There is a fascinating tickle to celebrating UWC Day (21.09.) not only with a big, familiar UWC community but also in a brand United World College together with the youngest generation. This weekend I took the train from Nancy all the way to Freiburg im Breisgau, a small town in the south-west of Germany. With a population of only about 200.000, the city counts as entrance point to the German Black Forest and lies in the middle of a rich wine region. A beautiful landscape to place a United World College in! I arrived a little early to Robert Bosch UWC. It lies spread out on a mountain side nearly in the midst of the forest with view onto the city of Freiburg. Walking up the inclined street, I could see the boarding houses ahead of me between the trees: A couple of white blocks that clearly set them-selves apart from the surrounding green landscape but somehow still didn’t seem intruding but rather arranged delicately in the environment. As the first students came my way on bicycles, laughing and waving, I couldn’t help but grin. The feeling in my stomach felt all too familiar, although I had never been to this place. The first hour was spent greeting people from my national committee and finding the German firstyears. They showed me around a little and sneaked me into the canteen so I could get some lunch. I met a few of my own Firstyears from other UWCs who are currently spending a ‘third year’ in Robert Bosch College. As interns, they act as if they were Secondyears to the real RBC students, help them with CAS activities and give all advice one could possibly need as the first generation in a brand new UWC. Over time, the other Alumni arrived. I more or less ran over Michi, my co-year in Hong Kong and did shed a few tears of joy when I saw Sylla, my LPC history teacher who now is a block mentor and teacher at RBC. Meeting this second family of mine again after such a long time – for many of them its been over a year since we last saw each other – was a blessing. It felt, like no time had ever passed at all. Later on, one of the RBC students would tell us that she was amazed by how alumni greeted their long-time-no-see friends: “All I could think”, she said, “was wow. That is going to be us in ten years time.” The saturday afternoon was dedicated to meeting the RBC students, the Deutsche Stiftung UWC and the rector Laurence Nodder, who had already lead the UWC in Swaziland. The students offered us cultural tours around their school and boarding houses. The terrain used to be a monastery for centuries and has been rebuilt into Robert Bosch UWC. The construction work hasn’t yet come to an end. A few boarding houses are still not completed and the auditorium was only finished a few minutes before we held our opening ceremony there – some of the stairs were still covered in wooden dust. First stop was the campus garden, a place seemingly fallen out of a fairy-tale, full of flowers, apple trees, berries and ripe vegetables. My group quickly spread out and soon everyone was chewing either on beans or raspberries. Maintaining the garden will surely be one of the students’ on-campus service activities – one of the German students already worshipped their self-made apple juice.
Back on campus, we were taken from one boarding house to the next. Each of the numbered blocks was dedicated to a region and the students had spent their whole saturday morning cooking traditional meals from their home countries, baking cakes and setting up their national flags and regional souvenirs. The Africans performed a small sketch on African marriage rituals, including a cow and lots of “oh maaama”s. The Asian students enchanted us with an Indian dance and offered us sushi and rice dessert. Their block had also set up a huge table full of different kinds of cake and a German student had showed his classmates how to make Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a speciality from the Freiburg region. When a group of girls from Central and East Europe told us about the similarities and differences between their countries, an Armenian girl explained how she came from a tiny village in rural Armenia and would have never heard of the United World Colleges, if the UWC in Dilijan hadn’t been opened this year, too: “Because of the opening, UWC was all over the national news and even on national TV! When I saw it, I instantly knew that this is where I want to go.” In the evening, we had the honor to assist at a screening of the short documentary “The UWC Spirit” together with director Andrés Broennimann. Andrés is a Costa Rica graduate (2011-2013) who visited six United World Colleges on five continents after graduation to make a promotional video about UWC – which turned out to be a fort minute movie searching for the true meaning of the UWC spirit. “The film focuses on the intangible spirit of UWC”, he described his work, “the fuel that drives the movement.” To demonstrate that spirit, he recounted the stories of four UWC students. Fatimath Shafa from Maldives grew up in poverty and lived through a childhood full of obstacles and hunger. “Sometimes my mother didn’t earn enough for all of us to eat, so many times my meal would only consist in a piece of papaya”, she explained in the movie. When accepted at Mahindra UWC of India, Shafa was more than overwhelmed, let alone by the food: “I have so much to chose from here,” she quietly says, “it is very difficult for me to chew on such luxurious food and think of my family, whom I cannot be sure to have eaten that day.” Jo Machesky and Marta Tizazu told Andrés the story of their unique friendship at Pearson UWC in Canada. It is the story between an American girl and a girl from Ethiopia who became blind at the age of 4. Day by day these two young girls help and inspire each other in class and on the outskirts of Pearson campus, reaffirming that there are no limitations to human interaction. And eventually, Andrés told us the story of Kevin Molina, who had become one of his best friends at UWC Costa Rica. Kevin is from Dominican Republic and his past is tainted by violence and life threats. The friends he spent his childhood with are now all dead, in jail, or somewhere unknown. Kevins personal dream has always been the same: To become a professional soccer player. This drive kept him going to school when his friends just wanted to hang out, and finally brought him to a United World College where he realized how his passion might have just saved his life. Now he even studies on a soccer scholarship in the USA. The movie left many of us spectators cuddled against each other, grasping onto paper tissues – especially the RBC first years seemed very moved and inspired.
