Saturday, December 7, 2013

In Memory

     In a place that is usually filled with laughter, announcements, cultural shows, and movie nights, there was a single canvas sitting upright on a chair, in the middle of the stage. Lit by a single lamp, the outline of a great man. The rest of the room just barely lit, a semi-circle of chairs.
     "Today we are sad for the death of a great man, a hero of our time. But we also celebrate his life, and all of the lives that he touched."
     It surprised me how emotional the following hour turned out to be. I'd expected a few words by our president, perhaps a song, a moment of silence. But, as always at UWC, it is the people, the personal experiences, that make the moment.
     We all stood for the South African national anthem. I admit I was surprised by the joy of the song. The anthem of my country calls for solidarity, unity, greatness. The words I heard this evening, in a language I did not understand, called for a simple celebration of life. Perhaps the words change the song, and perhaps the dimness of the room and solemnity of my fellow classmates exacerbated the moment, but nevertheless it was powerful.
     Then a song by our African Chorus. Introduced by the story of the same song being sung a world away for the first time. Written for Mandela, and performed, against all social constrains, by a group of both black and white individuals. Performed years later in a small school in New Mexico, celebrating the life of their honorary president.
     And then personal accounts. There was one from one of our students who represents South Africa, one from one of our teachers, one from a Swazi student, and another from a teacher. The short account given by J, one of our English teachers stuck with me. He spoke of growing up in Lesotho, a little boy of six who saw the world very simply. He told of growing up and learning that the world he'd thought he lived in, simple and peaceful, was not at all true. He described his friends and caretakers, who'd loved him though he wasn't one of them. And he recounted attending a concert with his black friends, who at the end had stood with a fist raised high in the air. Later he'd seen hundreds and hundreds of fists raised for Mandela. J spoke simply and earnestly and brought tears to everyone's eyes.
     It is not that any of my classmates or teachers spoke of anything unusual. In fact, I don't think anyone in the room had even met Nelson Mandela. Yet being reminded of the difficulties this one man had faced, the number of lives he'd touched, how he lived his life knowing what was right and maintained his vision of peace, it was difficult not to feel a deep sense of respect. My peers and I can only dream of living such a life.
     After the auditorium, the entire group was led up to our Mandela Peace Garden, guided by a singing African Chorus. The path was lined with candles, as was the entire garden. After a few more words from our president, and some chanting from one of our teachers, we closed the commemoration.
     I suppose it wasn't the ceremony that made the time so significant, but rather the notions. Here we were, a bunch of kids hoping to change the world, celebrating a man who had done just that. It was inspiring, and motivating, and I hope that one day we too can serve the world. I felt honored to be present at this celebration, and lucky to be a part of the UWC mission.

Friday, November 8, 2013


     I was recently made aware that my blog does not exactly reflect the experience of every other UWCer out there. At least two different individuals informed me that coming here was not quite what they'd expected after having read my blog.
     Therefore, this is my Official Disclaimer. If you are a potential UWC student, please know that I can only report my own experience; I cannot generalize the entire experience as any other individual might encounter it. And for any current UWCer, especially here at USA, I apologize if you feel I have not accurately illustrated what you consider this experience to be.
      But I think this is part of the beauty of UWC. We all come from different backgrounds, different cultures, and different ways of thinking. And we all go through the IB and CAS, but what each of us takes from this adventure is very unique and often very personal.
     Today I and three of my co-years sat through a CAS interview, a discussion about the challenges and lessons we've encountered through our leadership CASs. It was extremely interesting. On the one hand, we all admitted to facing some struggles working cohesively with our respective groups, and even more so with the people in the community (particularly middle school kids... let's jut admit that it's an awkward phase in everyone's life), but each of us also had individual stories to relate and had learned and come across various ideas. I was reminded how impressive it is that, being given similar experiences, we all take something different away.
     On the greater scale, our lives are just like this. Every person we meet, every place we visit, or even something like every radio commercial that we hear, each changes our life in some small way and creates an infinity of incidents that expand into millions and millions of possible lives. It's difficult to wrap your head around, and beautiful, and incredible.
     Alright, alright, I won't get too philosophical or profound; it's just a thought that's been on my mind lately.

     In other news, UWC continues to be ever surprising. Last weekend we had two performance events: Halloween Cafe (an informal set performed by any willing students) and our first Castle Concert of the year. Both were full of incredibly talented performers; I never fail to be completely blown away by my peers. We also had some hilarious pass-down performances in the cafe (my personal favorite was the Backstreet Boys). One of the best elements of these performance situations is the atmosphere- there is so much love and support and joy surrounding the talent and creativity demonstrated, and it makes the community feeling so much nicer.
If you'd like to see the Castle Concert, click HERE. It's quite good.

Other than that, we're forging on with Third Semester. There's still a lot of work and life is busy as always, but as the semester moves forward, I'm definitely looking forward to the Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, and hopefully some snow before that. Fingers crossed!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Other Reason

     There are a few different answers a UWC student might give you if you ask them "why UWC?". Many of us came here because we are interested in international politics or business, some say UWC gives you a boost for college applications, other wanted to study abroad, etc. But, regardless of why we initially came here, there is one reason we all love UWC so much: the people.
     Living on a closed campus with 250 people can be difficult sometimes. We're still normal human beings, we still have conflicts, and, especially as teenagers, we sometimes get a little hard to handle. But for the most part, I'd bet you could ask anyone on campus and they'll tell you they've made lifelong friends here. Living together 24/7 (or 25/8!) means that we see each other in all of our stages, the good ones- happy, excited, proud- but also the not so good ones- sick, tired, post-workout, sleepy. It means that we know each other very well. When someone looks out of sorts, we notice, and we're there to support that person.
     Recently I've been reflecting on my friendships here. This year started out a little roughly. It was much more difficult than I expected to return to a place so full of memories, but empty of half of the people who had made it so special. Top that with 100 new indiviudals, with two very strong, but dynamically different class personalities, and there were a lot of people, including me, feeling a little lost.
     Swamped with work and big decisions, I've found myself spending much of my time alone, sitting in my room working. It's important, yes, but also exhausting. Luckily, I can honestly say that I am surrounded by incredible friends who have shared both the highs and lows, and with whom I continue to laugh and make memories. I am so grateful to have such a strong class full of classmates who are interesting, talented, caring, fun, and who, together, make up such a great group.
     But there's another group of people who I should also mention and who I've recently come to appreciate a little more. Our first years. Quite honestly, guys, y'all were a handful in the beginning. I mean that in the most loving way, of course. We didn't expect for you to be so self-sufficient and cogent, and I think that threw us off a bit. Also, in case you hadn't noticed, you have some very... "big" characters in your class who initially overshadowed the diversity. But lately I've had the chance to get to know many of you, and I am so glad I have. You guys have a lot to offer, besides being just really great individuals, and I look forward to spending more time talking with you, or playing silly games in the castle, or working together in CAS.

     Oh, really quickly, one more thing from the first years. I guess I knew people were reading my blog, but I figured it was mostly my family and friends, or random strangers who accidentally stumbled across the webpage and didn't really read it. I was apparently wrong. Twice this year, first years approached me and told me they'd been reading my blog before they came to UWC. Turns out they were both surprised to meet me as one thought I'd graduated and the other wasn't completely sure I was a real person (or at least that's what I understood). C and O, you girls made me happy to know I'm actually being read and I'm glad that you're here and that I get to know you.

