UWC Locked: Mostar


by Cesar Almeida, United World College Maastricht
10th June, 2020


After rescheduling our interview to a day after to enjoy her first excursion to the outside world after roughly two months locked, Bengi answers me with an optimistic attitude. Born in Germany to Turkish parents, Bengi is the newly appointed student leader in Susac, the only residence open in UWC Mostar.
a
UWC Mostar has not changed much since days after the initial lockdown was declared. Initially, the college had suspended mandatory lessons on March 13th, in the middle of the second week of Trial Exams (Mock examinations) for DP2s. That day, Bengi recalls, winces of panic emerged after students were summoned into a classroom. Optional departures were permitted. The school wanted to prevent residentials stranded in school due to border closures.
a
The next day, DP1 students were exhorted to leave by the 18th of March. Anyone who could leave left much earlier than that. This came amid important dates for DP2s. “I remember waking up early in the morning to say goodbye to people, then sitting for my Spanish paper a few hours after”. DP2s were advised to leave two or three days later, under the suspicions that the May 2020 examinations might get canceled. Within a margin of 6 days, everyone was gone. From then onwards, the 18 remainers have kept constant.
a
Mostar’s first recorded case prompted a sudden decision urging official lockdown in the residences on March 17th, a day before the initial deadline for DP1s to leave. Everyone was moved to the building in which they now remain. For two months, they couldn’t go any further than the building’s yard. May 9th came like a breath of fresh air, students were finally allowed to go on a bike ride.
a
Inside protocols have been remarkably more lenient than on other campuses. Social distancing measures lack among residential hallways and the canteen. This follows the rationale that no one has been exposed to the virus. Besides canteen staff reduction, not much has changed in the residence’s most crowded space.
a
When asked about the country is handling of the virus, Bengi describes it as “better than expected”. A two-months-long curfew was set for elders and minors. There has been a gradual easement of regulations, allowing people to go out three times a week and within a time frame. As Mostar is not a populous city, now that students are allowed outside, it has been easy to maintain social distance from other peasants in the streets.
a
The academic procedures have stayed in line with other schools around the world: DP1s attend online classes from 13:00 to 18:00 to ensure participation among time zones, while jobless DP2s are only expected to show up for assemblies. However, students have made great efforts to keep a sense of community in the residence. They have found their niche around food.
a
Students have requested to use the canteen’s kitchen once a week, which gives them the opportunity to gather around a stove and spend nice moments eating ‘homemade’ food. For Easter, some of them made cheesecakes with a house parent. Bengi reckons several afternoons where someone initiated a meal and invited friends to join. Ramadan has given an interesting twist to this practice. It has become more challenging to organize community-wide events involving food. Nonetheless, abiding by dialogue and discussion, house meetings still happen for the purpose of sorting said conflicts out.
a
The school community has certainly made the best of what they have. The school’s administration has put out weekly “Alumni Talks”, online meetings in which alumni and students tune together and share stories. They proved very interesting and even useful tips have come out of those dialogues. Residentials have created a ‘workout room’ to exercise altogether in the morning and used a nearby parking lot as a pitch to play sports and ride bikes. Simultaneously, Bengi emphasizes how respectful the community has been towards personal space.
a
Students are there for each other. While tutor meetings still go on and teachers and counselors are available online, Bengi admits that sitdowns in the house have become spaces of ‘peer support’ where people open up and grow closer together.
a
Indeed, they have endured some unexpected circumstances. Days after the isolation started, Bosnians decided to fix a road in Mostar, ironically cutting the water supply in the residence for about 5 hours each day for two days. Washing hands regularly is a must, no water made that hard.
a
Graduation and departure traditions have had to adapt to current circumstances. In UWC Mostar, it is customary to go to the ‘Stari Most’, Mostar’s famous old bridge, and hang out with teachers until sunrise. The Friday of UWCiM’s first week in quarantine, the remainers of the school went on an afternoon adaptation of the tradition to watch the sunset, clouded by the nostalgia of an impossible future. Plans for online graduation or postponement of the celebration until August are in place. “We really want to graduate” insists Bengi.
a
That being said, Bengi wishes to communicate; “It is much better than how it sounds”. She feels lucky for being locked with new friends in a bigger building than her house. “Here, I’m empowered to organize things both in-person and online. I am trying to be proactive and inclusive and this place is still showing me new ways to do so.”

370 views