I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome back the second years after their summer break and to extend a huge welcome to all those first years in the auditorium today. Throughout yesterday afternoon and evening, I was so delighted to hear the Red Cross Nordic traditional welcome being given to new arrivals – some jet-lagged, some a little homesick but all excited at the prospect of a new beginning here at RCN.
I kept a postcard with a quotation from Che Guevara’s ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ on the wall in my office during the course of the last two years: ‘What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; sadness for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land’. For many of you, this is a new land with challenges to face and new languages to learn. There will be moments when you are lost, unsure and a little wobbly over the next couple of days and weeks as you learn the rhythm and secrets of Red Cross Nordic. Please do not hesitate to ask fellow students and staff for direction and guidance.
You have now arrived in a magical land – one that inspired the makers of Disney’s most successful animation ever, ‘Frozen’, when they designed the landscape of the fictional kingdom of Arendelle with its snow-capped mountains and icy fjords.
And you are not the only new arrivals… I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce our new members of staff:
Alessandro – from Italy joins our Maths Department; Sofia (Sweden) and Avis (UK) join our team of literature and language teachers. We have four volunteers under the excellent guidance of Hilde, our FK Coordinator: Pui and Aoey (Kornkamon and Phornthip) from the Mercy Centre in Bangkok, Thailand; Badra and Senia will join us from Western Sahara at a later stage. Erik (Sweden), Tonje (Norway), Hayley (UK) and Mareike (Germany) join the Outdoor Department; Agnes and Elinor join us as interns from Romania as part of a partnership with Universitatea de Vest din Timisoara – and will be here for the first month of term. We have a new chef, Peter Schönen, joining the kantine team from September. We all hope you enjoy your time at RCN.
Kip (Canada) returns from a leave of absence in China to take up his position in the Maths Department and Mariano (Argentina) returns from a leave of absence including a year teaching at UWC USA and takes up his position as a teacher of Spanish. It is exciting to have you both back on the education team.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to welcome Mark Wang (former student of RCN) and Xiaohang Sumner (former teacher here at RCN) who have played key roles in the founding of the new UWC in China which is due to open in August 2015. The creation of a College in mainland China is an exciting development and we hope, over the coming years, to develop further the ties between the two sister Colleges and to help to promote Sino-Norwegian cooperation – at regional and national levels – and UWC values. There will be a presentation this afternoon at 4pm in the auditorium for staff and students interested in hearing about the project. Mark and Xiaohang – we wish you and your team the best of luck with the next stage and beyond
In terms of new roles for current staff, I am delighted that Summer has taken on the role of Director of Residential Life – and I am certain that she will give her absolute all to supporting students, House Mentors and Advisors in our residential context. Judit will also be taking on a new role as the part-time RCN Sustainability Team Leader with responsibility for developing our environmental pillar. Madhulika has kindly agreed to take Campus Responsibilities under the extra-academic umbrella.
We also have some wonderful additions to the Advisor team alongside the teaching members of staff: Edmund will be joining Norway House and Andrew will be joining Sweden House.
Over the summer, our campus has been very busy with Red Cross Summer camps for underprivileged families from this region. The weather has been stunning throughout June and July – and it has been such a pleasure to see the campus and Flekke fjord alive with activities throughout the holiday season.
It is also an opportunity for the cleaning and maintenance staff to work on the cleaning, painting and repairs of many of our buildings – and I am hugely grateful to the support and administrative staff on campus for their work and commitment.. It has been very helpful for me, as the Rektor, to observe the invaluable work and running of the College out of term time.
Barbara and Leonie have worked hard on travel and visa requirements and to ensure the smooth arrival of so many of you.
The Summer Course students and volunteers have been here on campus for over three weeks as preparation for the launch of the academic year with the emphasis on learning English and confidence building. I’d like to thank Pete and Madeleine, the Summer Course Coordinators, for their insightful and committed delivery of the programme and to the volunteers for their energetic and supportive contributions throughout. In fact, I asked if I could do a special session with the Summer Course students last week so that I could introduce them in advance to the key messages of this address – and I have asked them to sit today next to a fellow student who can help translate.
