I spent five years abroad. When I returned to Slovakia, I set up Collegium Anton Neuwirth.
I got the idea while I was studying in Oxford
Seeing and experiencing life at the college inspired me to imagine what it would be like to have an institute like that in Slovakia. Once you experience it, you know that it can exist.
The main obstacle was that it was foreign to our culture
There were a lot of practical blocks in people's minds. Namely that I would never raise enough money. But when someone says you can’t do something, that it is not possible, it’s not a valid enough argument.
How will you know if you never try?
In the end, I did raise the money. I went to a couple of fundraiser training events run by Americans and I implemented what I learned. It proved that when there is a will, there is a way.
I came from a culture of post-communism where being different was not encouraged
It was all about being grey and average. If you came up with a new and different idea, the other people automatically discouraged you from it. Abroad, I gained exposure to a different attitude. Life abroad taught me that it’s okay to dream. I experienced a culture of support that showed me that dreams can be fulfilled. That is, if you have the discipline to work on them. Today, we take many of our students to Oxford. We do this to show them that what they are experiencing with us in Slovakia is not crazy, but actually quite normal in other parts of the world.
I would say a leader is someone who is an inspiring and virtuous person
A person who has a vision, shares it with others and implements it for the good of society. But in Slovak, the word for leader is 'vodca'. It is unfortunate, because it has a connotation to the German 'führer', which is very much connected with Hitler.
In Slovak, we are trying to coin a new term ‘inšpirujúca osobnost’ (’inspiring personality’)
One way we learn is by imitating others. That is why a big part of our program is introducing our students to other inspiring people. This is what all these new organizations are trying to do; to show young people that a different way is possible.
I do not believe in chance. There is a reason why you were born here
If you have an attitude that once you go abroad, you are the best and everything in Slovakia is terrible, what’s the point? Where you were born is not something that you can change. It is something that was given to you.
When you live abroad and see something good, try to find ways to bring it home
You will be surprised by how many people it can benefit. Again, one example can lead to other examples and eventually catalyse a change in social norms.
One person cannot do it alone, but you can start by inspiring others
This testimony was originally published in Zuzana Palovic’s book, The Great Return. You can learn more about the book as well as Palovic’s own journey as a Slovak migrant that later returned to Slovakia at http://thegreatreturn.eu/.
1. Jun 2019 at 11:15 | Zuzana Palovic