     Alright, what do you say, enough mushy friend stuff? OK. Basically, I'm just really grateful for the friendships I have- thank you :)

Sunday, October 27, 2013


     Among all the college applications, CASs, IB assignments, and homework, it's been easy, at least for me, to forget the point of UWC. But last night, thanks to a lot of work from a bunch of Europeans, I'm happy to say I was reminded.
     I've explained cultural days before, so you've heard about NAD and CLAD. This time, it was END- European National Day. The evening started off with a lovely dinner, themed "Opera", including Spanish gazpacho, Hungarian goulash, German schnitzel, Polish pierogi, French crepes, and Italian tiramisu. Altogether the food and entertainment were magnificent. Following dinner, everyone moved to the auditorium for the show.
     I have to say, going into the END experience, I was skeptical. Biased, having led NAD, and beside the fact that I am actually European and was part of the show, I wasn't expecting anything too outstanding. But with hearty congratulations, I have to admit that I was very, very wrong. The show was really impressive. With a good mix of humor, depth, and variety, I think everyone left the auditorium feeling both more educated about European culture, as well as reflective. Check out the link below to see the performances (and see if you can spot me in the Language Tree skit and Jumpstyle, the dance with lights).
     Though the party- themed "apres-ski"- was hindered by technical issues, the evening overall was really fun and impressive. It reminded me of the bigger picture: why I'm here, where I want to go, and of all of the incredibly intelligent, talented people with whom I get to share this experience.
     With college application deadlines drawing near, I look forward to having a bit more free time to make the most of my UWC opportunities and return to learning about the world from its citizens.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Second Year Survival Week

Third Semester is supposed to be busy. And everyone knows it. There are college applications, essays, supplements, interviews, SATs, Extended Essay, Internal Assessments, Leadership, and, of course, regular classes. It's very busy, sometimes overwhelming, but, overall, doable. 

This week is called Second Year Survival Week. Last year, as first years, we experienced this time as Southwest Studies- a time for all first years to embark on various trips around the Southwest. In the meantime, the second years stay on campus and "survive" all the work. 

Although it sounds like a lot, I'm personally enjoying this week. It's nice to have some quiet time to get all of my work together and reflect on the future, as well as have some fun with co-years (game nights in the auditorium are... interesting? hilarious? either way a great stress reliever)

I won't write too much, and I apologize for not having posted recently, but there's lots of work to be done. I'll come back soon with something a little more exciting and UWC-y. Until then, happy Survival Week!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Aren't we in a Drought?

New Mexico is dry. Like very dry. Like last year the city came to our school to give a presentation about conserving water because we're in a Stage 2 drought. We're big on water conservation, we have shower timers, and our field is watered with recycled sewage water (so don't play in the sprinklers).

But if you've been paying attention to the news this past week, you might know that New Mexico is experiencing extreme rain and flood conditions, something that hasn't been seen here in over fifty years. Our school sits above a river (more of a small stream most of the year) that has now flooded and completely closed down any access into or out of the school. Some are joking that we now have a moat for our castle.

On a serious note, the huge surge of water has actually caused quite a bit of damage. One of the farms next to the school lost all of their animals and I was told some people were evacuated from the area.

As we're cut off, no one can get on campus. Though we were all kind of worried about this at first, it's turned out to be kind of nice. The kitchen isn't staffed, so teachers are being asked to help cook, and the 6 dorms are rotating through cleaning duties. It has actually created a very nice sense of community, and, unexpectedly, we've had awesome food. I, one of our RTs from Palestine, cooked dinner last night and it was incredible; definitely the best caf food we've had.

So, if you're a parent, don't worry, your child is safe and very well fed! We're riding out the storm, hoping it won't rain any more, and waiting for the sun to come back. On the bright side, maybe we're finally out of the drought stages, yeah?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The UWC Conversation

The "UWC Conversation" is something each of us hears about when we come to UWC, something we all look forward to, and are a little intimidated by. You can't plan one of these and you never know when a UWC Conversation might pop up or with whom you'll be talking. Actually, you probably won't even know you've had one until after it's finished.

I've only had two of these kinds of chats before, but today I, very, very unexpectedly had a third. At lunch my Extended Essay (EE) advisor called me over to talk about my rough draft. I'm writing about American involvement in the creation and initial success of the United Nations. In the last couple of months I'd gotten kind of bored with the topic but working and talking with J reminded me why I was originally so excited about it. We talked through some of the points of my thesis and my paper, the framing, structure, just general essay stuff. It was very helpful and definitely got me back on track, but it was after we had finished that we really got into the global implications of the ideas I'm discussing.

As I was collecting my things J asked:

"Do you think the United Nations is a model for a global government?"

Whoa. Ummm, ok..."No."

"Why not?"

Challenging me on every statement and thought, J and I worked through the implications, the problems, and the reality of the global political playing field. Is a global government possible? Would countries even agree to such an organization? Something like the UN but with power; are you suggesting arming the United Nations? What about the immense social and cultural differences? What about countries who want to be on our level, or have our "standard"? What about the environment, how do we deal with that? What about no country wanting to be submissive to any other organization? And how do we, as two individuals in the middle of the United States even go about suggesting, let alone being able to act, on such ideas?

Somewhere in the middle I said something like:

"Gosh, I can't even begin to think of everything involved in such a complex idea."

"Yeah, but you are a Second Year at the United World College."

Oh yeah. No pressure or anything, but those are the kinds of questions I'm being taught to consider, the kind of problems I should be striving to solve.

In a way this conversation was a reality check. Sure, my classes and EE and activities here matter, but why am I ultimately here? Where am I headed?

These are the questions I, as a Second Year, should be keeping in mind. What differences can I make in the future?

Needless to say it was a very enlightening afternoon. You know, the usual, sitting in the Dining Hall of a castle in the mountains of New Mexico, solving world issues, just another day at UWC. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Gravity of the Situation

One more Ukraine post!

Alright. Before I begin, I just want to give you fair warning: this post is serious. While the previous Ukraine blogs have been funny (or maybe not, maybe I actually have no comedic skills and no one thought my puns and lines were as funny as I did...) I want to make a point with this post and its a fairly serious topic. Ok, ready? I did warn you. Let's go. 
One of the most surprising elements of our Ukraine trip was witnessing the corruption that riddles the nation. As a child I didn't catch on to anything going on around me, or maybe I was sheltered from it, but coming back this time, I was absolutely shocked by just how deeply and tightly the fingers of The System reach. There are major examples, but mostly, on a day to day basis, its the little things that make the difference. 
Ok wait, before I go on, I want to just put it out there that I feel this experience is important for me to retell. You, as the reader, might not care, in which case I totally give you permission to stop reading now, or you might disagree, maybe you know better. But in the event that someone reads this, what I observed, someone who can make a difference somehow, even maybe far in the future, then this post will have mattered. Or maybe its just important to draw a little awareness to a world issue. Ok then. 
The mafia is real. It's not just history, or a game played in summer camp cabins, neither is it confined to Latin and South America as I'd thought (forgive me if this stereotype offends anyone). And its big. It controls everything. Small businesses are shut down if they refuse to "contribute" to the "state". Government officials are... "connected". The richest parts of the city are beautiful and clean and sharply contrast the poorest neighborhoods.  

One of the sharpest shocks was that the mafia is in every organization, including law enforcement. Especially law enforcement. Drivers can be pulled over for anything (or rather, nothing), or even for violating a sign that is illegally positioned. Ok, fine, enforce driving laws, sure that sounds great. But most policemen give the people the option to bribe them immediately, instead of paying the fine. And most people do, because they think they're getting the cheaper option, when, often, if they argued their case they might be able to get off, as the offense was imaginary. 

