By Andrea Solis Canto, Xavier University ‘19
I came into Xavier University confident that I wanted to study abroad in college, but had no specific place or program in mind. But during my freshman year, I came across the Spring Hill College (SHC) Italy Center program at Xavier’s Fall study abroad fair, and immediately became interested in learning more about what the program had to offer.
In addition to the key selling point of being able to spend a semester abroad in Europe, the SHC Italy Center prided itself in being an intentional and challenging program rooted in human rights and social justice. As a freshman, I was sold on the program based on one conversation. However, I had little understanding of just how much of an impact the SHC Italy Center would soon have on my life.
Five semesters after that first encounter, I finally arrived in Bologna during the spring of my junior year. As a double-major in Philosophy, Politics, and the Public and International Studies, I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights; I was thrilled to have found a program that allowed me to continue learning more about my passions while abroad, one that challenged and pushed me to go out of my comfort zone. The SHC Italy Center offers students myriad ways to get involved and learn about social justice while becoming immersed in the local community. Each class and each trip always connects back to difficult questions about justice, and challenges students to look beyond the obvious.
In addition to my classes, I had the opportunity to do an internship during my semester abroad. I interned at the Happy Center and SCALO, two organizations that address issues around homelessness and migration through innovative projects that promote relationships and self-empowerment. At the Happy Center, I facilitated the Italian-English Tandem conversation with migrants and Italians. At SCALO, I provided support during the community laboratory hours, which were open to SCALO residents and to members of the Bologna community. While I got tangible things out of the internship (such as work experience), I learned more about the power and beauty of community, and was forced to grapple with the meaning of solidarity and the purpose of international service.
As an immigrant from Mexico who grew up in the United States, I have always been passionate about immigration issues, and am grateful that I was a part of a program that focused on human rights and the migration crisis. I went to Bologna ready to learn, but had no understanding of the gravity of the migration crisis on a global scale, and found it troubling to realize how human dignity is sacrificed across the globe.
My internship allowed me to confront the crisis head-on, while my classes helped me to better understand the socio-political climate in Italy regarding the migration crisis. It was troubling to realize the similarities in the anti-immigrant attitudes spreading throughout Italy and the United States; eventually, I reached a point in the semester where I was overwhelmed and disheartened by the injustices in our world, unsure of how to make sense of all my experiences. However, it was the people I met who helped me to find some understanding through faith and hope. In a conversation about social justice, the director of the SHC Italy Center once told our group about the importance of having a faith that does justice. He said, “The faith work is the hardest part. Don’t ever let go of it and keep working through it. Always make the space for it because without it, we’ll go bankrupt.”
At the time, I wasn’t sure how to find that balance of faith and justice in my life, but I found myself coming back to his words throughout the rest of the semester and even today. The work of faith and justice is a lifelong journey, but I now realize the importance of grounding myself in faith in order to continue fighting for justice with others, while unraveling who I am meant to be.
My experience interning in Bologna showed me what solidarity rooted in love looks like. My peers helped me to build community within the program, and made it possible for me to feel comfortable learning outside of my comfort zone. My professors taught me what it means to live a life dedicated to service and the importance of having a faith that does justice. Overall, it was the people I met who gave me hope. As overwhelming as it can be thinking about all of the injustices in our world, I found peace knowing that there are people everywhere who are actively working toward justice.
Leaving Bologna was bittersweet. I don’t know if I will ever go back or whether I will see the people who made such an impact on my life again. However, exactly one year after my semester, I continue to have a heart filled with love for the people I met, passion for working toward justice, and gratitude for the fire that the SHC Italy Center instilled within me to never be complacent, and to always seek for the Magis.
Andrea Solis Canto is a 2019 graduate of Xavier University, and former intern at AJCU. She now works as a Spanish Legal Support Professional at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati in Cincinnati, OH.