By Lidia Paladini, UWCM student
January 20th, 2018
[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]“I need to graduate”, she said, with the stress written in the wrinkles of her forehead, the light of the hallway reflecting from her teary eyes. “I feel like I can’t breathe, you know. I need sleep, but I constantly feel like I need to study. I need to achieve top grades. I need to be the best.” The tears that have accumulated in her eyes start running down her face.
The first Wednesday afternoon after the winter break, time for CAS. The room is dimly lit and upon entering, a sight of seemingly lifeless first years is exposed, either staring at their phones or languidly hanging over their chairs. A question is asked. “Do you want to take up this project?” Gloomy silence fills the room. Empty glances decorate the faces; some look down so not to be seen. “What about you?” An uncomfortable short pause. “I can’t, sorry, I have SATs in March, and I need to prepare for that.”
A Facebook post about a new activity. A student founded a club and is asking others to join. In the comments, someone points out that the name seems to sound pretentious, and the reply is: “Yeah, but at least on my university application, it will say: “Founder of …”
These are three situations I encountered over the course of the past term. They are not more and not less than something to reflect on. Situations that I happened to be a part of and which made me think. A message at most, an incentive to start an inner dialogue with yourself. Who are you, and what are you here for?
This is particularly for you, first years. No one ever said that grades don’t matter, but they certainly aren’t the only thing that you should care about, day in and day out, particularly in your first year of being here. If I’ve learned one thing at UWC, then it is that UWC is what you make of it. This place is a pool of opportunities, a space to be a rebel, to try out things you’ve never dared to think of before and to discover yourself and your life anew within a community full of bright minds bursting of ideas. It is a space to challenge social norms, to learn how to stand up for yourself and your values, and to disagree openly and proudly. People are different and so are priorities, but I want to encourage you to rethink whether you’re spending your time here the best way you could.
This is an opportunity too valuable to spend it locked away in your rooms, cramming information into your heads, just to fulfil the admissions criteria of an Ivy League university or to embellish your CV’s with fancy sounding titles that in the end turn out to be nothing but empty shells. What sets our community apart from others is that it creates a sense of belonging in a place that isn’t home, and generates a spirit of unity in diversity. Yet this year, I have been missing this feeling of community, and have been searching for the famous UWC spirit too many times without success.
I think what many of us often forget is, that at the end of the day, before anyone else it is us who shape the face of our community. Our personal decisions become decisions of communal significance and shape the way not only we, but also the people around us experience this place. I am not asking you to neglect your wellbeing for the community’s sake, but also realize that by coming here you agreed on a set of values that, among others, include mutual responsibility and personal example. So let me ask you for the following: Be critical at any moment, have an open mind, accept challenges as they come and don’t settle for comfort. Stand up for your values and be ready to make the best of the opportunities that you are offered during your time at UWC.
Choose your CAS according to your passions and attend community time, not because you have to, but because you want to be a part of this community. Be introverted, extroverted, study or socialize, listen quietly or debate loudly, but do it with passion and let determination instead of obligation drive you. Have something to fight for, and fight for it openly and unapologetically, but listen to others too.
After all, the true essence of UWC lies not in the Davis scholarship or achieving the highest possible SAT score. It lies in the in-betweens, the late-night conversations and countless cups of tea. It lies in creating connection, questioning the ordinary and seeking for comfort outside of your comfort zone. It lies at the centre of your person, but you have to open your mind to new experiences to be able to discover it.
Lidia Paladini is currently a second year student at United World College Maastricht. Lidia enjoys writing and should you be interested in more of her pieces you can find some on her blog www.maastrichtahoi.wordpress.com.