The corruption reaches even to children. Students do not earn grades, they pay for them. No joke. And it comes from the teacher. A family friend of ours recounted having to decide whether to submit to such corruption, to allow her child a chance to get the grade she deserved, or to oppose the system but cost her daughter her academic record. It's insanity. How can the society hope to improve and evolve past this primitive system when they teach even their children such manners?

Seeing veterans standing on the street begging for a penny from the people they fought for, children worried about their future because they don't want to be part of the system that is inescapable, and family members working to provide for themselves but stay undetected so as not to have to share their "wealth".

It was... very educational. This post is just a very brief glimpse into what we saw or what what I understood. It's difficult to share it accurately. But don't think it's a miserable place; people are happy and do what they can to live how they want to live. But still there's a lot of work that needs to take place, a lot of growth that could help the people so much. Reminds me of why I'm at UWC. I just hope that one day, as cheesy as this souds, each child can earn their grades and have dreams for the future.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Whole New Year

     Boy, if I thought Second Year was going to be anything like First Year, I am learning every single minute how wrong I was. Yes, the big things are the same, but I don't think I realized how powerful the incoming class is. There are 113 new students on campus. That is definitely more than the second years and frankly, though they probably don't know it, the first years are intimidating. Not that they are individually frightening, most of those I've met are really very nice, but that the idea of having first years is terrifying. It means that we are second years. It means we have many more responsibilities, both to them and to ourselves. And it means, as administration keeps reminding us, that in 9 short months we are going to be alumni. Alumni. Ew. I'm sure it'll still be wonderful, UWC is a lifelong community after all, but we'll be gone from Montezuma, NM, and, at least right now, that's scary.
     But it is exciting, of course. It's fun to be the teachers, the leaders, and to be able to share our experience with so many new people. This year we have many new countries represented, and one of the largest classes thus far. I have yet to meet a lot of people, and I hope the firsties know that this time is just as strange for us as it is for them; we've never been second years before.
     It's also extremely challenging, and I feel like there's a lot of pressure to "do it right". Our class is struggling to stay strong together, to not miss our second years so much, and to give the first years the best possible UWC experience. My mom says its a good experience (she's probably right, learning how to balance all of these challenges and new voices) but it's also difficult and I just have my fingers crossed we'll do half as well as our second years did for us last year.
     As it's a busy time I won't write too much just now, but know that life here is as busy and crazy as ever and I'll come back soon!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Life Accomplishments

Second blog of the day, but it's important. I just realized that today is a momentous day! Today I get to cross an item off my Life List: keeping a blog for a year. Yay! Just wanted to share that with you guys and thank you for reading- nearly 5,000 pageviews so far :) Whoo! Keep reading and, as always, feel free to comment, email me, or anything else. Thanks!

Friday, August 16, 2013

We're Baaaaaaack!

Hey y'all. It's been a busy week back here in New Mexico! It's great to see everyone (though we're still missing our second years :( we love you guys!) and we've been working really hard to get all of the orientation components together- just two more days until we welcome 113 new firsties to the UWC family! I won't write too much just now (can't be late for our first hallway meeting!), but I just wanted to check in, let y'all know there will be many new stories coming your way- and at least one more Ukraine post- so get ready!

Love from Montezuma :)

Friday, August 9, 2013


In a quick break from the Ukraine segments, I wanted to take a moment to confide in y'all. Ah, this is difficult to get out... Ok, deep breath. Ready.

I think I might have scared my first year.

There. I said it. In a moment, ok, ok, an hour's worth of moments, I might have been a little overly excited to meet him and talk about the coming school year.

We got together on Wednesday to "officially" meet (B went to my old high school- not only a state- mate, but a city- mate and a... school-mate?) In all fairness I did tell him I was just over excited at that moment and would calm down when we get to school, but at this point I'm just hoping he'll still come.

No, I'm sure that's an exaggeration, and he'll still come and learn I'm not crazy and it'll be great. He really is a cool guy and I'm excited for him to be starting this journey. We're a little different, for example B has had three pet snakes (THREE), likes physics, and theatre. But we're also alike in some ways, we both love languages and international stuff and coffee. Having a first year state mate will be fun and I hope we can be good friends!

And to B: I'm sorry for being a little... Overwhelming? I promise to chill out soon and be normal, or as normal as UWCers can be :) see ya in NM!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The [No One Goes Hungry] Games

     If you think you know anything about Russian cuisine, you're probably wrong. But it's alright, don't worry, I'm here to catch you up.
Here are the basic points you should know:

1) We eat and drink more than just borscht and vodka
2) Russian cooking is... what a good friend of ours calls "labor intensive"
3) If you ever go up to your Russian friend and try to describe that one food you tried last week, "you know, the one with meat inside of dough, it's really good, you know it?" there is a good chance they'll laugh at you. There are at least 5 different foods I can think of off the top of my head that are variations on meat inside dough.
4) You will never, ever, under any circumstance, go hungry in a Russian household. Not ever.

     I've always known that what my parents cook at home is "Russian". Duh. I just never realized how legitimately authentic our home cooked meals are. In Ukraine, I walked into restaurants expecting to get to try really real Russian food. What I was served was almost exactly what I could have gotten at home (so y'all are all welcome to skip the expensive airfare and come over to my house instead).
     There are variations on dishes, of course, just like in any cuisine. Some people add carrots in their salat olivye, some put sugar in varyeniki, and some make okroshka on mineral water instead of kvac. But what holds true for most dishes is the cooking process. I don't mean the ingredients for each dish (although if you have meat and dough you're like 90% there), but the mentality. Russian dishes are not easy to make. There are different doughs for different dishes, varied lengths for cooking, but always a lot of time spent in the kitchen. My mom often prepares Russian dinners for holidays; they usually take a full two days to prepare.
     Nevertheless, Russians will continue to spend such time on their food. Food is a big part of culture. "Well, duh, Jess, just like in any other culture". No, no, I mean like food is a central component, not just for meals but for socializing, at any level. When you walk into a Russian household, we will offer you something to eat and drink. If you say you're not hungry, we'll only bring out 2/3 of what we've prepared. If we ask about seconds, you might as well say "yes". "No" will only cause the babushka (pronounced BA-bush-ka, not ba-BUSH-ka, it's a pet peeve of mine) of the house to tell you "nonsense, you're too thin, have some more". Resistance is futile; we will feed you.
     On the bright side, you can relax and just enjoy the meal- it'll be delicious and mostly healthy. None of this additives nonsense; we like things natural and home grown (like actually, in our backyard, where my uncle keeps 5 cows, 3 calves, a plot of tomatoes, a start to some grapes, and still expanding). Once you've eaten, I'd recommend you stick around for tea and chocolate; we have really good chocolate. I'm pretty sure that in 3 weeks in Ukraine, I drank more tea (a cup after any and every meal, of course) and ate more dessert than ever in my life.
     Anyways, I hope this short look into our culinary world has been enlightening. And don't forget- Kansas is probably much closer than Ukraine, so stop on by and we'll fill you up.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ukrainian Sports

     Across history, one of man's favorite pass times has been sport. For centuries humans have shed sweat and blood in the pursuit of glory, banded together for a common goal, or torn each other limb from limb in passion. Now, you may be thinking "alright, alright, that's all very nice and dramatic, but sports today are controlled and play out on neatly manicured soccer, ahem, excuse me football fields, and in arenas". Not so, my friend. Let me tell you about some of Ukraine's favorite "sports". 
Arguing with Policemen: this sport can accommodate multiple players but is most commonly acted by 1 policeman and 1 civilian. The object of the policeman (hereafter known as P) is to leach as much money from the civilian (C) as possible. This can be done one of two ways: convince C that it will be easier for he or she to bribe P, or, if C is tougher and unwilling to submit to such bureaucracy, to stop two more drivers to act as witnesses and write C a "protocol" (ticket). C's objective is to weasel his or her way out of paying. This can be accomplished through arguing, pleading, yelling, crying, or any other way C can imagine.
*It should be noted that C is often stopped for no real offense or for having offended an invisible sign.     

