People of RCN

June 4, 2019

Tsering (RCN ’17-’19)

2019-06-10T10:00:02+00:00June 4th, 2019|

Tsering Tashi is in his second and final year at UWC Red Cross Nordic. He came to know about this College four years ago, when he was in 8th grade. A video documentary he watched about students who have attended the College inspired him. So he started studying hard in order to get good grades – a criterion for winning a scholarship.

Tsering says UWC Red Cross Nordic impacts his life and his attitude in various ways, ranging from recognition of his identity to becoming an independent learner. He is a third-generation Tibetan refugee living in India, and he became aware that his status is different from many others. “When we were introduced to the other students, their citizenship and the country where they came from is the same. But my case is different. I am a Tibetan without a country. I came from India but am not Indian. It intrigues me now in different ways than before. I became more conscious about my identity and the situation I am in.”

This realization makes him more open to learn about other cultures and accepting differences. “I believe UWC Red Cross Nordic is an ideal environment to learn how to adjust to a different place and assimilate with different people and a variety of cultures. I have become a responsible Tibetan because when I share my culture with others I must do it properly and I want to learn from others too.”

For Tsering, accepting others’ opinions is the difficult part of assimilation with diversity. He acknowledges that he used to have strong opinions about his religion and culture, and he was using it as the basis for his judgement of the right and wrong doings of others. But this has changed. “I know UWC education has had a huge impact on me. I have become less biased now. I can understand the other person’s perspective even though it doesn’t represent mine. Also, I became more rational rather than emotional and will no longer try to impose my ideas on others or show them that their ideas are wrong. Here I have learnt that there is no such thing as a black and white picture, it is more about accepting people as they are. For example, I meet people who are nice to me personally, but are doing things that might be considered as wrong in my culture. Learning this, I got more comfortable in socializing with people from different backgrounds.”

Tsering has set his goal to be a neuroscientist. This ambition and his personal principle of being a lifelong and active learner gives him the energy every morning to get out of his bed and start the day with enthusiasm. He sees a good combination of his passions, his principles and accessing education at UWC Red Cross Nordic. “The IB curriculum has helped me to be an independent learner. I had never written any paper on any subject before I came here, now I am building my capacity on that. The IB curriculum is intense with lots of work to do and UWC with all of its diversity is also demanding but this is what makes UWC so rigorous. It makes you a person who does not shy away from challenges.”

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May 13, 2019

Hans Walter (RCN ’03-’05)

2019-06-10T10:08:29+00:00May 13th, 2019|

I met Juan José, a bright 8-year-old boy, in a soccer training program in Medellin, Colombia in 2013. I still remember Juan José because he was special: he had just recovered from brain tumor treatment. His doggedness to learn by playing soccer and his keenness to share with other kids later became core principles of the out-of-school programs I began to work on. The story of Juan José strengthened my idea that perseverance is the main driver of happiness. In fact, his story paved the way to use my life story to inspire at-risk kids to pursue their dreams. Knowing not from books nor from lectures but from my own experience that inequality feeds on lack of opportunities and poverty, ignited my passion for social issues and is the reason why I am doing a PhD in Education and Policy Studies at the University of Vermont.

Growing up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Bogotá instilled a gloomy idea about life: that the future was not a choice but rather a curse. Looking back at my life before 2002, I was only destined to finish high school, as my parents could not afford to send me to college. It was almost a mathematical formula: Growing up in poverty would mean living in poverty; it would mean making a living to survive. However, that idea changed with a leap of faith: education. In 2003, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the Red Cross Nordic United World College. I could not believe it was me the one on that plane. I remember the only phrase I could say: “Hi my name is Hans and I am from Colombia” (written on a piece of paper in case I would get lost). I still remember how hard it was to do my homework as I was learning English. I still remember how many times I felt like giving up. But I could not. I carried my family, my friends and the hopes of my neighborhood on my shoulders. Thanks to my teachers (especially Mariano, Aseem, Angie, Barbara, Bruce and John Lawrenson) and friends I was able to learn the language and make it, even if I did not believe I could. “Be the eagle my son”, my mentor, friend and role model (Daniel) would say. Though the language was an impediment at first, as I did not speak English, it did not restrain me from learning. In Norway, I learned that education is a process of self-discovery oriented to build resilience and foster leadership.

This idea would subsequently be confirmed. Thanks to my teachers and to two special people: our college counsellor – Bruce – and the dean of admission and financial aid of Middlebury College – Mike Schoenfeld – , for believing in me, I got a scholarship to study at Middlebury College in the US. There I became curious about studying issues such as poverty, inequality and cultural diversity and their relationship with social justice.

In 2009, I attended a three-week professional training program on social development in Washington D.C. These three weeks helped me develop not only the skills to design and evaluate development projects but also to reflect upon how to apply that knowledge to help my community. This profound inquiry took me one step closer to home: I returned to Colombia on a full scholarship to study a master’s in public policy. This transition was not easy because I had to confront myself with a harsh reality: I was attending a private university while still living in a place where most people (included my family and friends) had to struggle to make a living. Being mindful about my position motivated me to learn about inequality and poverty from the standpoint of children and youth in my neighborhood. Hence, I wrote my master’s thesis on substance abuse in young people in Bogotá (including my neighborhood) using a mixed-methods approach. I chose this topic because while growing up, I witnessed many of my friends being trapped in a vicious cycle of drugs and delinquency, but I never understood why. My research took me far: I identified major risk and protective factors associated with substance abuse such as lack of out-of-school programs in vulnerable neighborhoods and lack of family involvement in youth development. Encouraged by the results of my thesis, and after attending a program on social entrepreneurship and leadership at Georgetown University, I implemented (along with my longtime friends and my brother) an after-school project in my neighborhood. Activities ranged from play writing, music composition and sports; to workshops on how to design a life project. The results were stunning: kids began to develop soft skills such as empathy, assertiveness, compassion, ability to listen, perseverance and enthusiasm for the future. This project gave me the chance to travel abroad to speak about leadership and to work in the design of summer school programs for NGOs in Colombia and in Chile.

