People of RCN

November 13, 2018

Maarten Hillebrandt (RCN ’01-’03)

November 13th, 2018|

If ever a national stereotype applied to a young adolescent, for me, it would be the famed Dutch directness. From a young age, I strived to “tell it as I see it”. In high school, this got me into trouble with the board, when the school newspaper of which I was editor-in-chief published a series of less-than-favourable articles about disruptive building works on the school grounds.

As I entered Red Cross Nordic in 2001, a couple of things were set straight. It was impressed on me that even when you want to tell it as you see it, there are many ways of seeing a thing. This rendered Dutch directness a little less straight-forward! Though incorrigibly, I still retained the tendency to describe reality in a way that disrupts, makes people think. Only ever so gradually, the style became more academic, intellectual.

A study project in Birmingham during a project-based learning week related to the every-day realities of multicultural life in the second city of the United Kingdom inspired me to pursue my ambitions at a British university. After a Third Year Option at a Tibetan Children’s Village in northern India, I thus enrolled in the History and Sociology degree at the University of Warwick in 2004. During the introduction week, I was fascinated by what a professor of sociology told us freshers: “when, at any time, you don’t feel so well, find someone to take care of”. For me, it made total sense. Taking care as an active need: we are parts of a larger whole, and trying to make it thrive is what makes us happy. I always interpreted this counsel as an encouragement at the personal level, to be as kind and understanding as possible, and at the larger level, to take responsibility and call out and try to repair injustice when you see it.

It was at Warwick that I first became interested in the European Union as a curious social and political phenomenon, and decided to write a thesis on European identity politics. European identity engendered the promise to transcend nationalism, and be curious and welcoming, but could also be uninterested, retreated, and defined in opposition to an external bad. Doing volunteering work at the Coventry refugee centre, helping refugee seekers find their way through the complex British asylum machine, I encountered examples of both.

When I obtained my BA with first class honours, it first dawned on me that perhaps academic research was something for me. But I also wanted to get more concrete, spending more time on understanding how our governments work the way they do. I thus returned to the Netherlands, where I enrolled in a research master of Public Administration and Organisational Science at Utrecht University, and became a research assistant in a project on transparency in the European Union. I became increasingly fascinated by that strange, grey world of law and protocol which quietly zoomed on, creating policies ranging from the EU’s stance in climate negotiations to trade liberalisation treaties with the world’s large economies, without most of European citizens caring or knowing much about it. To me, this obviously screamed for a good story to be told about it!

Thus, after concluding my master (cum laude), I started a PhD project at the University of Amsterdam in 2012. Being based in a law faculty, my first task was to learn more about the functioning of administrative law in the EU, in order to understand the structure of all the case law and administrative procedures that were now becoming my bread and butter. Of course, soon enough, it emerged to me that all those ‘obvious’ arguments raised by the European institutions were perhaps understandable, but not so obvious as at all – and arguably, not necessarily in society’s best interest. In 2017, I completed my dissertation, Living Transparency: The development of access to documents in the Council of the EU and its democratic implications, and defended it successfully in front of a bench of professors of law and political science from across Europe. Recently, this dissertation received the Van Poelje Prize, an annual award for the best dissertation written in the field of public administration in the Netherlands and Flanders. I see this as a great encouragement to continue to care, which means for me: describing political institutions in ways that people had not thought about them yet, in order to find positive ways forward.

September 21, 2018

Guðmundur Hegner Jónsson – Rektor

September 21st, 2018|

“This place is so full of life, even before we have started the term.” Katarina has arrived here to work together with Guðmundur, who is starting his new position as Rektor at UWC Red Cross Nordic. He expands on her early impressions with enthusiasm, “This is a place where people can embrace the people around them and discover themselves in ways that are unique to this multicultural environment. It clearly is a great source for joy, a place where you can have faith in each other. Our job as educators and fellow human beings here will be to foster kindness and mutual understanding.”

Guðmundur and Katarina

Guðmundur and Katarina would describe themselves as global nomads. They have lived together in many different settings, but wherever they have been, they find that the fundamentals are the same. People are people. “We have great faith in people and their potential. In all our lives we have been able to continue to learn and to foster learning.”

Guðmundur finds great satisfaction in being part of the process of young persons making their discoveries – both in the classroom and beyond. He sees RCN as a place that is genuine about its mission “to use education as a uniting force”, something that goes hand in hand with the humanitarian values of the Red Cross. “It is a pleasure and an honour to be trusted to lead an institution with such a clear non-profit profile and a credible set of values.”

On a strategic level he sees possibilities for strengthening the environmental pillar of the College, “I see our environmental pillar as the common thread that connects together the values we aspire to, both as a UWC and as a partner to the Red Cross. Learning to live in harmony with our environment offers potential solutions to many of the humanitarian challenges we see today, and the Nordic concept of friluftsliv weaves together all of these concepts so elegantly.”

