A HIGHLY EFFICIENT DUO: JOZEF SENKO AND MAREK SOTAK
(conversation translated by Natalia Komanicka, teacher at the Prešov school)
Aged 53, Jozef Senko has been director of the Prešov School since 2002. He was a student at the school before studying at the Veterinary Science and Food Hygiene faculty, and gaining a doctorate in veterinary medicine awarded in Kosice. He was a teacher in the Prešov School in 1986, became Deputy Director in 1991 and Director in 2002. The school currently has 553 students and 52 teachers. Jozef Senko is well used to international events – his school has been organising Eurocup for 22 years, and has been participating in Christmas in Europe for the last eight years.
At his side, Marek Sotak, aged 46, had been an English teacher at the school since 1997, before becoming its Deputy Director in 2003. In addition he is the resource person for all international contacts such as the AEHT or the ‘Fondation pour la formation hôtelière’ (Foundation for Hospitality Training). But above all he was the orchestra conductor for Christmas in Europe in Prešov. The pair of them make a united and amazingly efficient twosome, dealing with everything right down to the smallest details.
How did you come to be involved in Christmas in Europe?
Jozef Senko smiles. ‘It was in1994, at a seminar in the Tatras, where I met Akos Sasvari, Director of the Budapest School, who had talked to me about the AEHT. My school became a member in 1996 and took part in the Annual Conference for the first time in La Rochelle. For Christmas in Europe our first time was in Budapest. I was fascinated both at the Annual Conference and at Christmas in Europe to see the students showing what they can do. Here in Prešov all the students of levels 3, 4 and 5 have been involved with the event; those in levels 1 and 2 rather less so.
And what about the teachers?
I’m not in the habit of being directive and I work in collaboration with others. So I asked the teachers if they were up for it. The very great majority were eager to take part in this venture. The tasks and responsibilities were shared out. It's true that with Eurocup we have a certain amount of experience.
How did you manage with the financial aspects of this Christmas in Europe?
Marek Sotak replies ‘The School has a fund to which students’ parents and other donors contribute. We contacted the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Tourism and large companies. Above all we received moral support. We also asked for funding from the Prešov Tourist Office as well as from the City Council. But as we are in a period of change because of the elections, that was not a good source of funding. But I should point out that the Fondation pour la Formation Hôtelière (FFH – Foundation for Hospitality Training) in Switzerland helped us a lot with a grant of €10,000 which enabled us to put together a fine programme for this Christmas in Europe. And of course, even if we had no help from official bodies, the parents and the suppliers made generous contributions, and thanks to funding obtained through the EU’s KOMPRAX programme aimed at young people we ought to be able to manage. To be honest, without all this financial support we could not have run Christmas in Europe.’
We don’t see you running around in a state of stress throughout these days?
Marek smiles: ‘Oh, you know, there isn’t enough time for everything. In October we had Eurocup, in November we were in Belgrade at the AEHT Annual Conference, and in December we are right in the middle of Christmas in Europe. But we’re fine’.
And in the course of Christmas in Europe have you had any problems with the delegations?
No, there were no insuperable problems. The cultural part was very satisfactory, at different levels of course. We could get a general idea, and the Zaborsky group from Slovakia did a good job of showing what a Slovak Christmas is like.
And the European buffet?
Ah, to be honest, that was the high point of the week. What an amazing variety of specialities! There were at least 400 people there: everyone from the school, those who’ve retired from the school, the representatives of students’ parents, the partners, the representatives of the district, the city, the region. Yes, it was truly extraordinary.
The end of Christmas in Europe in Prešov is just a few hours away. And now, have you already decided to go to Luxembourg in 2015?
Jozef Senko looks at his Deputy Director with a little smile: ‘I should like to go, it’s 99% sure!’ What he doesn’t say, though it is implicit, is that he’ll do everything to get rid of that other 1%!
Asked at random, the students taking part in Christmas in Europe all speak with one voice: a fantastic experience, meeting young people from other countries, discovering new countries, etc. Here are a few examples.
The group of three students from the Prešov School, Frederik, Slavka and Merlin, all aged 16, are responsible for the stands of the two Luxembourg schools. They are delighted with this experience and thrilled with the atmosphere and the responsibility they have been given.
When I bump into them just at the entrance to the conference hall at the Dukla hotel, with a glass of sparkling wine in their hands, the three Luxembourg students are just as enthusiastic, especially since next year it will be their schools that hosts Christmas in Europe!
The students from Fatima can’t get over having the luck to take part in this Christmas in Europe in Prešov. Nor can their teacher Yannick!
The same goes for these students from Podebrady, who are almost neighbours of the Prešov students