From left to right: Marco Pantaleon, Martin Luteran (Rector), and Bino Socrates.

Bino Socrates shares his experience as an intern at the Kolegium Antona Neuwirtha (KAN) in Slovakia last June 11 to July 9, 2018. Bino is the Officer for International Linkages (Europe) of Universitas Foundation, Inc. He graduated with a degree in Sociology from the University of Sto. Tomas in 2016.

Through the John Jay Fellows Program (US), I was able to do my internship at the Kolegium Antona Neuwirtha (KAN) in Slovakia. At first, I didn’t really know what to expect since I’ve never been to that part of Europe. I just know that it used to be part of the Communist bloc. And much of what I know about Kolegium came from Atty. Oliver Tuazon, the CEO of Universitas, who attended their summer seminar for international students a few years back. In fact, it was Oliver who suggested that I apply for internship at KAN. And thankfully, through the kindness of Dr. Martin Luteran, the Rector and Founder of Kolegium, I got accepted for a one-month internship (June 11 – July 11).

The thought of staying in Slovakia filled me with feelings of excitement and anxiety. Excitement because it was certainly going to be an adventure, while anxiety primarily because of the language and cultural barriers. How will I work and make friends with the people? What if I got lost, will anyone help me? All my worries, though, proved unfounded when I arrived at KAN.

Kolegium Antona Neuwirtha, the Chateau. (Photo taken by Bino Socrates)

The moment I stepped down from the car, I was welcomed by the enormous and wonderful castle-like structure right in front of the gate, the chateau, as the students would call it. I grew even more fascinated with the place when I saw the wide garden surrounded by trees at the back of the chateau. It was still Spring when I arrived. 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 (Bratislava), 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 environment was that almost everyone in KAN speaks English, hence, as it turned out, communication wasn’t really a problem. But more than that, I really felt grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the students and the staff in KAN. During my first days, the students themselves would approach me to introduce themselves and engage me in conversation. I really appreciate it whenever they would ask me if I needed anything and would tell me to just approach them if I had any concern – so, whenever I had to go somewhere, I would simply ask them for instructions. I recall that during my first days two guys gave me a can of beer, and I understood that to be a welcoming gesture. One of them even left the can inside the refrigerator, with my name written on it along with the word “Cheers!” (Slovaks are really proud of their beer, and it really tastes good.)

View from the Chateau, the Garden Party. (Photo taken by Bino Socrates)

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 in organizing big events such as the Graduation and the Garden Party. When they worked, though they respected the hierarchy of functions and the duties each one had to carry out, there was no sense of an overly bureaucratized system. Rather, it was a real teamwork. I remember Mirka Durankova, the CEO, would always tell us after an intense meeting, “Don’t forget to enjoy!” Working in such an environment really made working more fun and easier.

From left to right: Martin Luteran, Mirka Durankova, and Bino Socrates. (Photo taken by Marco Pantaleon)

My work was mainly in Logistics. Most of the time I would go around Bratislava with the other interns getting and returning some stuff needed for the activities. I liked it because I was able to go around the city for free. There were also a few times when the interns would invite me for a short drink in the evenings. In a way, even though I was staying a bit far from the city, because of my work, I still got a sense of their city vibe.

Aside from logistics, they also gave me some writing tasks: one article about my internship for their English-speaking donors, an article about their Free Society Seminar, and a book review on This Saved Us: How to Survive Brainwashing (1996). The book was a personal account of Dr. Silvester Krcmery’s experience as a prisoner under the Communist regime. He was abducted and unjustly imprisoned for 13 years primarily because of his membership in a Lay Catholic Action group which the Communists saw as a threat to their project. He was just one of the many victims in the Communists’ overall persecution of the Church in Europe. What was so fascinating about this man was that he never gave in to their brainwashing and cruel treatment, and what sustained him for all those years was his prayer life. This also helped me understand better the situation in Slovakia, especially its history, and how life was under Communism.

In addition to the cultural exposure, which for me was already a very rewarding experience, what I liked the most from the internship was my occasional chats with Dr. Martin Luteran. He shared to me the story of how he started the Kolegium, the struggles he encountered, and also the joys of seeing it develop into what it is today. The Kolegium is like a residential hall providing Liberal Arts education focusing on the great thinkers and great works that shaped the Western Civilization in order to supplement what the students are learning from their universities. As its mission is the overall personal development of the students for the betterment of their society, there is also a spiritual component in their program where they introduce the students to the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual richness of the Christian tradition. Martin Luteran dreams of the day when Kolegium would grow into something like a Liberal Arts College that could accommodate a larger number of students and so contribute more in the development of Slovak society. Martin also shared that what really motivates him to continue, despite all the hardships, is that he sees this undertaking as his life calling.

If I were to sum up my whole experience in one word, it would be inspiring. Having seen the success of KAN and all the good things they were doing for their country gives me hope of having something like that here in the Philippines. In a way, I see that possibility coming through Universitas Foundation. Although they differ in approach, I see a lot of similarities between KAN and Universitas, particularly in their aspiration for their countries. I hope that more Filipinos in the future would also see what I’ve seen, experience what I’ve experienced, so that they may also be inspired to do something for the Philippines.

NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.

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