Experience of a Lifetime

This article was written by Olivia Howard and Neil Kasbekar, juniors at Naperville Central High School. Olivia and Neil participated in the 2017 Euro Challenge Competition along with their teammates Seamus McGuinness, Nora Lullo, and Jim Royal.

Arriving at New York airport for the Euro Challenge semifinals

International Relations was the first course that introduced us to a different world. It was colorful, intellectually stimulating and enlightening. We began to identify differences between each country’s customs and find similarities within humanity. The pioneer of this riveting experience was Social Studies teacher Letitia Zwickert. During this whirlwind, she paused five students from their routine high school experience to introduce them to a project full of opportunity and genuine learning, the Euro Challenge.

We had yet to take Economics, were an ocean away from our subject of research, yet we plunged directly into months of uncovering the most basic social norms to the most complex economic details of the Eurozone. This research brought us to the University of Chicago Department of Economics, where we had our first encounter with visionary professors, each working to solve some of the world’s major problems. The Euro Challenge started to feel important.

We built and practiced our scripts, and learned the content. Over pizza and Billy Joel, we created a presentation collaboratively, diligently constructing it from our different viewpoints. We designed our slides, made our graphs, and strategized our performance. Finally, practicing in front of our parents, with something we created from scratch, we had the opportunity to truly show them what we one day could be.

On a Friday before spring break, we readied ourselves for the Midwest competition. We took deep breaths, gave our presentation via Skype from our Principal’s conference room, and then began the question and answer session. It was beautiful the way all five of us operated as one well-oiled machine. There was a powerful energy in the air. Days later, we received the call — we had won the Midwest.

Arriving in the cosmopolitan hub of New York City was stimulating and lively. We were fortunate to meet with the Chief of Staff, Gerton van den Akker, of the EU Delegation to the UN who was incredibly encouraging, insightful, and generous with his time.

Visiting the UN Headquarters (left) and meeting with Gerton van den Akker (right)

A visit to UN Headquarters gave us additional perspective. We entered a place where different tongues were spoken in the same room and global powers came for the opportunity for conversation, understanding, and work for a better world.

And then we experienced a caricature of a New York film: eating at a Japanese tea shop, riding the subway, enjoying pasta in Little Italy, seeing a saxophone player in Times Square, and getting coffee on Wall Street.

First sub ride for many of us!

The next day, we competed. Ushered into a room with four judges, there was a prominent space between our tables. The gap was due to their qualification and experience, which they used to challenge us to think and offer their wisdom. We had found patterns, created conclusions, and could support it with evidence. We felt proud of all of our work and effort.

Beginning in a Midwest classroom, teaching ourselves the basics of economics, and ending at the NYC Federal Reserve in a matter of a few months proved how much we can not only learn, but create in a lifetime.

It marked the beginning of our careers, and we now see more opportunity to be influential contributors to something larger than ourselves.

We unfortunately did not proceed to finals. However, next year’s five unknowing students, sitting at their desks, will be called into the hall by Mrs. Z. They will be exposed to an entirely new world, and their lives will be forever changed.


The Euro Challenge competition is an exciting educational opportunity for American high school students to learn about the European Union and the euro. Student teams select one member country of the “euro area” to examine an economic problem at the country level, and to identify policies for responding to that problem. Teams compete at the regional and national level, with the top five teams receiving scholarship awards. Learn more.