Pot Holes: Most countries pride themselves on clean, smooth roads for their citizens to use safely, with as few bumps (physical or metaphorical) as possible. Ukraine has evolved past this stage and instead allows drivers to use their time economically, both driving and playing games, in this case: Pop Goes the Pothole. In this game, the player must dodge as many potholes as possible. There are virtually no rules, meaning drivers/players can ignore all rules of traffic (i.e, speedlimits, lanes, and direction) in the prestigious, yet nearly impossible attainment of a smooth journey.     
*Players are cautioned that Pop Goes the Pothole may have minor consequences, including but not limited to injury, loss of vehicle, collision, becoming stranded, or death. 

Guess Who: my sister's personal favorite, this game can be played virtually anywhere with anyone, as long as a conversation is in session. The object of the game is to keep track of who exactly is being talked about. Sound simple enough? The more challenging version is played when the player is actually named one of the more common Russian names; the goal in this case is to respond to your name only when you are actually being referred to. Our particular round (a round may continue indefinitely) included 4 "Natasha"s, 2 "Nastya"s, 2 "Lyuda"s, 2 "Sergei"s, 2 "Igor"s, 2 "Olga"s, and an infinite number of "Sasha"s. (Needless to say, I am quite happy to be named something as completely un- Russian as "Jessika")     
Pear Dodging: may be played with variations of fruits or other falling objects. The game is played when enjoying time outside; do not worry about searching for falling edibles, conveniently there will always be a pear tree exactly where you need to be sitting/standing. Players are advised to cover head immediately upon hearing the rustling of the falling item. Fear not: being hit is not (usually) fatal.     
Hay Wrestling: this game can only be played accidentally, preferably when not properly attired. The name of the game does not refer to wrestling in hay, but rather wrestling the actual hay. Materials include: 1 ton of hay (the pricklier the better), 1 transportation truck, and as few players as possible. The object of the game is to load the hay into the truck with no injury or allergic reaction. Bruises or other battle scars are awarded extra points; allergy should be treated with decades old rubbing alcohol. Haha, good luck!     

*It should be noted that all above- mentioned sports have not been exaggerated, but are the actual reality of the Ukrainian people as observed by my family and me.

Europe 2013

 I named this blog "25/8" in the aspiration to live life to its fullest. This past month feels like I've actually been living 25 hour days of an 8 day week. No one can say we wasted a single moment of this trip. 
     When my mom first called me at school and told me she was planning a trip to Ukraine, I immediately asked to stop in London. Having just looked at a university there, I figured since we'd already be in Europe, why not make a pit stop? Turned out my little sister, too, had requested London, so off we went. 
     My friend, M, lives in London (though unfortunately she was abroad when we visited) and she always gets annoyed when people stereotype London as gray and rainy. Nevertheless its a stereotype for a reason, and we packed accordingly for our visit. Armed with umbrellas and jackets we arrived just in time for a dry spell and the hottest day in seven years. Despite the heat we tackled nearly all of the major tourist sites, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Big Ben, a cruise on the Thames, Millennium Bridge, St. James Palace, Westminster, the Horse Guards, and St. Paul's Cathedral. We also visited some "culturally important" sites including Shakespeare's Globe theatre, Platform 9 and 3/4,  Sherlock Holmes' house at 221B Baker Street, and the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms. 
     As I've been learning in my anthropology class, to understand a culture its important to go native. I'd say we did pretty well; in 4 days we managed to conquer the metro, excuse me Tube, and bus systems, get thrown out of a pub, and enjoy fish and chips. 
     It was an incredible trip and a lot of fun. I always love exploring new countries and cultures and London didn't disappoint. 
     From London we flew to Amsterdam and then on to Ukraine. The following three weeks were... interesting, to say the least. In short, we spent 4 days in Kiev, 9 days in Donetsk, 1 in Slovyanagorsk, and 3 in Milekina. All the adventures cannot possibly be described in a single post so I'll have a short series of posts summarizing some of the highlights. Hope y'all enjoy learning a little about Ukrainian culture! :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


     Hey y'all, hope everyone's enjoying their summer (or winter, if you live in the southern hemisphere). Sorry it's been so quiet on my end, haven't had a whole lot to report. Mostly I've just been hanging out at home, with friends and family, and, of course, working on my loooong extended essay and college research. I've also been keeping in touch with UWC friends- though maybe not as much as I would like- but it sounds like everyone's enjoying themselves.
     I do have one UWC-ish piece of news to report: I'll be in London soon and am hoping to meet up with my third year from UWC-SEA; yay! It'll be really exciting to hear about another school and another set of experiences. Also, while flying/ moving through airports I'm planning on wearing a UWC hoodie and hoping to run into some cool people :)
     If you're a UWC grad in London or Ukraine let me know and we can try to get together!

Best wishes from Kansas!

Monday, June 3, 2013

"See you later."

     I've begun writing this post at least 10 times now. How do I capture all of the past year in words and begin to express the gratitude I feel to all of my co-years and, especially, my second- years, for making it so special?
     I just don't even know.
     I could write millions of words on the last year- recounting stories, telling jokes, explaining traditions, but I think it might be better just to keep it short and sweet.
     Thank you. Thank you SOOOO much. To my parents, family, and friends for helping me get to UWC. To my national committee and Shelby Davis for making this experience possible. To my co-years for being some of my best friends ever ever ever, for embarking on this journey with me and for making it all the better. And to my second years, for welcoming us into your home, for being incredible role models, and for being even better friends.
     I won't bother saying good bye. This isn't good-bye, it's see you later. Because y'all are always welcome in Kansas, at school (please come visit us this year!!), and I hope to maybe even see some of you in your own home countries.
     Love you all.
     See ya later. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wrappin Up

     I absolutely cannot believe the year is nearly finished. With less than two weeks left, I feel like I can't possibly have already completed half of my UWC experience, but also like I've been here forever and learned so much and had so much fun. Looking back on it all, I can't help thinking how unbelievable UWC is, and how lucky I am that I get to live it. And comparing the person I was at the beginning, and who've I've grown to be is strange- on the one hand, I don't feel like I've changed radically, but on the other, I definitely feel more mature and ready to take on the world. I see the same changes in my classmates. I'm excited to continue next year, to meet our firsties, but first we all have to get past the next couple of weeks. First years have kicked off final exams this week, and second years are in their third week of IB exams (shout out to my IB Buddy, good luck, O! :)), and once testing finishes, packing, graduation, and saying good-bye will be here much, much sooner than I would like. I guess that too is part of the UWC experience, but hopefully we'll all still stay in touch and visit each other and continue the legacy. But for now it's just important to study for tomorrow's exam. Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