Later, the German national committee had hired an indie/jazz band, Levantino
, that had already played at my UWC graduation ceremony in Germany last summer and topped off the evening in Freiburg with a small concert. We all came together in the auditorium again and the community spirit was so very tangible as we simply listened to the music all together or danced to it on the steps of the amphitheater, while watching the sunset and the darkening forests through the glass walls surrounding us. The long standing ovations and loud demands for an encore
were well deserved and when we finally let go of the band, the RBC students all welcomed us in the Mensa
(which is the German word for canteen)
for their party. It was a blast. All alumni, no matter their college or graduation year, were absolutely amazed at how similar this was to their own college experiences. It was beautiful to see that these students, despite only knowing each other for four weeks and having been thrown together from all around the world, had already built such a tight community. They already had their own songs and dances that would leave all us “outsiders” standing at the side in mere fascination; they included a disabled alumna in her wheelchair into their dancing and made sure that nobody was left out. No cliques, no group, just an international community dancing together. It’s one of those images I still cherish most from my time at Li Po Chun UWC, too. On Sunday, 21st of September, of course we celebrated the official UWC Day
. Again, we came together in the auditorium. It sure has the feeling of a town hall meeting to it, sitting in such a large group in an amphitheater. And indeed, up there on the mountain side, RBCUWC is like a small international village.
The students sang to us and played music, some recited poetry about how it felt to have finally arrived in Freiburg, how much they had hoped to become part of UWC, how this would change their lives forever – and how they hoped all of us to bring change into the world: “It will give us the motivation to make a change”
, an African RBC student explained, “because you don’t necessarily need money or resources, you just need an idea, the drive and the motivation to make a change in the world. UWC gets people to try out things they would not normally do. It made me humble and appreciative of where I come from. Having the interaction and talking to people who come from very poor backgrounds and still have that smile on their face – I find that so special and I really look forward to the coming two years.
” Another students told us: “I find it amazing to hear people saying how glad they are about Robert Bosch College even though there are not to receive any personal benefits from its existence… they are just genuinely happy for this place and us and that is really mind-blowing.
Coming to Robert Bosch UWC and speaking to the new RBC students, I realized once again that I might just never get tired of UWC. The new students have already very well grasped the concept of UWC and find their own ways of living up to their ideas about the UWC values. Since the UWC in Freiburg aims at promoting sustainability, the Robert Bosch students had planned a support video for the Climate Change March
taking place all around the world on that same Sunday. The gathered on the “town square” (picture above) and invited us visitors and alumni to join them. Holding up big signs in their native languages, they yelled into the camera: Act now against climate change! Sta nu op boor het klimaat! Aksyon para sa klima! Klimaschutz jetzt
! And while we alumni cheered and clapped in the back, the memories of pride parades, cultural evening, lip dubs and all the other similar events from our respective UWCs just kept flowing in.
Two hectic but surely wonderful days in Freiburg lay behind me. One must congratulate the German national committee Deutsche Stiftung UWC
for the amazing work they have done in the last few years in making the dream of a German UWC come true. The college campus located in the midst of nature creates an inspiring atmosphere and the students fit in perfectly – humble, ambitious and appreciative. It remains to hope that Robert Bosch College will also spread the word of UWC a little more in Germany so that even more German students learn about this fantastic educational opportunity. The United World College in Freiburg may only be at its start. The construction work still has to be terminated, half of the student blocks are yet empty. But the second generation will arrive in less than a year, the scaffolds around the academic Karthaus
will disappear. What is most important is that Robert Bosch College has already conquered the hearts of the German UWC community and considering the recent press releases from regional newspapers
, it will surely sweep the citizens of Freiburg off their feet in no time, too. Congratulations, Robert Bosch United World College: Welcome to the UWC movement!