Discovering the IUS by chance!

Ivana Simunovic, Croatia, specializing in Political Studies


After a year, the first impressions upon arriving at Sophia are still very vivid.  For me, discovering Sophia happened purely by chance, as on the radio I listened to an interview of another student who was telling about her very original experience.  I only needed a few pieces of information in deciding to go.  Once arrived, I felt at home on just my second day there. The welcoming I was given left me both confused and fascinated at the same time.  First of all, I was struck by the relationship between professors and students; in the universities of my country it is nigh impossible to think about getting close to the teaching staff in this manner... At Sophia they call you by name, they spend time with you even after the lessons, and they keep in mind the difficulty of learning in another language and of the commitment required by daily life.


(Ivana Simunovic, first from the left, during an Institute trip)


The possibility we students have in participating in the academic life also struck me very much.  At the end of every semester, there is a moment of dialogue with the teachers in which we are asked to evaluate the Institute’s organization, the methodology and the contents of the programs.  If someone thinks that the results remain on the paper, he would be wrong: indications and suggestions are discussed and, wherever possible, are substituted right away on the successive module. 


Certainly though, I cannot say that the first year was easy.  Doubts and questions alternated with occasions of openness and discovery of a new way of reading reality.  For example, when I knew that the academic title given by Sophia is not recognized in Croatia, I asked myself if I was throwing away two years of my life.  Then I understood that that was only one side of the coin.  It was not possible to not recognize the title given by the State: the novelty of the study I was doing at Sophia would open up a series of other opportunities.   


I lived in first person what the other said about “Sophia changing one.” At the start, I didn’t think that would happen to me: no institution would be able to do that.  But I was wrong.  Maybe because Sophia values what you are and offers you the conditions to share it with others.  


During the year there were two other difficult moments.  To live in the International city of Loppiano, in fact, means also confronting oneself with a spirituality that, in its daily practice, shapes the life of hundreds of people.  To show an example, I saw that many of them would spontaneously leave for daily evening Mass, while I was used to going only on Sundays.  I suddenly felt pressured and I went off, confused in the midst of many questions, while I continued to ask God to come to my aid.   Until I heard His answer: “Let me guide you”.


After Christmas holidays at home, around the corner was another difficult passage.  Arriving at Sophia, I did not feel the same climate as I had the first weeks.  What came to the surface were mine and others’ limits. The experience I had made just seemed a beautiful utopia.   I was disappointed in no longer finding that fraternity I had heard about in preceding months.  I would ask myself: who am I, really?  I wasn’t finding the answer and as a result, I was closing myself in more and more.  When I realized that I was allowing no one to get close, I understood that the real problem was me...  I then found the strength to turn towards the others with a new attitude.  I no longer felt alone and I experienced a great freedom. 


A more beautiful moment came with the verification seminar at the end of the year, in which I busied myself in preparing the recreational activities for the other students, among other things.  At the start, the games I had prepared in order to strengthen mutual knowledge of one another seemed so banal!  But we greatly enjoyed ourselves. The transparency in relationships, and that joy were truly special.  In that climate I understood once again how Sophia enriches us certainly on the deeper level of knowledge and competences we acquired, but it touches us also deep down in our identity. 


Upon finishing the first year, I could easily have re-entered my previous university program in Croatia.  However, the experience I had lived at the IUS was so strong that, in a second, the choice was clear: returning home for me would mean returning to Sophia.


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