     If a year and a half ago you had told me that I would soon be going to a boarding school in a beautiful part of New Mexico surrounded by students from 80+ countries, that I would try and enjoy Wilderness and playing soccer and peer mediation, and that my world view would widen exponentially, I would probably have thought you were crazy. Psh, a boarding school? Really? Those only exist in books and Europe. And I don't do Wilderness. Or soccer. So... no, definitely not gonna happen. If only I'd known.
     I found out about UWC via brochure in the mail and, as I mentioned in my very first post, wasn't going to open it. I thought UWC was a summer program and, when my mother and I finally realized it was a two year commitment, I think we researched the school more just because we couldn't believe it was a real thing than that I could actually go here. Dad even said there was no way in the world he would let me go away to school a year early, before I was even 18. But here I am. And boy has my life changed in the past year.
     Last Tuesday marked exactly one year since I received my acceptance letter to UWC-USA.
     I cannot even begin to tell you what a momentous year it has been. I can try to convey each of our crazy traditions and explain about cultural shows, and castle history, and trips off campus. But it's a bit harder to capture how we've all changed as individuals. Second years warned us at the beginning of the year that we'd change, but I don't think any of us believed them. How could we really become that different in such a short time?
     I'm starting to realize how. UWC is an extremely unique environment. We're a fairly closed community, which can have both pros and cons. On the one hand, it's a little difficult to go back into the real world and interact with individuals who know nothing of your life. On the other, we're so close, all of us (students and faculty) as peers, learning together. We've seen each other in every state- happy, homesick, ill, tired, excited, cranky- and so we're comfortable with each other. We know we can discuss difficult topics, joke around, share our stories. We become comfortable with ourselves. We start to understand specifically what has made us the way we are and what we need to do to become who we imagine. Sure it's not quite that easy, we make mistakes, check each other, apologize, regroup, and move forward. We grow together.
     As the year comes to a close I've been thinking a lot about the last year and what it has given me. There are still so many people I want to get to know better and so many adventures yet to be had. And with that, so many more small changes to go through. Good thing there's a month left, better get started :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


     To all of the Davis Scholars from the U.S. who received their acceptance letters today- congratulations! We're all excited to welcome you to the UWC family and look forward to meeting you in the fall :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lenses Part II

Our full script for recording:

J: The lenses I see through are backwards. Instead of composing many different colors and textures into a single image, they take a snapshot of the world and refract it into the many different aspects of my life that make me who I am and affect how I perceive the world. I see the world based on my experience.
My experience has been deeply multicultural. My parents immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine, and their history and culture has become mine. My culture is rooted extensively in the importance of family, in tradition, and in religion. My church is my home and the community is my family. I miss the cool calm of the cathedral, the rich, musky aroma of the incense, and the resonant murmur of the chanters’ voices. My experience has made me curious about the world. I want to know about every culture, and religion, and history on the planet.

J à A: It fascinates me how magnificently different we are; but why can’t we all live in peace with our differences?

A: Why can’t we all respect each other for who we are?...
Growing in a Macedonian family that carefully constructed a bubble of a calm childhood is something I am lucky to have been part of. This bubble was my little world, world of respect for my Christian Orthodox religion; deeply intertwined with the tradition and culture, created ever since I could say Easter or Christmas. I grew up to have a respect for any other religion including the one that is perceived to be opposite than my own – Islam.  
But for some reason, there was always that distinction, that line that separated Macedonians from Albanians  - Christians from Muslims. Something I couldn’t realize and understand.
Then, a harsh reality check came when I was about 5. A terrifying sound, followed by a horrific tremble was just enough to make me realize that the whole world is not how I thought it was – that it is not anything like how my bubble worked. In one moment a grenade fell only a couple hundred meters away from my house. It shook and shattered my whole reality and flavored it with people’s peculiar inability of living with respect for what is different than themselves.
The smoke in the near distance was the first image of conflict that I encountered and constantly come back to. The image that makes me think over and over again about our differences and the possible ways we can accept them.

A à S: It fascinates me how magnificently different we are; but why can’t we all live in peace with our differences?

S:  There are two things I ask myself: first, is there absolute truth to everything? Second, am I culturally biased by the lens I see through?  
In the summer of 2011, I went to a summer camp for international girls in New York State for 7 weeks. As the only girl representing China, the feeling of loneliness and vulnerability struck me hard. I became more and more sensitive to issues related to my country. On a sunny afternoon, a girl from Taiwan told me she was determined do a workshop on how Taiwan was an independent country.
I was paralyzed. Hurt. Enraged. I always believed that there was such a historical and cultural bond between us that it was irrational and impossible to consider us as different countries. But, now, this girl, from whom I could find the most similarities among all the other girls, was telling me that she denied this unity. I was ripped apart.
I spent the next few days in the computer room searching desperately for evidence of how Taiwan and China belong to the same country. Shockingly, I found few. One day I stayed up until midnight only finding an article criticizing how my government was denying the fact only because of its evil will of suppressing Taiwan people. I shivered. The computer room was never as cold. I felt helpless.
On the day of the workshop, I was nervous. I could hear my heart pounding. As the workshop went on I felt sad that we had so many misunderstandings and distrust that built up the tension. At the same time, however, I felt relieved. Because despite the opposite viewpoints, I could still see the connection of culture and humanity that lay across the sea channel and bound us together.
Now my views boils down to a simple hope: I hope that one day the word China no longer has the political sensitivity, but, rather, pride, peace, and a sense of home for all of us.

S àJ: It fascinates me how magnificently different we are; but why can’t we all live in peace with our differences?

J2:  I want to be able to share my experience with others, but I often feel that I cannot. I hate that. I think it’s unfair. I do not want to make my experience yours. I know that you have your own experience, unique from any other individual. I want to not only share my story, but hear about yours too. Differences are what make us special and this world extraordinary. So why do we choose to reject all of the knowledge and wonder, to focus on a minuscule discrepancy? Why can’t we learn through our differences, instead of fighting each other?

AJS: I do not want to make my experience yours. I want to be able to share my story and accept the one you choose to share with me.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Lenses Through Which I See

     This past weekend I was part of a CEC (Constructive Engagement of Conflict) retreat in Santa Fe. We worked with an organization called Youth Media Project which aims to allow youth to express themselves through radio broadcasts. Although I was wary about the whole concept, I came out of the experience quite surprised to have learned a fair amount about not only my peers, but myself as well.
     The initial draft of our "stories" was prompted by the phrase "the lenses I see through". After this draft we edited, polished, and sometimes combined our stories to make recordings for a radio show. I'll post the finished product, which is a compilation of mine and two other students' work, in a later post, but I thought I might share a piece of myself with y'all. Please understand that it is a glance into the deeper workings of my mind, and that it is honest and "raw". I hope you also take a moment to think about lenses through which you see.

