I’ve been quiet(ly silenced) for way too long


by Natalia Tapia Moreno, United World College Maastricht
3 June, 2021

Illustration by Thalia Lembong and Daniela Lascurain


I am an ambivert. I’ve always balanced between the fine line of an extrovert (who gains energy from social interactions) and an introvert (who recharges by spending time alone). Regardless of what people think, the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum has nothing to do with being shy or outspoken. On that note, I encourage you to read the article “Extroverts, pipe down” written by Imri Haggin in our online newspaper. With that being said, I want to clarify that my personality does not immediately make me a quiet person. Yet I have been silent on multiple occasions, some in which I wish I had spoken up sooner rather than later. But with no grudges against the past, I think I still can unpack the systemic problems that left me voiceless.

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To cut the mystery short, it was at UWC where I lost my assertiveness, and where I felt my confidence shatter into pieces.

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I know some responsibility is mine: I could have been firmer in my opinions, I could have been more active, I could have spoken louder, clearer, more consistently. I could have joined more groups, I could have bent myself to fit in more spaces. But as a systematic problem, the causes of the issue are far beyond the impact of my individual actions. And I say this with the certainty that I lacked for so long, because I have seen and spoken with many people who, like me, felt like the social dynamics and interactions at UWC drove them to a similar dejection and disappointment that only perpetuated their silence.

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I arrived at UWCM only knowing the little English that was spoken at my previous school, one hour per week during lesson time. As you can imagine (if you are not an English native you might have experienced this), learning English in a class-context is very different from living in English, a thousand miles away from everything you used to know.  I was keen on learning, trying to communicate with people even if I was not the best at it. But I was shocked when a group of students made fun of my accent openly, or when people would prefer to avoid conversations with me because “it’s hard to understand her.” I thought it was my fault for not knowing English too well, so I drifted away.

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After intro week, classes began. I remember being clueless in some technicism-heavy subjects. Most of the teachers were very comprehensive at first, but as the pace started to increase, no amount of understanding helped me to keep up with the content covered. I did not participate in class not because I didn’t have questions (believe me, I did!), but because I could not properly communicate them. And for heaven’s sake, I did not want to be made fun of again because of my accent. All of this fed into a cycle: missing out on the content, catching up on my own.

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Time passed, and I managed academics better. I was doing well enough by my own standards, and I felt really proud that my efforts were paying off. So, I ventured to participate and ask more questions in class. But instead of receiving helpful and prompt answers, I faced the pity of some teachers, because I was just a poor little third-world citizen, coming from an archaic education system that didn’t cover what MYP5s did. No literal quotations though, this is just what I perceived from their comments and treatment towards me. 

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As I found my own way at the school, I decided to sign up to more activities and roles in the school. I was up for a personal challenge, willing to implement the change that I wished to see. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until I realized that I was not built to meet the demands of a changemaker at UWC. I was sensitive to excessive stimulus. I was unable to formulate ideas on a whim. I came across as the least charismatic and as a passive contributor of the group (if I ever could contribute).

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It is not difficult to see that the same group of people always speak up in residential meetings, class time, or even personal conversations. In no shape or form do I think this is the problem (in fact I encourage more dialogue). But I do think that this should be taken as an indicator that not everyone is able to join this discussion. Every single one of us lives in this community, and we have a say on the things that happen around us. How is it then possible that only a handful of students join the conversation?

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Personally, I dreaded meetings and any kind of large-group discussions, specifically at UWCM. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s great to join with people and effectively sort out tasks. However, the structure of those meetings has always favored and praised frantic conversations, while exhausting introverted, tranquil, and analytical members of the community. While the current “opener – presentation – popcorn discussion” format can seem favorable for large groups, it always results in only hearing the loudest and quickest voices of the community. There have been countless times when I listen to the presentation, and while I digest it and formulate my own contribution, the discussion of the topic has already been closed. New points are being raised, and it becomes harder and harder to follow up, so I end up not communicating anything at all.

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It was during my last term at UWC that I was able to spot these factors that contributed in one way or another to my silence. And as my last month in UWC is coming to an end, I have a proposition to make. However, unless we all are willing to analyze and improve our behaviors, nothing will change in this impulse-fueled community. 

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My proposal includes all of us. I suggest that we attempt to become active listeners rather than fast speakers. Extroverts in particular need to be humbler to give up some of the space in order for others to have the opportunity to join the dialogue. We might, as well, need to be more conscious and realize that there are discussions that only represent a specific group of students, which do not have to be discussed in an assembly. Furthermore, we need to come to terms with the idea that not all leaders must be outgoing; and instead value people for what they are and not for what ideal leaders are supposed to be. Finally, we need to restructure our conversations to include other views; not in a pitying way, but in a welcoming manner where all personalities are able to engage in a safe, judgement-free way. We must incorporate other discussion formats that strive for the inclusion of all members of the community, formats that do not limit the ability of anyone to contribute. To be capable of celebrating diversity, we ought to ensure that even in our conversations, there is an input balance that includes every voice.

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