by Lia Da Giau, United World College Maastricht
2nd March, 2020
The windows of the office, active since January 2020, look at the river Spree. In the surroundings, the Palace of Tears stands to remember a past when Berlin was divided by both an ideological and physical border. The iron curtain that fell on the world during the Cold War strongly affected Berlin, that was split into sectors controlled by Soviet (East Berlin) and Western powers (West Berlin). The Palace of Tears represented one of the transitioning points between the two sectors, where many lost their hopes to move or meet their families on the other side. The location of the UWC IO on a former border zone, now a symbol of unity for the city, is iconic, as pointed out by Matthias Rosenberg (Head of Programmes at UWC IO, LPC UWC Alumnus and former MUWCI teacher). It is almost as if the position celebrates the aim of the UWC Movement: to “build bridges” between people and cultures. Meeting the people working in the office -coming from Palestine, Canada, the Czech Republic, Italy, the UK and Germany- provided us with an insight into the IO in Berlin and its role within the UWC Movement and how students can engage with this organ.
But, why Berlin? This question is answered by Hannah Tümpel, Deputy Executive Director for UWC IO.
Germany is a country with a UWC College on its territory (UWC Robert Bosch), strong National Committee (NC) and UWC Community, where the movement has important supporters like the Bosch Foundation. Some might argue that the opening of a second executive office in Europe was not a clear move away from the existing eurocentricity of the Movement. However, smaller offices are operating outside of Europe (Lebanon and Colombia, to mention some examples). The possibility of opening an IO elsewhere is being considered, but many countries have complex VISA policies that would complicate the work of such an international institution. Moreover, having a UWC IO in Europe “favours the conversations with the European Union and other funds based in the EU” as explained by Hannah.
Indeed, looking at the root of the issue, the choice of opening a second International Office in addition to the historical one in London was related to the legal and bureaucratic implications of Brexit. “UWC International currently receives funding through the EU commission for which we would not have remained eligible without a presence in an EU member state.” Hannah explains. “Public funding for UWC is important and should be increased,” she continued, pointing out that at the moment “the UK does not have a favourable political discourse” that would willingly support a movement driven by strong values of multicultural understanding and openness of borders. UWC appears to be a movement that lives its time, being affected by and responding to events of global relevance: the change-making power of UWC is enhanced by how it reflects the world society on a smaller scale, so that the understanding of its dynamics is facilitated.
Another global trend that UWC embodies is the increasing diversity and multiculturalism in communities. Diversity in UWC is strong in the composition of the student body, but also in the variety of schools (location, laws and values of the country, presence of day students or pre-DP/MYP program). UWC can be compared to the EU: a network of schools that are interconnected in terms of vision and mission, but legally and financially independent.
The multiplicity of organs that live the mission further increases the complexity of the UWC Movement: Schools and Colleges, UWC International, Short Courses and National Committees, students, alumni, staff members and volunteers are people and organs that share the same UWC values, but apply them in different contexts and areas of influence. One of the tasks of the IO is to coordinate these components, to ensure that the Movement follows a similar and coherent direction. “It can be difficult,” Hannah confirmed: this difficulty mirrors the obstacles concerning integration and communication present also in the broader world. The IO is at the centre of our huge movement, and its contribution as connecting organ between its parts is fundamental. An inaccurate belief is that the IO are those that “decide.” In reality, the IO is the “executive arm of the International Board” and supports the UWC International Council. Both the Council and the Board are representative bodies mirroring the whole UWC Movement, including schools, colleges, national committees and alumni. One of the roles of UWC International is to approve new UWC schools and colleges submitted to it by local project groups -following a specific set of criteria they need to meet- and to support the entire UWC movement in agreeing on its strategy and direction. Some practical tasks that the IO is responsible for are the management of UWC website and social media, the coordination of the offer process between the schools/colleges and the national committees, fundraising of big scholarship programmes like for example the Shelby Davis “Dare to Dream” programme, support for Short Courses, Schools and National Committees.
In carrying out its role of facilitating interactions among the various components of the UWC Movement, the IO needs to establish effective communication with these parts: a central one are the students, as the educational movement would lose its purpose and impact without us. Increased communication and interactions between current students and IO would favour the creation of new opportunities and collaborations, contributing to the Movement’s growth.
Many of the initiatives of the IO are directed to students: impact stories, students’ Instagram takeovers, the annual UWC Day, internship and volunteering experiences at the IO among the others. Students are encouraged to take the initiative and get in contact with the IO, whether it is to ask questions, be involved in a project, visit the IO or propose an initiative that might benefit of the IO’s support. In the end, the International Office is a group of people driven by the mission, more than just a formal institution.
An example of how open the International Office is to dialogue with students is the warm welcome experienced by the girls from UWC Maastricht in the Berlin office. After the visit, they were contacted by the IO to be featured in the UWC news page. At the end of their story, published on the UWC website (uwc.org), a clear message was sent: “The UWC International Office in Berlin and In London is always open to visitors, please don’t hesitate to drop by if you are ever in the area!”. This message is addressed not only to current students, but to everybody part of the broader UWC Network and for who the IO aims to be a point of reference. It is indeed to them -to us- that Hannah Tümpel speaks these words:
“Use the opportunity to be at UWC to ask questions and listen, start to be a force for good, and assume good intentions.”
The Flying Dutchman team consists of UWC students aiming to reflect the news relevant to the people engaged with the UWC movement.