My work experience has been devoted to understanding social issues. Ranging from volunteer at the Ridderrennet as a UWC student (a winter sports week for people who are visual impaired and have multiple disabilities) to policy advisor, I have always dreamed of unlocking the potential of communities to become opportunity makers. Thus, I have mainly been interested in jobs where I can work with and for communities. I have worked on corporate social responsibility projects for the private sector, social policy analysis and implementation at the national and local government level regarding at-risk youth, education, and community empowerment, NGOs that work with at-risk youth, and teaching English at my own high school. At its core, all these jobs have required me to “candidly put myself into someone else´s shoes” before making a recommendation about a policy or project. By doing so, I have gained a better understanding of my role in society. Though diverse, all my professional experience has taught me one important lesson: the purpose of knowledge is to serve others. In addition, these experiences bolstered my concerns about poverty, inequality and lack of opportunities and their relationship with social justice.

Driven by a heartfelt conviction that only by fully understanding a problem one can come up with solutions, I decided to embark on a new journey: a PhD study. In 2018 I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to complete a PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Vermont. My dream is to further understand social policy issues related to education and inequality so that I can contribute to better inform policy makers and academia on evidence-based policies and best practices to tackle social problems that involve children and youth. One topic I am interested in is out-of-school programs and its impact on cultivating grit, bridging the learning gap between less advantaged kids and more advantaged kids as well as providing social entrepreneurial skills for unserved youth. I am currently working on an education project in Chile related to summer learning and the use of online courses at the high school level to enhance learning outcomes.

As I look back at how this journey started, I can confirm what Nelson Mandela said about education: “it is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. Indeed, the education that I received at UWC not only changed my life, but it gave me the tools and the grit to want to make the world a better place for young people. Last week I taught my first class at the University of Vermont. It was a class about inclusion policies in education settings in Colombia and the role of social entrepreneurship. Standing there in front of 77 undergraduate students was magical: I remembered the days I spent in my room or at the library trying to do my homework and thinking that I would never make it. Students gave me a great feedback: They said that the class was engaging and that they learned a lot. That day, I reminisced about what Daniel taught me: “be the eagle”. I can only thank God, my family and friends, my neighborhood and UWC for teaching me the importance of caring for others. Without a doubt, UWC instilled this idea that education has a social purpose: To serve others and I will carry that idea as a badge. I think that I have learned to fly.

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Kristín (RCN ’18-’20)

2019-05-01T09:12:09+00:00May 1st, 2019|

First year student Kristín, from Iceland, has been vlogging about her experiences since arriving at the College in August 2018. Her weekly vlog gives an insight into what it is like to be a student here.

Take a look at her channel for all the other videos.

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April 23, 2019

Kainat (RCN ’17-’19)

2019-04-24T07:59:20+00:00April 23rd, 2019|

UWC Red Cross Nordic is Kainat’s tenth school. The frequent school changes were not a result of the family moving to new places but came from her desire to get a good quality education.  She is the first born to a family of three children and started reading books at an early age. Kainat sees the connection between her desire for a quality education and her love of reading.

“The education at the public school was mainly based on memorization; they never polished my thinking, they never made me creative.”

Kainat comes from a lower middle-class family living in one of the slum areas of Karachi, Pakistan. Within this community, educating girls is not given much value. However, her parents showed a different way of thinking not only by sending her to school, but also through supporting her when looking for a better education. “At times, my father would get frustrated by my frequent demand to change schools, but my mother would say, – Let’s give her what she wants. And I got it!

When Kainat reached 8th grade, she went to a school that was run by an NGO, “… and there I got what I was looking for. Learning by questioning, not by repeating and memorizing everything.”

According to Human Rights Watch, girls in Pakistan have less chance of accessing education than boys and dropout rates of girls from primary schools is higher than that of boys – 32 and 21 percent respectively. “Only 13 percent of girls are still in school by ninth grade” the report  confirms.

Kainat made it through high school due to her hunger for education and her mother’s staunch support.  And then she got a scholarship to the UWC Red Cross Nordic – a school that would make her bloom.  Coming to a different world and meeting strangers who talked and thought differently from how she was used to, was interesting from the beginning. But the influence runs deeper.  “In my first year here, we were three Pakistanis, but all from different parts of the country with different religions. This made me realize that I did not know enough about my own country.” But the real eye-opener came regarding her views about people from India, which she came to see were biased. “Through the media and what people at home told me, I had a picture of Indians which was totally different from what I have now, particularly since my best friend here is an Indian girl.”

Kainat’s experience will have a lifelong impact on her. In the short term, it will help her to adjust to life at University as she continues her education.  But in the long run, the ability to accept differences and embrace diversity are the values that she will truly treasure.

“The experience at UWC RCN has transformed me. The fact that I must do things by myself without help from my parents, has made me independent. Before, I used to put the blame on my parents if my decision resulted in something unfavourable. Now, once I decide on something, there is no one to blame; I have learned to take responsibility for my actions and to be accountable. UWC is a world in miniature, and living here has prepared me for when I go out into the bigger world.”

Kainat has a dream of making a difference: “Individuals make society, and transformed individuals can transform their society. I believe I am on my way to becoming one. I got my identity through education and I will move on to further education and a career. There is no time to waste!”

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