My Life at Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong 2011-2013

Next up: Shanghai!

12022617_823123757785872_4762045190504629380_oYes, you read that correctly! I have moved to Shanghai four weeks ago and will now study International Relations as an exchange student at Fudan University until next summer.

The first lesson learnt in Shanghai was: UWC is never far away. I have already met a thirdyear from Hongkong who is currently doing historical research here at Fudan and I also had the pleasure to see my Ukrainian co-year Anna again after more than two years (see picture), since she is also spending a semester here in Shanghai.

I am very excited about the opportunity to come back to this side of the world and will use the time to learn more about China, discover and hopefully better understand its culture, history and people. I will travel around the country, learn Mandarin and, most of all, share all these new impressions and experiences in a brand-new blog :) If you’re interested, go take a look!!

DSC06576There 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. DSC06578 DSC06325The 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. DSC06593 DSC06598Over 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.DSC06337 DSC06323The 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.
DSC06376 DSC06408Back 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.”DSC06443 DSC06464 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.” 1902967_649039435145507_1794074077_nTo 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.” 10305174_702720973110686_2217195782492954332_nJo 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. DSC06523 DSC06509The 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.DSC06485 DSC06582 DSC06367Coming 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.DSC06545 DSC06309 DSC06314 DSC06290Two 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!

UWC in Two Minutes

The UWC Blog List

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 12.17.44 Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 12.18.25

It started with a small idea and a short post in the group for German UWC Applicants. Then I posted the link and announcement on the Facebook group for UWC Alumni, which has 12.500+ members – and by now the project has expanded in an unpredictable dynamic! What am I talking about? The UWC Blog List – a project by my firstyear Connor Bär who attends the UWC in Swaziland. By now, his page has already brought together the  links from more than 135 blogs in over 12 languages, written by students from almost 40 countries at the 14 United World Colleges. Impressive! This way, hopefully one day everybody can find a UWC blog of some sort in their own language. I’m also very proud to see that LPC is among the UWCs with the biggest blogging tradition!

Passing on the Torch

Nope, I didn’t plan to write any more articles for this blog (though I am planning on continuing my blog on UWC stories, now that I have settled into university!) but I have to share so much LPC news with you! Most importantly: The tradition of German blogging goes on! My Zeroyear Arzucan Askin, also elected by the Deutsche Stiftung UWC, has not only launched her own blog about her time at Li Po Chun UWC, but also wrote an article for SpiegelOnline, one of Germany’s most renowned news portals. Under the headline “How I shocked my mother”, Arzu writes about her preparations and excitement, and tells us a little secret about how her United World College adventure started. Many articles in her blog remind me about my own start and life at LPC: Dealing with too heavy luggage, parents who would prefer to see their child at a European UWC and the very first typhoon. It’s wonderful to see that our UWC experience is so alike, though we are two generations apart!

Quite a few of the new Zeroyears but also current Secondyears at LPCUWC have blogs of some sort; which I find admirable (like this one from Vilma, the current Firstyear from El Salvador, this one by Firstyear Natalie or this one from Secondyear Gabe). I really love that: Sharing those exciting stories and letting people all over the world be part of the UWC experience is a wonderful to promote UWC and the values it advocates. I can also see this in the steadily increasing traffic on the LPCUWC Facebook page which I am very glad to see in good hands now – though I have to admit, that I didn’t stop posting updates on LPC life once in a while, since I still feel so involved and am in frequent contact with my friends back there anyway. The connection to UWC never rips off!

“LPC has shown me that kindness brings kindness, happiness brings happiness, and being good to others fills the entire world with goodness. To trigger changes in the world, I have to be the one who takes the first step.” – Cengiz, Turkey

Last but not least, let me draw your attention to my Firstyear Gabe’s new Facebook page “Humans of LPC”: Inspiring quotes (as above) and stunning stories by real LPC students! Feel free to like and follow!

Happy End

It is time for my, yes, last blog entry as hongkongcitygirl. The last weekend was incredibily exciting; I was in Düsseldorf in West-Germany, where my German co-years from all UWCs and I celebrated our graduation together with our parents and the German national committee, and I also took part at my first ever German UWC network meeting there. It was great, to see my co-year Michael again, though we only separated one and a half months ago, but it was even better to hear the stories of all my other co-years, some of which I last met two years ago at the German Zero-Firstyear-Meeting 2011. Though of course all our experiences had been different, we found many common aspects of our UWC lives, common stories and happenings, common opinions. We had lively discussions about the different attitudes towards rules, the UWC values and current issues at all UWCs. Since we had alumni with us, who had graduated five, fifteen or even twenty years ago, it was fascinating to listen to their opinions and memories on the topics, too.

