Through the John Jay Fellows Program, I was able to do my internship at Kolegium Antona Neuwirtha in Slovakia. At first, I didn’t know actually what to expect since I’d never been to Eastern Europe.
Much of what I knew about it came from my friend who had attended their summer seminar for international students a few years back. This was the same person who suggested that I apply for internship at KAN. And thankfully, by the kindness of the Rector, Dr. Martin Luteran, I got accepted for a one-month internship.
The thought of staying in Slovakia filled me with feelings of excitement and anxiety at the same time. Excitement because it is certainly going to be an adventure, anxiety primarily because of the language and cultural barrier. How will I work and make friends with the people? What if I get lost, will anyone help me? All the fears though were proven untrue when I arrived at KAN.
The first thing that caught my attention was the enormous and wonderful castle-like structure right in front of the gate, the “Chateau” as the students would call it. My fascination increased when I saw the wide garden surrounded by trees with green leaves at the back of the Chateau. I knew at that moment that it was the place to be. With the temperate weather, the peaceful atmosphere due to its fair distance from the city, it was a perfect place for people who love contemplating the beauty of nature, as well as for intellectual and spiritual reflection.
Another thing that made me feel comfortable with the place was that almost everyone in KAN speaks English, so communication, it turned out, wasn’t really a problem. But what I really liked about KAN was the kindness and hospitality of the students and the staff. During my first days, I remember, the students themselves would come to me to introduce themselves and engage in a conversation. I really appreciate it whenever they would ask me if I needed anything and would tell me to just approach them if I have any concern – so whenever I had to go somewhere, I would ask for their instructions. I remember, during my first days two guys gave me a can of beer, which I understood as a gesture of welcoming me, one of them even left the can inside the refrigerator and written on it was my name with the term “Cheers!” – I guess Slovaks were really proud of their beer, and it really tastes good!
What amazed me the most was the harmony, camaraderie, and friendship among the students and the staff. I witnessed this when I began working with them, especially for the Graduation and the Garden Party. When they work, although they know and respect each one’s duties and responsibilities, there was no sense of an overly bureaucratized system, rather it was more like a real teamwork. I remember the CEO, Mirka Durankova, would always tell us after a serious meeting “not to forget to enjoy.”Working in such environment really made working more fun and easier.
One month, unfortunately, was not enough to really know how they were able to foster such an environment at KAN. I am certain that my stay would have been better had it been longer. Nevertheless, I think one of the main reasons how they were able to do such thing was the centrality of the Christian faith in their community life. One last anecdote to finish this: I remember the day after the Garden Party, everyone had to clean the Chateau. While I was doing my share at the ground floor with a few other students, the Church bells suddenly rang, it was 12:00, and they invited me to the pray the Angelus with them in English.
Francisco “Bino” Socrates