Guðmundur has always had the UWC movement on his radar, having been mentored by a former colleague who had worked at Gordonstoun in Scotland, and who first introduced him to the ideals of Kurt Hahn. He was delighted to find the opportunity to be Rektor at RCN, which has also presented itself as a homecoming of sorts, with the many similarities between western Norway and his own country, Iceland.  “Sadly, one has to say, the relevance for the UWC mission has become more pressing everywhere when you look at the needs for the near future. In the political world there are strong forces that aim at building walls and barriers. Our job is to educate young people who can lead – at all levels – in building bridges and connecting people, rather than separating them. Also the environmental threats that follow from global warming, is something we are becoming more and more acutely aware of. We need to educate a generation who have an awareness and knowledge of the crisis we have created – and who can find the complex solutions to building a society that can take us out of it. As educators we have a task to channel the strategic development of the College in the right direction. But on a day to day basis, the most fundamental aspect is to have the support in place for each and every member of this community so that they can thrive, learn and be part of fostering a culture of human growth.”

Guðmundur sees himself as patient and accepting at heart, an attitude that Katarina also embraces.
“We have always had faith in people – we see our role as working together with all staff and students in generating opportunity and optimism.” Both of them have very much enjoyed meeting all of the staff and students. “Seeing the first year students arrive on campus, and the way in which they were welcomed by the second years was very special. Their genuine excitement and sense of adventure has been marvellous to behold. This has also been true for both of our children, Aleksandar and Petra. As parents we have loved seeing them explore the freshly found freedoms they have here – and they have already started to learn Norwegian at the wonderful Flekke school. We look forward to getting to know this community and building links beyond our campus.”

Photos by David Zadig

August 29, 2018

Junette Maxis (RCN ’05-’07)

August 29th, 2018|

Clinton Global Initiative

Stay Hungry

In 2011, I was attending the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) event when the former US president Bill Clinton said to me, “Stay hungry”. I must admit, although I heard the words, it would take a few years for me to understand exactly what he meant. Back then, I was a senior at Luther College in Iowa.

During my years at UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway, like all my fellow UWCers, I sure was hungry for change in the world. I would later realize that changing the world, while a great motivator, is not an individual task, but a collective social responsibility. What we can each do is allowing ourselves to be the best we can be, and creating the greatest impact we can in our environment, whether we are at work, at school, at home, or elsewhere.

Today I see that same hunger the former US president mentioned, in the eyes of my teammates at Lekòl. They all share a burning desire to ensure that the younger generation of Haitian students gets access to quality education. It is a privilege many members of my team lacked when they were growing up and attending school in Haiti.

We started Lekòl in May of 2017; it is an automated web and mobile testing tool that aims to improve students’ academic performance in Haiti by providing a quick and effective way for teachers to assess students’ understanding of any subject in real time. Through its automated test correction, trended and aggregated results statistics for classes and each student, courses can be more targeted for a maximum class outcome. We believe in order for students to learn effectively and succeed in their studies, their learning process has to involve more than just a classroom lecture. Our goal is to use information technology to bring innovative solutions to schools and other educational institutions in Haiti.

In May 2018, as part of our pilot project, we launched a national competition that allowed students to test their knowledge and understanding in the curriculum and academic subjects that are approved by Haiti’s Ministry of Education. More than 500 students from the capital, Port au Prince, and various provinces participated in the competition. Today, students all over the country are using the platform to prepare for their exams, test their knowledge and learn at their own pace. The tool gives them immediate feedback, and they get a visual presentation of their progress in any particular subject.

Lekòl’s dedicated team of developers invests countless of nights coding under circumstances that would simply make it impossible to work for most people. Although cross-country traveling and transportation can be challenging in Haiti, I am proud to say that no school is too remote for Lekòl’s service agents. Our team has not been discouraged by the discomforts of the country’s limited infrastructure. In fact, the challenges motivate us to keep innovating.

After a few years of offering technology consulting services to global fortune 500 companies and managing projects with Accenture and Equifax, Lekòl is now my ideal long term project. As the daughter of two hard-working farmers who sacrificed everything they could to make sure my siblings and I could attend school, I know what it cost for a child to get access to quality education in Haiti. While the opportunities I had have opened many doors for me, Lekòl has taken me on a path that simply keeps me hungry for more every day.

July 6, 2018

Sumaya Said Salma (RCN ’15-’18)

July 6th, 2018|

When Sumaya arrived at UWC Red Cross Nordic in July 2015, she new little of what was awaiting her. She had very basic English, no IT knowledge, and she thought there would only be Norwegians on campus. Finding herself surrounded by different cultures and facing many immediate challenges was not easy in the beginning, but this is what she now is most grateful for: “In my culture and religion, peace and help are very important values, but I knew nothing about other realities, other issues around the world. Living with other people of my own age who were going through similar experiences in different countries, really opened my eyes and made me realize we are all part of the same picture.”

As part of the Red Cross spirit, Sumaya soon started to get involved in all kinds of humanitarian activities – working with refugees at the Førde Centre for Asylum Seekers, being part of the College’s Amnesty International group or fundraising for the student-led charity, SAFUGE. In all of this she came to appreciate the value of being involved: “Helping is a way of happiness that people often fail to understand”

As a recent graduate, all this learning has not waited to materialize. Just two weeks after Sumaya arrived to her host house in Spain this summer, the Aquarius ship with over 600 refugees docked at the port of Valencia, and she herself volunteered with the Red Cross Emergency Committee helping to translate for the more than 300 Arabic-speakers. “It was wonderful to get to see these people smile again after such a long journey. No one knows what they have been through.”

Sumaya will start her studies with a full scholarship at Methodist University this autumn. Looking back at her experience at RCN, the most valuable learning she finds is all the cultural sharing and learning that is going on. A learning she will carry for life.