By Madeleine Doyle

This past weekend (March 31-April 2) students studying abroad in Gaming from Franciscan University travelled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for “part two” of a student exchange with the Kolegium Anton Neuwirt. Earlier in February students studying at the Kolegium came and stayed in Gaming, and they were happy to return the favor of hospitality. Six Franciscan students spent the weekend in the castle where the Slovak students live and study during the school year. This exchange was made possible by the LCI, which has the special charism and mission of connecting students from other countries, whether in Gaming or abroad. By making this opportunity available to the American students, the LCI is seeking to build bridges between cultures and countries.

Rose, a Franciscan student, said “they took us around town and it was so cool to see other Catholic students that were so into their faith.” Another student, Gina, raved about the hospitality of the Slovakians. “They took us around everywhere. They literally stopped their lives to host us and be attentive to us… My favorite place was this old opera house that has been turned into a restaurant.” This attention to detail made the American students feel at home in a strange city instead of feeling odd or out of place. Mike and his roommate Louis also went and they had great things to say about the weekend. Mike commented, “Slovakia was truly an experience that allowed us as American students to be fully immersed in another culture. The trip gave students an opportunity to see how people our own age live, thrive and communicate with each other.” Despite the cultural differences, real connection and integration amongst the students was the hallmark of the weekend. Louis stated, “We did many fun activities including a scavenger hunt around the city. We were competing against each other to see who could find all the buildings first, and in doing so I realized that the point was not to win but really to make friends. I loved Slovakia and would recommend it to any future students.”

From talking to these students it was clear that this experience was the opportunity of a lifetime. As Louis testifies, “Slovakia was life-changing!” Students didn’t just gain a travel weekend, but more meaningfully, a cultural immersion and an experience of the universal Church. It is Christ that unites beyond all divisions and differences, and through this exchange weekend, our students were able to live that.