UWC Syndrome


by Korpo M. Selay, United World College Maastricht
29 March, 2022
Illustration by Daniela Lascurain


The past few weeks have been a cluster of events that allowed us to learn (more) about UWC Maastricht. DP2s, this is the final half of the UWC journey, the year full of some of the best memories and most deadlines we’ll probably ever see in our lives. My lovely and very energetic firsties, it is the beginning of an exciting and challenging journey. The “UWC Experience,” a term we all hear the moment we decide to apply to UWC, is very different for each individual, and what exactly that experience is and means is up to you (well, subtract the IB and it is). However, there’s an essential part of that experience that we all share: the UWC Syndrome. Since our arrival here, we have at some point fallen prey to this Syndrome (yes, firsties, even you). 

A

The UWC Syndrome is when you are one of the best students in your school, know what you want to do in the future, have your life together, have a perfect sleep schedule, and then come to UWC. Diagnosis of the Syndrome varies in time with different people. For some, they recognize it the moment they say goodbye to their family and enter the Island, and for others, it is when they go back home for Winter break and realize that feeling of wholeness. My first encounter with the UWC Syndrome was when I entered my first Spanish class after the autumn break last year and cried afterward. I couldn’t put to words why I was crying and just knew that I needed to. It was downhill after that, and by winter break, the only thing I wanted was to leave. I felt like I didn’t belong and didn’t know my place for the first time in a very long time. 

A

Symptoms of this Syndrome include being doubtful about things you were once so sure about, feeling guilty when you spend a day doing nothing, and you have to sit at the table during dinner and listen to your friends talk about how productive their days were. Other symptoms include avoiding discussions about race and religion (even though this is UWC and diversity is welcomed), not knowing who you are anymore, or not wanting to leave your room for no particular reason. Whether we deny or don’t realize it, chances are most of us have suffered from this Syndrome, are still suffering from it, or will suffer from it at some point.

A

Most of the things mentioned above are things I have heard from current and past UWC students. Ironically, this UWC Syndrome goes against “most” of what UWC stands for (“most” because, hey, don’t tell me the plan of UWC wasn’t to make us question ourselves and our beliefs) but is not given adequate attention. Most discussions center around waving flags and changing the world; how we are to change the world when the only thing we all want is to do nothing by the time we leave here is still a mystery. Why are we not talking about why most students leave here feeling more introverted than they came, even though there’s so much to do and be a part of? Why does the number of students almost always reduce by the end of the school year? These students are not dumb or failures; some gave up on something they signed up for and probably looked forward to before coming here. 

A

I felt heartbroken with each departure, mainly because these students deserve the opportunity to learn as much as we all do. While many factors are responsible for these departures or events, I think the most glaring one is the UWC Syndrome. Unlike many of us living with this Syndrome, smiling, and acting like we have it all together, some of these students decided not to live that way while others fell prey to it.  Instead of passing judgments or thinking negatively of them, I think we should pay more attention to our role as a community in each case. What are we doing to limit these departures? How did our actions impact their decisions? In short, what have we been doing? With each person that leaves, the less diverse the community becomes. Once more, that goes against the very foundation of the UWC movement. 

A

My intent for writing this article is not to be pessimistic or tell you that your time here will suck (for my dear firsties). Nor is it a rant about how horrible the IB is and that we should all quit and go back home (Oh, come on, we’ve all thought about it). Though it has its downsides, we can all agree that the are some advantages to receiving a UWC education. Instead, this article is a caveat, a friendly reminder that you are not alone and we all share common feelings. I want to remind you that you are brave to leave your home and come to a strange place. However, I will not be doing both you and myself justice if I inform you that this is a utopia. The journey isn’t always about movie nights, celebrating diversity, or acing a Math test. There’s lots more that even myself is yet to discover. It’s a new year, a unique opportunity, and for some of us, a blank page in our lives, we get to make amends, do things differently. What are you going to do when you are at the most crucial stage of this syndrome? What will you do for someone? 

A

My advice as a victim of this syndrome; you can’t beat it alone.

141 views