Sewanee is full of extraordinary people with fascinating stories. Here they share those stories–in their own words.

Szonja Szurop, C’22

Italian studies and art history double major, Admissions Arcadian, Fine Arts House and Italian House resident, Sewanee Purple newspaper staff, University Art Gallery attendant

There's something in Italy that makes me feel at home. I lived in this part of Rome called Prati while I was studying abroad. It's next to the Vatican, so I was one street away from the Pope. On Sundays I would see him give his talk, wave and smile, give his blessings. It was just crazy because, every day, I was walking past some of the most famous monuments in human history, and eating very delicious food. It was like a dream. All of my friends are so tired of me always being like, "I miss Italy, the food, the sun…" But it really was like that.

I started studying Italian as a language in high school, and continued it as a minor at Sewanee. When I was preparing to go study abroad, I thought, "I really want to do more with this subject and with this culture, and want to get more immersed in it." I was also trying to think ahead for my future, in case I want to move to Italy to teach or do more with Italian art in my professional career. That’s when I started talking to my professors about making an Italian studies major. I knew that students could initiate their own majors because a friend of mine made his own major in film studies, but I didn’t know exactly how he did it. First, we had to figure out what we needed. We had to set up a curriculum, so we looked at what the requirements were for some similar majors. Professor Martini even created two new courses so that I would have enough credits. My written comp [the comprehensive exam in a student's major that all Sewanee seniors take] was in English, but my thesis presentation was in Italian, and the reviewers asked questions in Italian.

I had never actually been to the U.S. before coming to Sewanee. I am from Budapest, Hungary, and the education that I've received here is very different in a lot of aspects from the Eastern European system. In Hungary, there's a very clear hierarchy between student and professor, so you have to be super, super courteous and keep your professional distance when you address the professor outside of a class context. That's why it was very interesting for me that students in the U.S. can have coffee and conversations with their professors. I definitely could not have created the major without my Italian and art history professors, Dr. Martini, Dr. Thompson, and Dr. MacLaren. They recognized that I have a passion for this, and were there for me through the process. I’m so grateful that Sewanee gave me the support to pursue my interests in my own major, and I hope to see other students take their ideas and embark on this journey!

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