The Lenses Through Which I See

The lenses I see through are backwards. Instead of composing many different colors and textures into a single image, they take a snapshot of the world and refract it into the many different aspects of my life that make me who I am and affect how I perceive the world. I see the world based on my experience. I am composed of all of the moments I have lived, my memories, what I know. Particular influences stand out: my family, my culture, my church, my education, and my interests.
My family is… a little indescribable. Our structure is complex, but our functionality is successful. My family has always supported me, and my parents especially have done all they can for my ultimate success. From my family I have learned the importance of solidarity, of education, and of communication, and I have learned to stand up for what I believe in. I have learned rationality and practicality. I have learned that I can be wrong, and I have learned to apologize, even if only because I value a relationship more than my pride. These lessons are lenses through which I see.
My culture has me made me an individual. I have always stood out from my peers. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Ukraine and because they have shared their culture, language, and history with me, that has become part of who I am. It can be difficult to explain our story, to withstand comments and jokes about communism and being a “Russian spy”, but, ultimately, this experience has made me curious and interested in other cultures, languages, and religions. I count myself lucky to have had the chance to grow up multicultural. It is who I am and no one can take that away. This experience is a lens through which I see.
My religion is like a part of my culture. I am Eastern Orthodox. I believe in God, in miracles, in saints, in icons, and in Heaven. Sometimes I feel like I can’t share this with others because they think I am trying to push my beliefs on them, and I hate it; I think it’s unfair. I want to share my experience, not make it yours. You have your own experience and I want to hear about that too. My church has always been a part of my life. The colors of the icons, the sound of the chanters and choir, and the smell of the incense are home. My church community is my family. I have spent countless hours at church- not only for religious services, but also for fellowship and service, and just for fun with my best friends. I want to be able to share this part of myself with others- to explain that, for me, my church is not only my belief in God, but my belief in making the world a better place- whether through serving those in need, or just creating opportunities for everyone to live in a free and tolerant world. My beliefs are a lens through which I see.
My parents have basically drilled into me the importance of education. Coming from a country with few opportunities, they have worked tirelessly to give me as many as possible. Through private, public, and now boarding school environments, my worldviews have grown. The Montessori curriculum taught me real world skills and to approach problems and challenges fearlessly. Public school taught me patience and perseverance, because not everyone will be as motivated as I in a given situation. The IB curriculum has taught me about making connections- between subjects, ideas, cultures, and individuals. UWC has taught me responsibility- to myself and to the world. I am a global citizen and I must use my knowledge to make this world a better place, in any way possible. Knowledge is a lens through which I see.
Each person has particular interests, and they are crucial to how we each perceive the world. I am interested in just that- the world. I wish I could know everything about every culture and history and language and country on this planet. It fascinates me how magnificently different we are. It horrifies me that we cannot all live in peace with our differences. I see the world through a lens that is, in a sense, itself. I compare my experiences of countries and cultures, and question everything. How does this place look? How do these people think? What do they eat? What do they believe? I want to learn it all, and this curiosity is a lens through which I see.

Jessika Nebrat (USA-KS 2014)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

News and Such

     It's been a while, I know, sorry. The spring semester is always busy, and UWC is definitely no exception. A couple major things have occurred over the past couple of weeks, so I guess I'll just go through those:

ABQ USA Applicant UWC Interviews-
     Each year the US National Selection Committee organizes about 12 interview sites around the country, interviewing nearly 600 candidates, in order to choose 50 individuals to distribute to the UWCs around the world. The biggest interview site is Albuquerque and, because its close(ish) to the school, about 10 current students get to go help facilitate the interviews each year. And I got to go! Whoo!
     It was actually really fun! When I attended my interview last year I had a blast. Yes, it was really stressful and I was nervous, but meeting brilliant people and playing games all day isn't such a bad deal. This time was even better (because as T (our admissions director) reminded us, we're already in). We answered questions for the interviewees and their parents and played games with the students. In all honesty, it was a really strong applicant pool, and I wouldn't want to be in the committee's shoes.
     The interviews were also kind of a jarring wake-up call. Some of those students are actually going to be accepted and come to our school, meaning I'll be a second year and my second year's won't be here anymore. UWC does not exist for me or my class without our second years. They've just always been here, and the fact that I'll probably never see some of these amazing people ever again is scary. Not to mention it's been nearly a year since my whole world changed when I decided to come to UWC. Boy, does time fly, or what?
     I wish the best of luck to the applicants, but am also dreading that day in May when I have to say good-bye to so many of my friends.

     Holi is the Indian festival of color. Though we were unable to celebrate the festival on time, we did celebrate with a bang. After some of the students said the appropriate prayer (it's a Hindu festival), we started on the fun part- throwing colors at each other. Picture this- 75 teenagers running around a soccer ball throwing paint and water all over each other. Messy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely!

April Fools-
     I was a little worried for April Fool's Day. I've already described how crazy pranks can be on a normal day, so a day dedicated to pranking definitely seemed problematic. But it wasn't nearly as crazy as I imagined. In fact, the only pranking that took place, that I know of, was directed at the teachers.
     My first code Monday morning was Social Anthropology. Each member of the class spoke their own language to answer our teacher's questions. At first he was just really confused (I'm pretty sure he thought he just wasn't understanding S's mumbling) but then caught on and thought it was pretty funny.
     In my last code, French, we tried to confuse our teacher by nonchalantly switching seats every 5 minutes. Unfortunately she caught on extremely quickly and it didn't end up as much of a prank. Oh well.

So lots of activity here on campus. As we get into the last two months of the year (.... let's not mention the G word...) the calendar is absolutely jam- packed, so be patient with the long breaks between updates.
Hope y'all are enjoying the beginning of the spring season :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Project Week

      It's been a busy week getting back to routine, but I've finally found a moment to fill y'all in on what went down last week.
     Project Week is UWC's form of Spring Break, only instead of going home or on vacation, everyone goes on a trip focused on some sort of "project". This year there was a wilderness trip for wilderness- leaders- in- training, a group who spent the week volunteering at SXSW (a big music festival in Austin, TX), a group in California, one camping at Big Bend in TX, and another in CO at an HIV/AIDS conference. Originally, my trip was meant to travel to Alamos, Mexico for a film festival. We were going to stay with host families and get to practice our Spanish and it was going to be a ton of fun. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to go. Within about 2 weeks we had to completely re-plan a trip that many others had been planning for months.
     As such, going into Project Week I didn't have too many expectations. I wasn't sure what exactly we were going to do and how organized the plans were. All I knew was we were driving 8 hours to Tucson. Luckily, it turned out to be a really fun week.
      Our group was pretty small, 9 students and 2 chaperones. We spent the week visiting museums, doing service projects, enjoying the warm weather (90*F... :)) by the pool and biking through the city, and getting to know the city. Tucson surprised me in that it's actually really beautiful. The city is surrounded by mountains and plenty of desert flora and fauna that was really interesting to see. Like the thousands of saguaro cacti all over the mountains. And the cute little prairie dogs scattered throughout the city.
     Project week was also a really great chance to get off campus with UWC people- I got to know my group so much better. In the evenings we spent time talking, cooking (such good food- authentic Italian, Mexican, Indian food, plus delicious sandwiches, eggs, and more) and playing games- mostly jungle speed (a card game involving pattern recognition and speed, which UWC students get really into. It's very, very competitive.)
     Over all it was a very enjoyable week. We got some sleep, got to know each other better, and got to experience a new city and culture. But it was also nice to get back to campus; everyone was happy to see each other and catch up on adventures. Each time we return to campus from a trip, I realize how much of a family we are here; it's always an incredible, happy observation, and makes both the trip and the "homecoming" that much better.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