At our graduation ceremony we heard, of course, many speeches and talks by representatives of the national committee and alumni. My Secondyear Basti from Swaziland and my Co-Year Lena, who had visited the UWC in Costa Rica, held a speech together, representing all our year group. Of course it had been hard to try to align all our different impressions and experiences into one, limited speech, as they said themselves: “UWC has been lived and felt in so many different ways by all students that we cannot describe the last two years UWC on behalf of our entire year. No single minute UWC can be summed up in a single speech.” But they did quite a good job nonetheless. Basti explained for example how there are not only language barriers, but particularily humor barriers to overstep in the UWC community: “I don’t know about your experiences in this issue, but European or even German humor is just not as well received in the far reaches of the world. I admit that the two barriers are, of course closely together. When one leaves his native language, purely to communicate in a second language, the usual way of making jokes is lacking. In general, the own culture of conversation goes lost for a while. The own personality, thoughts and opinions that one would love to express can simply not be formulated properly. Let alone in a funny way.998827_10151771585105883_117306017_n

When walking to the front, and receiving a book and (handwritten!) letter from the National Committee, each of us graduates had to hold a small speech and say a few words about our UWC experience. I thanked the National Committee for the “beautiful time, the great opportunity and especially my co-year Michael. I think we were a perfect team and I believe we represented Germany very well – him, the dedicated palatine and me, the girl from Dräsdn” (which is how you pronounce “Dresden” in my regional dialect ;) .

The rest of the weekend was filled with open discussions, presentations and of course private talks between the Alumni and National Comittee at the UWC Network Meeting. We discussed for example, how to raise awareness about UWC in Germany. The plan is, after all, to gain no less then 400 applicants for the currently running selection process which will end on the 25th December of this year! A big challenge for the German UWC Organisation. The background lies in the opening of the Robert-Bosch-College in Freiburg next year. 25% of the college’s students have to be German, so there will be no longer 20 but 50 German scholarships. However, the German National Committee would like to keep their standard of 10 applications for one place at a UWC – so we need at least twice as many applicants. The application documents for German applicants went online just recently so don’t hesistate and make your dream come true!

I have been asked by many what my plans are now, that the IB and my two years at the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong have passed. I am very glad to announce that I was accepted to what has been my dream university since they first presented themselves in Hong Kong: The Sciences Po in France. As you will read all around the internet, “established in 1872 as the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, Sciences Po has traditionally educated France’s political and diplomatic elite, and it is generally thought of to be one of the world’s most reputable and prestigious schools of the social sciences”. 40% of the students have an international background, coming from more than sixty countries of the world. During the undergraduate programm, the third year is spend abroad at one of 400 partner universities or in an internship outside of France. Most students move to the Paris campus for their graduate studies. I myself will study for my Bachelor in Nancy – at one of the six undergraduate campuses which are scattered around France and each of an individual academic und cultural/regional focus. I’ll be part of the trilingual programm in Nancy, which has a Franco-German focus and is taught in German, French and English. The lectures will cover topics in political science, economics, history, law and sociology and languages. To study so various topics in three langues will be challenging, but it alread excites me a lot!

So, this is it. This is the outlook to my future, the very likely end to this blog. It’s a “happy end” to something that felt like a fairytale and was yet real all the way. I want to thank my loyal readers for having followed and often supported me from beginning to end. Over 70’800 times my blog has been read, by people from over 135 countries (see the map). I would have never thought or dreamed that my voice could be carried into the world in such a dimension, but I guess UWC is simply a topic that attracts others, provokes curiosity and incites fascination. And I hope that over the course of my two years at LPCUWC you fell in love with this movement just as much as I did. Thank you very much. Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 13.52.27

I want to end with a quotation by Nelson Mandela, the honorary president of UWC. At the very moment, this great man is struggling with death, but today is his 95. birthday. On the UWC Homepage it says: “Nelson Mandela has a long and personal connection with the UWC movement since his children and grandchildren attended Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa. Through his life-long defence of freedom and justice, Nelson Mandela encapsulates many of the ideals which UWC strives to achieve and provides great inspiration for students and alumni.” There are many wise, inspiring and compelling words by this man, but this is one of my personal favorites. Simple, powerful, UWC:

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor; that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine; that the child of farm workers can become the President of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

The word of UWC, I mean. I have recently enlarged the circle of newspapers and magazines I write for and am now also author at Jádu, an online German-Czech Youth Magazine initiated by the Goethe Institute in Prague. Jádu its written in both German and Czech; we authors write in our mother tongue and our articles are then translated into the other language. This way, everyone can learn more about their neighboring country or see their own country from a new, outsider’s perspective. A great concept! The three main categories are “Life”, “Job” and “Culture”; every four till six weeks the magazine also has a new “Theme”, under which articles demonstrating different views on the topic are published.

My start-up in this magazine was, as it usually is, an article about UWC and especially my own experiences in Hong Kong. Representing those two years in only around 5000 characters is not quite easy, but I think I could still give a broad overview about my UWC adventure. The article is in German and Czech, but as usual one can use google to get some sort of translation. Enjoy!