Jonathan Chun Wai Kwok (Hong-Kong, AC 09-11)
For years we have been discussing UWC values at our own colleges, we argue that there are too many teaching hours, we condemn those nations which violate human rights, we share our culture via some activities, we discuss how to keep peace by debating and we try our very best to convince people to dive into the pool of saving the environment. Although we are still facing many uncertainties, we should be grateful to have such amazing opportunities, living in a safe and stable environment that allows us to express ourselves freely.
Last Christmas, I had a fortune to visit the UWC in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. BiH used to be a republic of the former communist state of Yugoslavia and Mostar is its 5th largest city. You can find really modern shopping malls with Nike, Adidas and Puma, chain supermarkets, really fine restaurants, sports clubs with swimming pools and tennis court, a very lovely old town that was built along the Neretva River in the 15th century, together with a really pleasant and well-equipped orphanage built by the Egyptian government. Exotic and amazing, they were the two adjectives I first used to describe the city.
Moreover, the 1200km2 city is hugely divided. People living in one side of the city would never go to another side because of ethnic conflicts. Seeing many children begging in the town centre; being sworn at because of walking towards the other side for school; meeting many co-years who would identify themselves as a nationals from the neighbouring country (Croatia, Serbia or even the former Yugoslavia Republics) which neither their ancestors nor themselves had lived in; looking at and walking pass the buildings destroyed during the war every day; meeting a group of people walking around the school building in the morning (Bosniaks) to learn how to exclude the group of people (Croats) you are going to meet in the afternoon at the same place. All caused by the war that led by ethnic interest 15 years ago. These are the experience your co-years are having every day, selected by the same national committee with the same criteria. Most of them are experiencing the period with most uncertainties in their life because they understand very well that they cannot take anything for granted, not even going back to visit their college a few years later as it might have closed down because of political or financial reasons.
They are not only struggling for languages, higher level math and science classes, but also for everyday life. Rather than following the environment that doesn’t even accept one single McDonald, they are trying to change the atmosphere, promoting inter-racial co-operation via getting people to clean the city together, introducing the concept of environment protection and international understanding. Despite a very tough financial circumstance, the college did not give up the easily-forgotten UWC ideals, it continues to encourage their students to know the world better, enabling students to understand the effects of war and conflicts every day. For local students, the college provide them opportunities to go out of the country (as they can hardly get a travel visa), putting the Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs in the same dorm, showing them the importance of friendship and peace, and more importantly, teaching them to contribute to their own country, as the term “politics” somehow sadly equals to “corruption and ethnic interest” in BiH. They use their hands to make a difference.
So what are we doing today? Are we learning how to make a difference or how to say a difference? It is definitely important for us to learn from the others but are we standing firm on believes or following whatever our community says? It is definitely important to be loyal to our country but are we trying to learn from other nationalities or forcing people to learn from our country? Do we see ourselves as the dominator or servant of human-beings?
“UWC makes education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future”.
-United World College Student Magazine-