“Airy fairy”. That is what they wrote in my university reference letter from UWC. I read it years later, when I returned as a teacher. They were right. I suspect many of the opportunities that came my way, arrived because of: (1) my passion, idealism and desire to change the world, and (2) an instinctual dramatization of my life and experience. I imagine it would be the same for many of us. This is not in itself a bad thing, but those of my classmates with discipline, focus and grounded feet, seem to have been happiest so far.
UWC changed my life. It was two years of awakening, adventure, and growing admiration for heroes of social and environmental justice. I learned a lot – some of which I have since applied – and made friends who are now scattered around the world, doing very interesting things. That said, it was not without anxieties, flip-flopping self-confidence and despair, and feelings of dark confusion about how best to engage with the world.
Since leaving, I worked in Northwest China as a volunteer, have been a teacher, activist, intern, development economist, strategy consultant, and civil servant. Some glamorous-sounding jobs though at a more junior level than had I been more disciplined, stuck with one path, or waited until fully-qualified before taking on a post! Looking back, I am reminding of the “intention vs outcome” talks in TOK class. My intentions were mostly good, but the approach could be messy, especially working in challenging countries. At times for all my efforts I was thoroughly ineffectual, other times I pointlessly martyred myself or failed to see the big picture. There were many fantastic moments too. I am especially proud of supporting colleagues during government change in Guyana, doing simple tasks well in DRC, campaigning for the green party, volunteer teaching, working on the UWC China project and helping to set up the Guyanese National Committee.
“Know yourself” said the oracle of Delphi as western civilization was in its infancy. 13 years on I am more aware of my human flaws: over-promising, over-thinking, distraction, self-obsession. I am also more realistic about the economics of changing the world. This includes (1) the benefit of simple actions (like eating less animal products, being kind), (2) awareness of the changing nature of human suffering and global opportunities, including refugees, fragile states and mental health, regional solutions (3) the importance of being part of communities, (4) the benefits of architecting ones professional life to develop specific, useful skills.
Big Daniel said that UWC is a wonderful gift. The values of the movement are as inspiring and important as ever. And there are plenty of other movements and people to learn from too in these changing times! UWC’s future is in the hands of its current students, staff, alumni and volunteers. Cheers to that – let’s keep building!