Snow-capped mountains, Slavic cuisine, and UNESCO world heritage village tours aren’t part of the standard college internship experience. These are, however, experiences that the Nanovic Institute aims to provide Notre Dame students. This past November, in collaboration with Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway, the Nanovic Institute was delighted to support the Gateway’s Catholic School Internship Program for a three-day immersion experience in international Catholic education in the Slovak Republic.

Students began their Slovakian excursions in the quaint town of Bardejov. Situated in northeastern Slovakia and animated by rows of colorful architecture, Bardejov is known for its rich cultural history and stunningly picturesque landscapes. It was there the Global Gateway interns not only observed the UNESCO world heritage site the town has to offer, but they also spent the day at a school whose students include many children from the large local Roma population

The Roma students graciously greeted the Notre Dame delegation with traditional song and dance. After that warm welcome, the Notre Dame students were shepherded around the school to witness the instruction and character inside a Catholic classroom in Slovakia, participating in the Roma students’ lessons, coloring pictures during arts and crafts time, and playing with their new companions in the schoolyard playground.

Roma communities often endure multiple forms of discrimination. The arrival, integration, and participation of the Notre Dame students with the local Roma community was an important witness and connection to this vulnerable population. It is certain that the moments shared with the Roma students left a lasting impression on the Notre Dame delegation.

Following their visit to the Roma school, the Notre Dame students turned to another educational opportunity. They presented their academic and internship experiences to an audience of international education professionals at the fifth annual School Teachers’ and Educators’ Conference, “Education: From Rote Learning to Genuine Wisdom.”

The conference, aimed at international educators from Central Europe, was co-organized by Simon Uttley, Ph.D., who teaches the London Global Gateway’s co-curricular course, “Catholic Education and the Common Good.” Uttley founded this conference with Martin Smilnak, a colleague in Bardejov and headteacher of Bardejov’s highly ranked bilingual secondary school, Gymnázium sv. Jána Bosca.

At the beginning of the term, Uttley told the students about the conference and assigned them the task of developing a presentation: “Education from a Student’s Perspective.” In their presentation, the Notre Dame students did an outstanding job narrating their own experiences of education and what made it excellent. The students shared personal stories that provided models and inspiration to those educators attending the conference, the deep impressions they made all the more extraordinary given the different cultural backgrounds comprising the international audience.

The fifth annual School Teachers’ and Educators’ Conference

One by one, the students personalized the transformative Notre Dame student experience—a holistic liberal arts education augmented by internships and service-learning, and rich in extracurricular activities, spiritual life, and athletics. Together, all thirteen students shared their insights, united by Blessed Basil Moreau's conviction that “the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.”

(Clockwise from top left) the Global Gateway interns in Bardejov; group photo of delegation outside of St. Elisabeth Cathedral in Kosice; Judy Hutchinson, student engagement program director at Notre Dame International (pictured bottom left), with two Global Gateway interns in Bardejov.

After the conference, students moved from Bardejov to Kosice. Fr. Pavol Hrabovecky, vice-dean of the faculty of theology at the Catholic University in Ruzomberok, met with the delegation there.

“We were delighted and privileged to have the very convivial and conversant Fr. Pavol as our tour guide through the beautiful town of Kosice,” said Judy Hutchinson, student engagement program director at Notre Dame International. “Knowledgeable about the town, its many monuments, its history, and the ethnic make-up of those who inhabit in and around Kosice, the tour was not only pleasant and interesting, but was a cultural learning experience for our entire group.”

St. Elisabeth Cathedral, Košice, Slovakia

Fr. Pavol’s home institution, the Catholic University in Ruzomberok, has a long-standing partnership with the Nanovic Institute as part of the Catholic Universities Partnership (CUP). The CUP began in 2003 as a project to support the elevation and development of Catholic higher education and civil society in post-Soviet Europe. The CUP continues to foster international collaboration among institutions of higher learning across Europe and offer strategic immersion experiences for Nanovic supported students and faculty.

In addition to providing a knowledgeable walking tour of Slovakia’s largest eastern city, Fr. Pavol also provided the delegation with an intimate look into the Cathedral of St. Elisabeth. With its breathtaking Gothic architecture and a history dating back to 1230, the Cathedral of St. Elisabeth is Slovakia’s largest church and one of the easternmost Gothic cathedrals in all of Europe. The Catholic Church plays an important role in Slovakia, and the students, able to reflect together on their journey in St. Elisabeth’s grand halls, were fortunate to have a tour guide tell the history of Slovakia through that lens.

“This internship program, which features educational opportunities such as this trip to Slovakia, is one of the most rewarding things I have been part of,” Hutchinson said.

The Catholic School Internship Program, buttressed by the Nanovic Institute and its Catholic Universities Partnership, is part of an impressive and ever-expanding internship program at the London Global Gateway. During their semester abroad, students in London have the opportunity to work within multinational organizations, local business, charities, and even within the government at Westminster. These placements offer students additional opportunities for educational exchange and foster authentic study abroad experiences. An opportunity to make long-lasting connections with people outside of their usual social groups, the internship experience goes a long way in students’ formation as global citizens.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Lemke, a 2019 MFA graduate from the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Art, Art History & Design, received a 2019-2020 U.S. Fulbright Open Study/Research Fellowship to Slovakia to explore the relationship between communal architecture and identity, which Lemke states “would not have been possible without the critical support of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and its Catholic Universities Partnership during the rigorous application process.” Through a partnership with the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, Lemke has been working in the studio community and incorporating digital fabrication design into his work and conducts a series of visiting artist workshops with the art education program at the Catholic University in Ruzomberok. While a graduate student, Lemke also received a travel and research grant from the Nanovic Institute’s Snider Family Endowment for Excellence in European Studies.


Created with images by Martin Katler - "untitled image" • Mohammed Thoufik - "St.Elisabeth Cathedral,Kosice,Slovakia"