Matt Plonskier is, in essence, a walking Epcot advertisement. A Cooper City High School senior, his mind is occupied with far more than what lies within the town’s 8.32 square miles – with international experiences, global issues and foreign food at the top of his list.
“I think it’s really good to broaden your worldview and gain new perspectives,” Plonskier said. “We shouldn’t only see things from an American point of view. It’s important to be a global citizen.”
Though the world had always been Plonskier’s oyster, it was not always his destination. Traveling was not something that he found himself particularly fascinated with until he participated in a “Teen Tour” of the continental United States, which took him to some of the country’s most famous cities. Plonskier contextualizes his trip in terms of what he ate at each stop; to him, traveling is a multifaceted experience, its success greatly depending on the authentic foods that he encounters during his visit.
“We shouldn’t only see things from an American point of view. It’s important to be a global citizen.”
“In Chicago I got deep dish pizza, and in New Orleans I got po’ boys,” Plonskier recalled. “I had a philly cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and I thought it would be greasy meat and cheap cheese, but it was amazing.”
Rather than spending his summer before senior year kicking back and preparing for the rush of college applications, Plonskier chose to pass the time broadening his worldview and gaining insight into other cultures. With this goal in mind, he applied for and was accepted into “Youth for Understanding,” a scholarship program that would allow him to explore one of the countries that he has always wanted to visit: Japan.
“I have always been really interested in Japan because it’s a super modern society that made the switch from ancient empires,” Plonskier said. “I also love sushi and Japanese food, so it just seemed like a natural decision to go to Japan.”
For six weeks Plonskier explored the city of Osaka, hopping on the subway and traveling to the many temples, shrines, and restaurants the city had to offer. Though he was hosted by a Japanese family, his adventures were often solitary, and he enlisted Google Translate as his guide and trusty sidekick.
“I was living a Japanese lifestyle,” Plonskier said. “I definitely became a lot more independent that way and I felt like if I could survive in Japan, I could survive anywhere.”
Though Plonskier had not always been determined to travel, he did know early on that he wanted to join DECA as soon as he reached high school.
“My brother was in DECA,” Plonskier said. “Even in middle school I knew that when I got to high school I was going to join. What really catapulted me into becoming so involved, though, was winning sixth place at [the] DECA [international competition] in ninth grade.”
In the years that followed, he went on to receive first place at the state competition and top role play at the international competition during his sophomore year, as well as first place at the state competition, sixth place at the international competition and top test at the international competition during his junior year.
Giving Plonskier a slight advantage is the fact that his competition category aligns with his personal interests. For the past two years, he has chosen to compete in the restaurant and foodservice management category for reasons he would describe as “obvious.”
“[The category] is one of the more popular ones,” Plonskier said. “But I like food, and I like eating at restaurants.”
Plonskier’s achievements propelled him into a leadership position in the club, and by the beginning of his senior year he was readily able to take on the role of DECA president.
Describing his leadership style as “laissez-faire,” a French term often used to describe economic systems that reject government intervention, he prefers not to micromanage his fellow officers, instead entrusting them with tasks and offering help if they need it. This method, though effective, does not come without concerns.
“There are challenges with my management style,” Plonskier said. “It increases the risk of an officer not doing something and leaves the responsibility in their hands.”
Of course, Plonskier always has risk and reward on his mind. An aspiring economist, he finds that DECA has been a good place to get his start.
“[Plonskier] is a natural-born leader,” DECA advisor and Academy of Finance teacher Lauren Mandel said. “He’s very analytical and intelligent, and he will be successful in any career path that he chooses.”
Business is not the only discipline that Plonskier finds success in, however. A diligent student in all subjects, he has received the title of National Merit Semi-Finalist and has remained at the top of his class in spite of the travels that frequently take him out of the country.
Ultimately, Plonskier says, he hopes to channel his drive into positive change.
“I definitely do want to be involved on an international level, so global economics could be something of interest,” Plonskier said. “I’m definitely concerned about issues on a global scale, and I want to incorporate my love for travel into my career, but that’s far off in the future.”
Photo by Ben Milgram