Other summer highlights here in the fjords included: the climb to the top of Norway’s highest mountain by a group consisting of members of the College, the Bergum Mottak and the Red Cross; the news that our neighbour and partner, the Rehabilitation Centre, had won financial funding for the next six years from Helse West; the annual Førde Traditional and World Music Festival in July – a truly international experience with 100 events, 300 artists from 30 countries, ranging from Cuba to Kurdistan; Yeison, one of our second years from Colombia, winning a fishing contest against fierce local competition.
And the superb article about RCN published in two German newspapers. Heinz Sebold, a German journalist and to some extent an initial critic of the UWC Robert Bosch project, came to visit RCN in May and was hugely impressed with what he saw. After the publication of the article, he wrote to me with the following observation: ‘I had the honour to meet … the staff, the students and a school at its best. I would have liked to be at such a school when I was young’.
I am also pleased to hear of projects second years have been working on over the summer in your own regions – from Southern Africa to Nepal, from Panama to Ghana – and I look forward to hearing of other projects in the days to come.
The Staff Introduction week – alongside the standard coordination of the beginning of term – focused on a professional development day linked to the Humanitarian, Environmental and Nordic pillars – ranging from beginner courses in Norwegian and English languages to an introduction to social entrepreneurship and a concept called ‘circular economy’. Both Support and Education Staff also had the opportunity to take part in a training course on ‘mindfulness’ led by a highly respected external consultant – and I sincerely hope that all the training has a positive impact on our community here at RCN.
We also set aside time to discuss our IB results and how to build upon them for the forthcoming academic year. Our results have undoubtedly improved – and I am certain that our college-wide focus on improving residential and learning support systems has provided a sound platform for academic success. Thank you to all the staff for their unstinting support of our outgoing second years – the class of 2014.
The last two months have seen new and old tensions emerging across the world – from the intensifying conflict in Ukraine to hostilities in Gaza, from civil war in Iraq to abductions in Nigeria.
The death toll in Syria increases as the world looks on. Last year, we invited Sven Mollekleiv, the President of the Norwegian Red Cross, to deliver the annual Constitution Lecture in May – he told us that more Red Cross delegates (present in all 14 regions of the country) have been killed during the Syrian conflict than throughout the entire Second World War. The respected international immunity of the Red Cross symbol is under threat for the first time in its history.
The news of this summer serves to remind us that we must be faithful to our UWC founding mission – and that we must seek to promote moral and social responsibility and to understand perspectives other than our own. The shared experiences and conversations with students and staff from many different cultures, religions and countries is, I believe, part of the magic of an education at Red Cross Nordic.
I must admit to having been gripped with World Cup fever throughout the first half of the holiday – 32 nations represented with a record TV audience of over 1 billion across the world – with teams honouring the spirit of Brazil’s jogo bonito (beautiful game), unforgettable moments, goals galore, tears of ‘triumph and disaster’, national mourning for unexpected defeats alongside predictable controversy from alleged biting to penalty shoot-outs. All of us will have our favourite moments from the tournament.
The countries hosting UWC Colleges were well represented in the quarter finals – with the German, Dutch and Costa Rican teams all playing some beautiful football.
Daniel kindly invited me over to his house to watch England’s game versus Uruguay and consoled me as Luis Suarez’s sharp shooting condemned my team to an early departure from the tournament. Of course, we should not forget – nor will Daniel perhaps allow us – that his team, the Ghanaian Black Stars held Germany, the eventual winners, to a 2-all draw in the qualifying stage.
And controversy undoubtedly lurked around the fringes of the tournament – from protests about the cost of hosting the tournament to the death of eight construction workers, from breached security to the collapse of a bridge.
The biggest single sporting competition in the world concluded with the German team winning and holding aloft the glistening golden trophy, which is perhaps the embodiment of every footballer’s ambition.