     On a daily basis, our campus has very little segregation between first and second years. In fact, that was probably one of the most surprising things at the very beginning of the year. And its awesome- we get to know everyone really well. But we do have one specific tradition that completely separates the classes, and, in doing so, brings us even closer together: Expressions and Appreciations.
     Expressions and Appreciations are shows put on by the second and first years respectively to "highlight" certain characteristics of the opposite class. Basically, we make fun of each other.
     This past Saturday was Expressions- the show that the second years put on. We'd all heard about Expressions before, and taken all the threats about "regretting that fateful day in middle school when we joined facebook and started posting pictures that would later become fodder for the rest of the school's amusement", but I didn't realize just how fun the whole thing would be.
     The events started at dinner, when a number of the second years dressed up as some of the firsties with the most recognizable clothing and mannerisms. It. Was. Hilarious. And so, so accurate! I hadn't noticed before how people walked, or spoke, or where they sat all the time until the second years exaggerated it so much.
     After dinner we headed down to the auditorium to find a looping powerpoint showcasing all of those aforementioned embarrassing photos. And then the show started.
     The way the show works is that the second years compile a program of dorm videos and skits. Dorm videos are made by the second years in each dorm and are supposed to include everyone in the dorm so that everyone is in the show at least once. I think they were my favorite part of the show. I can't possibly explain all of the jokes because you really have to know the people to understand why the representations were so spot-on and so funny. I have to give the second years credit for doing an awesome job with these.
     The rest of the show is combination of individual skits. Each skit generally highlights a small group of people and makes fun of their mannerisms. There were mock job interviews, videos, dances, passdowns, and just a lot of jokes. And I ended up as the brunt of a lot of them- but it's ok, its all good fun.
     The second years wrapped up with a song and came out and gave us all notes they'd compiled. It was a really nice ending to the show and a great reminder of how close our classes generally are. I think a lot of us also realized just how much we're going to miss our second years. We're all very excited for our first years, but we've spent a year building connections with all of these amazing people, and, in all reality, we may never see some of them again. Crazy, I know.
     But, altogether, Expressions was a very fun night and a great tradition.
     And second years? Y'all just wait for Appreciations- we're coming for you ;)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter Wilderness

     As many of you know, prior to UWC, I was not in any sense an "outdoorsy" person. Like, at all. I wouldn't say that I have now become an avid camper or hiker, but I have actually been camping and hiking and have enjoyed it :)
     This past weekend, I had a new wilderness experience- that of winter wilderness. This is the trip most commonly referred to as the "Yurt Trip", because those who dare to embark upon the journey stay in a Yurt up in Taos. It's also a cross country ski and snowshoe trip. I signed up for the trip and was one of the lucky 30 students who got to go. I was super duper excited- ready to experience camping in the winter and XC skiing and snowshoeing for the very first time.
     We left school early last Friday and made the drive up to Taos in our white and blue UWC bus. The leaders said the hike to the yurt was about 1.75 miles. So I figured, hey, get to Taos around 3:30, hike an hour or two, set up camp, sleep. Awesome.
     What I didn't realize is that the hike up to the yurt involves hiking up a mountain. Like a mountain. Covered in several feet of powdery snow. With more snow falling by the hour. Breaking trail. Carrying our packs and skis. In the encroaching and finally arriving darkness.
     At first, the whole thing was really fun. The mountains are absolutely beautiful, especially covered in snow; quiet and serene. And my team was awesome- chatting and optimistic as we kicked off the trip. We kept catching up to the leading team and couldn't figure out why they were moving so slowly. We finally realized they were breaking trail (which means quite literally packing down snow to make a path for us to follow, which is a lot of work- kudos to those who did this!). We also realized that, with no clear path, we weren't really sure where we were going. In the dark. Yeah. We had to stop for a bit and let the leaders pan out and scout.
     We finally chose the right trail and, after a very long, very tiring trek, reached the yurt. Guess how long the whole thing took? FIVE HOURS. For 1.75 miles. I couldn't believe it; but when we did finally reach the yurt and take our packs off and warm up, there was definitely a sense of accomplishment attached to the experience.
     Now, most of you are wondering what the heck a yurt is anyways. It's this kind of structure with a floor, wooden frame, and very thick canvas-y covering. The one we stayed in wasn't very big, but it did have a gas stove to cook on and fire-stove to stay warm. We packed all thirty kids inside the first night to sleep (yes, very cramped, but warm). The second night some of the group built a snow cave and others set up tents.
     We spent Saturday cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, exploring, sleeping, playing games, and just hanging out. It really is incredible up there. And it was great to try out some new activities and just have fun.
Sunday, we packed up, cleaned up, and hiked back down. Thankfully, it was much, much easier to hike downhill, in daylight, with an existing path, and we made the trip in just over an hour.
     After another 3-hour drive, we finally returned to school, unpacked, de-issued gear, and got to shower and sleep.
     To all of our dismay, it snowed like crazy Sunday night. I think we're all a bit sick of snow now, and A and I have decided never to wish for snow again, or to complain about climbing the stairs to the castle. 
     The whole thing was definitely a cool experience, and one of those things that I would probably have never done outside of UWC. I learned a lot about winter wilderness expeditions (like the incredible amount of gear you need, layering, some basic first-aid techniques) and got to know several people a lot better. Although a bit difficult at first, the trip was awesome and I recommend, to everyone, doing something like this at least once in your life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Hey yall, just wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten to post, it's just been a very busy couple of weeks. CLAD (Caribbean and Latin American Day) took place last weekend, I'm working on a big project (more on this later) and this weekend I'll be camping up in Taos (in the snow... I'm excited!!). Between all this and juggling classes and CASs, it's been crazy, but I promise to fill you all in soon :)

Also, fingers crossed for all the U.S. applicants who should now know if they got interviews! I haven't heard anything at all but am excited for you guys! Best of luck!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saving the Planet

     I can pretty much guarantee that you've heard about climate change. It's all over the news, especially with the ever-increasing number of extreme storms hitting hard all around the world. We, here at UWC-USA, are big into sustainability (in fact, it's part of our mission statement), recycling, and all that goes into saving the planet. We've watched films, and discussed the issue, and even attended protests, but never have I really understood the severity of the situation until last week.
     My science class is called Environmental Systems. The course covers a bit of all the different sciences and relates them to one another and, more importantly, to global systems (political, economic, social, etc.). Recently we've been talking about climate change, including the history, current situation, and future possibilities. It was interesting, but not anything too exciting or that we'd never heard before.
     This past week, instead of just listening to our teacher, BG, tell us about the current issues, we got to experience first hand the immensity of the situation and the difficulty of solving it. BG organized a mock United Nations Climate Summit. Each of the students in the class was assigned a country (usually a country in a different position than their own; for example, I represented Niger, which is a developing B country, while the U.S. is a developed country) and together, as representatives of the three economic power groups- developed, developing A, and developing B countries- we were supposed to come up with a solution to climate change.
     Sounds easy enough, right? Everyone lowers their carbon emissions, goes green, and we save the planet. NO. There are sooo many factors that have to be taken into account. Like the fact that the developing B countries (Niger, Cambodia, Guatemala, Bangladesh, etc.) will be the countries hit the hardest by rising sea levels; they will lose crucial agricultural land, yet they can't contribute to the global fund or afford green energy sources. Or that developing A countries don't want to contribute to the global fund or reduce emissions because they want to achieve the success and prosperity of the developed countries, who they argue are mainly to blame for climate change and therefore should be the ones to fix the problem. But developed countries don't have that option because the A countries are growing and increasing emissions and, without their participation, the point is moot. There are a lot of factors to consider and, as we learned, its not easy.
     Basically, the way each round worked was that each group decided on a goal and then negotiated terms with the other two groups. At the end of the round, each group presented a:
*CO2 emissions stop year
*CO2 emissions decline start year
*Fractional rate of decline (%/yr)
*REDD rates (reduction in emissions from deforestation and land degradation)
*Afforestation rate
*Contribution to the global fund for climate mitigation and adaptation ($ billion/yr)
     Our goals were to keep the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, the carbon levels as low as possible (experts originally set the cap at 350 parts per million, but we've already exceeded that), the sea levels with minimal rise, and the global fund at $100billion. Over the course of a week we participated in ~5 rounds of negotiations, each time plugging the proposals into a computer model which showed us the global effects of our decisions.
     Going into the activity, I didn't expect much. I didn't think our class would really take the summit seriously and I fully expected the whole thing to be fairly boring. I. Was. So. Wrong. You would not believe how fired up people got about defending the positions and contributions of their countries- arguing about climate justice, and economic power, and ratios of contributions. It was really impressive. And really fun. And I definitely learned a lot.
     In the end we managed to keep the rise in temperature to 2.3 degrees Celsius, but this required extreme changes in the ways we were "running our countries". Basically, the developed countries ended up with a rate of decline of 2% starting in 2019, the A countries in the same year with 1.5%, and the B countries in 2035 at a rate of 0.4%. Our deforestation and afforestation rates were 2% and 9% respectively and we reached the global fund agreement with developed countries contributing $65b, A at $30b, and B at $5b. These are really radical changes, but possible, and if the countries of the world could just sit down, realize that all of our lives are at stake here, get over differences and economic and political agendas, and just do it, we could really get somewhere. Saving the planet and stopping climate change is possible, its just going to take some work. And that work needs to happen now, because another thing we learned is that for every single year you wait, the problem becomes exponentially harder to solve.
     Seriously, this was one of the coolest activities I've ever done in a class. It was very real and made me realize not only how grave the global situation is, but that my classmates and I could very well be the ones in these negotiations, calling the shots, in just a few years time.
     So get ready, guys. We're coming to save the planet.

