Article

UWC Locked: Maastricht


by Cesar Almeida, United World College Maastricht 
13th May, 2020


Sitting in one of the gray, plastic sofas of Ohana’s picturesque common room, Noah answers my call wearing his rugged music production headphones and a warm smile. He has just come back from playing football in the school’s gym. He notes how odd it is to play football indoors in order to “hide from the police”.
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Noah, a DP2 residential student, is a proud member of the ‘Quaranteam’, the self-designated group of now 55 remaining boarders at UWC Maastricht. A team that has seen its number reduced during an 8-week period of lockdown since the school initial two-week suspension of classes on the 15th of March that has now extended indefinitely following the government’s advice.

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Throughout these two months, he has witnessed the evolution of the school’s management of the contingency, a mix of governmental guidelines and, at times, arbitrary changes in the residential protocols. He describes the school’s efforts to keep the virus away from the beloved island as well-intentioned but not equivalently embraced by students. This crisis has exposed a big clash between school’s initiatives and students’ return.

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UWC Maastricht had initially set very strict rules over the students’ mobility outside campus. Upon feedback from the community, the residential administration allowed students to go out for exercise, optionally by pairs, or smoking purposes only under the condition of signing in and out. A right which some students have wrongly but not unexpectedly abused.

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Only the floor representatives are allowed to go shopping weekly and in a tight timeframe, but it is believed that students still individually shop for their ‘very personal’ needs. Snacks have been made available at the mensa (canteen), nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped the mensa moonlighters to do their late-night deeds.

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This conflict has a parallel in the school’s efforts to keep its student population active. Noah says the school’s administration has pushed DP2 students whose exams are canceled to take part and lead activities that promote internationalism, service, new skills, and sports. Noah himself has frequented the Spanish club, volunteered for the Environmental Action Group in school, attended the cooking club, played volleyball, and led the Music production club with another classmate. However, he estimated a weak response to these activities. Such situation, he believes, is quite reflective of life on an academic-less campus.

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A school day schedule is the scaffolding of a student’s life. Without it, scarce structure threatens our productivity and spills off to our mental health. Albeit offering counseling online, the school can only do so much about the issue, and it is left up to us, young UWCers, to be proactive.

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Noah believes it is a very individual choice to decide what to do with your free time.

“On one side you have the people who try to be proactive and attend as many experiences as possible, and on the other, you have the people who watch a lot of Netflix and stay up all night”.
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He keeps a positive outlook on the campus activities and enjoys the freedom of going out for frequent walks; “Lockdown has given me the chance to explore the countryside, which I had never done before”. The UWC spirit is certainly dependent on people’s attitudes. “The departure of many friends has debilitated the omnipresence of the spirit”. Before, it used to float in the air and run through your body when you breathe it. Now, if it remains present, you got to look harder to feel it.

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“When residential meetings provide the cohesion that the community needs, its absence makes the residential spirit rely on the hands of individuals” Even though he reckons unity between friend groups and hardly some in the boarding house, he admits that students have come up with new, personal initiatives like painting, cooking, learning to code, etc. He also experiences how people are still very present; “you find yourself hanging out with new people, adding novelty and spice to your life”

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UWC Maastricht lifelines are on hold. The organization of conferences, performances, and events are main arteries and veins through which the UWC spirit runs and feeds our UWC experience. Now, as all of it stays on hold, the spirit is not dead, but certainly not alive.

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Noah, however, does see hope and happiness in the traditions that have endured despite the challenges. The classic Last School Day, infamously abbreviated LSD, is a day that the graduating class has always looked forward to. This year, the May 2020 graduating class lived their LSD on the 24th of April, attending a virtual call hosted by members of our community in which nostalgia, remembrance, mockery, and awkward silences abounded. Teachers recorded a show in which they left farewell messages, heartbreaking performances, and a sketch where they imitate some of the most prominent personalities in our year group. “The teacher show represents UWC to me, it is definitely one of the highlights from my DP1 year, and seeing it happen regardless of the contingency gave me happiness and proved to me that the spirit is still alive.”

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“Some people believe that our UWC experience has come to an end. But when I stare out my window, I still see a lot of opportunities to make the best out of our circumstances and live up to the values I have learned for the past two years of my life.”
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Illustration by Sarah Lilja Skieller.
Special thanks to Noah Homsy King for the interview and Eleonore Viatte for the article’s editing.

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