As I am writing this I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, one of eleven ports as part of our voyage around the globe. I am travelling with Semester at Sea, a school programme that in short could be described as an American-based floating university. Together with 500 other students, mostly American but also some international, we are studying while at sea and are free to explore the countries while in port. I remember hearing about this programme in my first year of UWC. My world had opened up – just coming to UWC had made me realize how much more there is in the world than my small village back home, and it had made me want to explore it all. In UWC, I had made food with my Moroccan friend, danced Bollywood-dance with my Indian friends and talked about daily life in Vietnam. Being able to travel to all these countries that my friends come from and experience all these things in its natural setting sounded too good to be true.
We talk a lot about the concept of a “single story” here on the ship. How a country (or really almost anything) is not either/or, but both/and. How it is true that China has a lot of pollution, but also has stunning landscapes and nature. How Myanmar has tensions between ethnic groups, but also the most open and friendly people I’ve ever met. How I, in South Africa, have seen the richest areas but also the poorest. I find myself fascinated how each country has so many different sides, and I think it is this fascination that makes me suffer from something that I think many UWCers can relate to – wanderlust.
Growing up on Åland Islands, an autonomous island in the Finnish archipelago where travelling with ferries are part of our daily life, I thought that I should be immune to sea sickness. I was wrong. The waves in the Pacific are different from the ones in the Baltic Sea, and some days it’s just impossible to focus on homework. Days like these I seek up one of my friends and play cards in the restaurant, or watch movie after movie in one of our small cabins. As each UWC nominates two students each year for this program, there are quite a few UWCers on the ship. By sharing the same experience and having the same values, we have grown close and enjoy spending a lot of time together. From them I have learned about daily life in other UWC schools, and how they all have their own personalities. UWC Waterford Kamhlaba (Swaziland) doesn’t have PBL weeks (Project Based Learning), UWC Robert Bosch College (Germany) is off every Wednesday morning to do service work in the community and UWC Li Po Chun (Hong Kong) is located in the outside of the city and has a Starbucks right outside its campus. From them I learned that although our schools operate in slightly different ways, they are all UWC, and they have in some way sculpted us to become part of one big beautiful UWC family.
It is almost a year ago since I graduated from Red Cross Nordic. So many times I have stopped and reflected upon where I would have been today if I wouldn’t have gone to UWC – and with that I don’t mean physically, although South Africa is kind of cool, but rather what my values would have been. In some way that I cannot really put my finger on yet, UWC has lead me into a path of wonder and curiosity, of friendships and a confidence that we can accomplish anything we want. And for that I am immensely thankful.