Monday, February 4, 2013


     As you can imagine, UWC students tend to be fairly driven, and many go on to do incredible things after graduating. We have alums in every possible field around the world, and this past weekend, we here at UWC-USA got to meet 5 alums from different years and different careers who shared with us what they do and how UWC has affected their lives.
     Here's a bit about the alums we got to meet most recently (courtesy an email from the coordinator):

"*Cancer researcher Leonor Añó ’06 is pursuing a doctorate in molecular cancer biology at Duke University. Her area of focus is RMS, a type of muscular cancer that primarily affects children. Working with a lab team, Leonor has developed a mouse model of RMS for use in studying the molecular mechanisms of initiation and maintenance of this type of cancer.

*Elian Maritz ’02 is president of Harvard Law School’s Law and International Development Society, managing editor of the Human Rights Journal, and executive board member of the Harvard Immigration Project. She is also active in the International Human Rights Clinic, with which she has recently traveled to Lebanon and Jordan to report on Syrian refugees. Prior to Harvard, Elian was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador.
*Leah Simmons-Davis ’97 has been a firefighter in California for the past 10 years. She also coaches strength and conditioning classes and enjoys backpacking, motorcycling, cooking, sewing, and a recent “tenuous attempt” to play guitar. This past summer, Leah was seasonally promoted to fire captain, managing 15 employees and running a two-engine company.
*Ken Neal ’85 is the manager of a wind farm operations center that forecasts and integrates the electric power from large wind farms in Northwest Montana into existing grid systems and power markets. Previously, Ken harnessed the wind as a sailing ship captain on educational tall ships in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean. He later co-founded the educational non-profit Call of the Sea in San Francisco Bay to connect kids with the sea.
*Kristian Segerstråle '96 is the executive vice president of digital at Electronic Arts, a video game developer, publisher, and distributor. Prior to EA, he was CEO and co-founder (along with fellow UWC-USA alumnus Sebastien de Halleux ’96) of Playfish. In addition to his work in the gaming industry, Kristian has served as managing director of Europe for Glu Mobile (and was a co-founder of Glu Mobile Europe in 2001) as well as a driving force on the board of Lovefilm, the European movie subscription service that today is backbone of Inc.'s movie service."

So, ya know, pretty cool people. They visited our classrooms on Friday and answered questions and talked with us in smaller groups. Friday evening we had an all school panel in the auditorium and the alums shared some stories from their UWC days, advice, and how UWC impacted their lives. It was really cool to hear about the specific memories (not to mention some crazy adventures, one involving losing a student in Bombay- don't worry, it ended up ok) and think about where we want to end up in the future.
     I should also mention that we have a ton of other cool alums, one of whom you may have heard about recently. Prince Willem- Alexander (UWC- AC (Wales) '85) is going to be crowned King of the Netherlands later this year. Here's a list of some others. There are politicians, artists, environmentalists, presidents, royals, just about everything. 
     Hearing from and about so many successful people is a little intimidating though. Makes me wonder where we'll all be in five, ten, or twenty years. I have no doubt that many of my classmates will be leaders in their fields, and some may even be leading nations. Shelby Davis, the man who donates our scholarships, told us in September that he never gives money away- he invests. He said he expects all of us to give back to the world in some way. No pressure, huh? I'm still leaning towards International Relations and hope that I'll be able to live up to expectations and make a difference. 
     One of the alums last weekend gave a piece of advice that goes right along with something I've been working on. She said one of the best things we can do right now is to shadow individuals in the fields we think we want to go into. I've been looking into organizations in D.C. where I might be able to shadow for a bit this summer. I'll be writing to them soon, but I also have a question for you guys-
Do you know anyone who works in International Relations or with International Policy who I could maybe shadow this summer? 
I'd really love to just get to see how things work and maybe start making some connections. Please help me out if you can, I'd really appreciate it :) Feel free to facebook me, or comment on this post and I'll give you my email. Thanks!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Little Bit of Magic

     A lot of the time when I tell people I go to a boarding school and show them a picture of our castle, they tell me it looks like Hogwarts. And I would agree (though not as much as the UWC in Wales). The Harry Potter series is so popular that most people around the world have read the books or seen the movies (or both) and immediately connect the series and its symbols with our very similar story. And though we obviously differ in many respects- we’re not in the UK, our castle is brown brick instead of gray stone, and, most importantly, we don’t study magic (although my math teacher would argue that his class is "mathemagical") - last night the campus definitely felt like a scene from a movie.
     This year several students initiated a Harry Potter Club and, as their big event for the year, they brought in the founder of the Harry Potter Alliance and put on a Yule Ball. The Harry Potter Alliance is an organization that uses symbols and ideas from the series to promote social activism. The founder’s name is Andrew Slack. He has been on campus this weekend and put on several workshops (which I’ve unfortunately had to miss due to classes and field trips :/). I do know, however, that many students have enjoyed his discussions and that his ideas parallel a lot of other discussions we’ve had on campus about social activism and ways to get involved on the greater scale.
     Last night was the Yule Ball- the big social event that takes place in the fourth movie when two other schools come to Hogwarts (we totally have them beat on the international bit ;)). I expected the whole event to be kind of lame (sorry guys), and had little faith, but turned out to be quite wrong. They really pulled it off. The castle was decorated with Christmas trees and fake snow and Hogwarts crests and the HPC even made wands for everyone, each one unique, which was fairly impressive. Everyone dressed up in formal attire- dresses and suits- and looked amazing. Some of the boys even acted like gentlemen and we kicked off the dancing with a waltz (yes, you read that correctly, A WALTZ. Honestly, can we have balls all the time?). Some of the boys who have a band played the music and even started with the song they use in the ball scene in the movie. It was cheesy and silly but simultaneously really fun and, dare I make such a pun, magical. :)