My introduction to the mission of United World Colleges happened in Kathmandu in the summer of 2007. There I met a British man who had spent much of his adult life as a Zen Buddhist monk, but was, at the time, on sabbatical from a ‘college’ in Norway. He and his wife were taking time to volunteer in rural Nepalese villages. He had a calm air about him and an amiable personality. We shared a dinner and conversation about the world and our place in it. The man left my presence and I haven’t seen him since; indeed I never discovered his name.
The meeting with the monk-turned-teacher and its remarkable influence has remained with me now for nearly four years and I have been an avid follower of the United World College (UWC) and its mission. Today I find myself at the terminus of the Master in Teaching program at Woodring College, Western Washington University. The more I explore the philosophies, pedagogy and practices of various schools the more I am confident of my alignment with the philosophies of UWC and remain hopeful of my future with the organization.
I grew up on a small hobby farm in southern Minnesota. There was very little in the way of outside culture and no ethnic or racial diversity to speak of in the agricultural region of my upbringing. Yet my father somehow managed to find interesting people to bring to our dinner table – European bicyclists in need of shelter from a storm, a Mongolian Tai Chi instructor, or an actor from San Francisco. I always marveled at their stories and wondered how they made it to our home in our small corner of the world. After a family trip to Sweden to mark my parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary, I had a revelation and decided I liked being abroad. I was a teenager now and could better appreciate the concept of culture. For this trip that meant drinking wine for the first time, riding on the back of a bicycle powered by a beautiful Swedish girl and dancing at a beachside disco until sunrise; it was visiting the country home of my ancestors. Now I was the one inside of a home in someone else’s corner of the world. I was hooked on exploring culture – and I never looked back.
Various travels since then have offered me more in-depth looks at culture – sights I never imagined I would see, tastes I never knew existed, languages I never dreamed my tongue would shape. But the most important aspect of these travels was the people I met along the way. It was the relationships which fostered and (often) fizzled, stories shared and the universal gift of laughter bestowed which made the trips meaningful. People keep me inclined to explore around corners, curious about the vibrancy of humanity, and engaged in living with those around me, regardless of location. I want all of these feelings to continue and see United World College as an ideal occupation for encouraging and cultivating my passions.
The origin of United World College began with Kurt Hahn, an educator and founder of various organizations including the first UWC, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, Outward Bound and more. Mr. Hahn believed in a holistic education of youth, where young people can discover more about themselves, others and the world around them than they ever thought possible. In order to do so, youth should be set with high standards in personal health and fitness, activity and adventure, community commitment and responsibility, and abundant academic exploration. In 1962, in Southern Wales, the first UWC opened.
Now there are 13 schools around the world, on five continents. According to their website, “almost 40,000 students from over 180 countries have studied at UWC schools and colleges and there are over 130 national committees.” The national committees help to recruit youth and process applications for international schools. Students at UWC hail from Afghanistan and Finland, China and South Africa, Palestine and Bosnia, Malaysia and Brazil, Iraq and Canada, along with scores of other countries. There is a constant and concerted effort by UWC to recruit youth from all walks of life and all regions of the world in order to maximize exposure to varying cultures and languages, art and conversation, customs and ideas.
The current thirteen UWC campuses around the world will be joined by other colleges currently in various stages of development. Each has a focus, but is bound to the following UWC values:
International and intercultural understanding
Celebration of difference
Personal responsibility and integrity
Mutual responsibility and respect
Compassion and service
Respect for the environment
A sense of idealism
Action and personal example
(Obtained from the organization’s website at uwc.org)
With these principles in mind, the UWC students and staff seek to explore the complexities of the world and its inhabitants. They seek to embrace individuality, independence and exploration while learning skills in partnership, conflict resolution, and an utmost respect for diversity. All of these concepts need not be mutually exclusive or conflicting – UWC recognizes this and passes it on to future leaders.
In a world such as ours, with increasing interactions among various peoples, economic and political turmoil, and ever-growing populations, the mission of UWC and its legacy seem all the more salient. I endeavor to be an effective and informed citizen of the world and to work with others with comparable ambitions. The youth served at UWC are from many nations and come from many different backgrounds. I want to meet these students, teach in their classrooms and, above all, learn from them and their colorful experiences.
– Kurt Hahn