I had never before really looked at the World Cup trophy in detail before – in fact it is a sculpture, rising in spirals to form the shapes of two human figures, two athletes stretching out to hold up the earth. To me, this dynamic sculpture catches the beauty of teamwork, the sense of ambition and the stirring moment of victory.
And I take this image as my metaphor for all of our students here today – your two years here will test your ability to work in a team, to develop your ambitions and, in some sense, to develop your ability to hold up our fragile earth.
We, within the United World College movement, see our role as striving to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future, not through sport, but through education.
Participation and effort are the fundamental criteria, and you must expect many challenges and opportunities to participate in activities that you may never have had before. It is important that you take full advantage of the curricular and extra-curricular opportunities available in our unique Nordic setting. RCN is not simply an academic stepping stone to university and we expect our students to be committed to tackling the challenges presented by this opportunity to live and study in the Norwegian fjords. All your National Committees have been specifically encouraged to select students for RCN who will take up the challenges of living in our remote and wilderness environment – there is a wonderful world here beyond the triangle of the student village, the kantine and the classrooms.
Please be warned – occasionally students come to see me and explain that they feel that some of the staff are not confining their teaching to the IB syllabus. I respond by saying that I am delighted to hear that our teachers are not only delivering the syllabus but also enriching your learning by going beyond the curriculum and exploring interdisciplinary connections, topical case studies and much more. In no way is this college an IB exam factory – we want to cover the syllabus but also to fire your curiosity, your imagination. This is what university admissions teams are looking for – those who can think independently, intelligently and elastically and not those simply content in regurgitating syllabus content.
The President of the Norwegian Red Cross took me aside last term to say that he was simply stunned by the quality of teaching, the quality of student discussion and the far-reaching global examples used to illustrate the dry theory of the textbook that he observed in a lesson during his visit. This is what we should aspire to in this College.
Life at the College will be very full over the course of this year and I hope you will all find it exciting, demanding and rewarding. You will have to be careful to balance your academic programme and other commitments, and be responsible for managing your personal life in a mature and sensible manner. Indeed it is important to learn the balance of freedom and independence with associated responsibility and accountability.
Living in the fjords, one can sometimes feel a little isolated from world events and for some Haugland, in Fjaler commune, might seem to be a remote, idyllic and peaceful place, untouched by human conflict – but it is also important to remember that we intentionally create a world in miniature – kamhlaba as they call it in Swaziland – here on campus with potential for the occasional eruption of tension and conflict within our community.
It is so important for us, in our community, to be caring, careful and to avoid, to the best of our ability, the carelessness (whether delivered by email, in dialogue, or in gossip) which can be so damaging. We should think carefully about our individual human footprints on those around us.
The three structural pillars of a successful and flourishing residential environment are compassion, conversation and companionship – and we must continue to work hard to sustain their central presence in our community. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote that ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all’ – and we strive here at RCN to educate both your minds and your hearts in preparation for the world beyond.
My final message for the academic term ahead is: work hard, connect, be thoughtful and mindful of others, and share a sense of place and belonging. The college is, in essence, a community built from, and upon generosity. It is our common responsibility, as individuals and as a community, to strive to make RCN a safe, secure and happy place to study and live. Please avoid the trapdoors of entitlement, critical and negative commentary, and self-righteousness – we must nurture the essential ingredients of humility, grace and generosity of spirit.
As Rektor, I expect the staff to act as role models for the students in both spirit and action and to lead by example in terms of treating all members of our community with dignity and kindness.
And please take full advantage of the opportunities presented to you over the course of the year. There are many impressive and worthy applicants to our movement who have not won places and do not therefore have the opportunities you have here at Red Cross Nordic – please remember that you represent yourself, your family and those who supported your application.
We hope you develop here at RCN a lifelong love of learning, lifelong friends, a desire for adventure and a sense of the possible.
We have an exciting year ahead of us.
College Meeting – 19 August 2014