Vanessa is 26. She came to Pisa from Basilicata in 2016 to start university. “I was always singing. So, my roommate suggested I join the university chapel choir and I came to San Frediano.” Rehearsals take place every Friday. There are also concerts, outings, “the joy of sharing many moments of celebration, but also the difficult moments each of us go through, creating important relationships that the university hardly allows time to create.” “I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Drug Scientific Information,” Vanessa explains, “But even the walls in my village knew I wanted to become a doctor. I had not been able to pass the test because I had to work to support myself.
After graduation, I pursued a master’s degree and gave myself time to discern. I really wanted to try again to get into medical school, but I had so many fears. Another 6 years of study: will I succeed and then how can I support myself? It was Fr. Giuseppe Trotta, our parish priest, who helped me take a decision, giving me the serenity to build the dream by taking away my fears, and offering me a small job. So, I started to take care of the kitchen for the two Jesuit fathers in the community. This enabled me to enter university. We are accustomed in society to the quid pro quo. It is unusual to receive help without having to reciprocate. So, I found the strength to try the faculty entrance test again. I passed and now I am in my second year of study.
Class attendance is mandatory and then I have to go back to my books to study. I have maximum flexibility for cooking meals. I use the early hours of the afternoon, when I have the hardest time concentrating. I open the refrigerator and based on what I find I cook. I especially like to prepare elaborate dishes from my own tradition. But they are okay with anything! I learned to cook as a child, watching my mom, who is a very good cook. My parents are happy and so grateful. They always knew my dream: to become a surgeon. The journey is long, but I am on my way. To my peers I say: follow your dream, the road will slowly light up. If you know the why, you will find the how!”
Lyse-Theresia is also 26. She is from Gabon. “I discovered online an open-enrolment course at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Pisa. So, I came here to inquire about it. I was so impressed by the scent of the wet earth. It reminded me so much of my country. I fell in love with the city and chose to study here. My brother and sister were already in Italy, as university students. My parents are retired. The ability to pay fees proportionate to what one earns is a great opportunity in Italy, compared to other European countries.” Lyse-Theresia has an excellent command of the Italian language with academic certification. “I would like to help generate an educational system that promotes healthier living, serving society, substituting performance, competition. I would like to make school a place of growth and not of performance. As a child in Gabon, I attended schools of excellence, reserved for students who have very high grades. In Italy, faced with the many suicides of university students, I realized that this approach to schooling affects different countries and permeates world culture. I would like to open the eyes of the new generations.”
In San Frediano there is an association that helps foreign students, “Sante Malatesta.” “I came here to ask for help with housing. Among the students I met Sister Cinzia, from the community of the Apostoline Sisters who with the Jesuit fathers accompany young university students. Hearing my voice, she suggested that I join the choir. The college students’ Mass is at 7 p.m. on Sundays. I had never seen a liturgy so well animated by young people. I was welcomed immediately, without filters and protocols. St. Frediano taught me to experience University, and not just to make sacrifices to pass exams. The community that resides there, made up of young people, nuns and Jesuits, helped me so much during difficult moments.” The Jesuits have been in Pisa since 2014, invited by Bishop Mons Paolo Benotto to take charge of the university chapel, and since 2010 the Apostoline Sisters have also been working there in collaboration.
A degree in herbal science is scheduled for next February. Then a postgraduate internship, English courses and discerning to the end my calling, “to fulfill my dream, what I am passionate about in life. I have seen so many young people do very well in college and then get stuck in front of the working world because they lack a life project. I want to build a society that is less competitive and more supportive and communal. The experience of San Frediano has confirmed to me that this deep desire of mine is possible.”