A look at UWC Costa Rica from a student perspective

Danish second-year, Natasha Cvitanich Haugsted , wrote from UWC Costa Rica about the college and her experience there on 17th September 2009.

Natasha Cvitanich Haugsted

Translation: Lin Alexandra Mortensgaard

A typical day at United World College of Costa Rica for me normally begins about 6.20 in the morning with a quick shower. Straight after this I will head to breakfast, which more often than not consists of rice and beans, eggs or cornflakes. School starts at 7.00 and ends at 13.00. We often eat lunch outside in circles on the grass, while we talk about the day that has passed and what is still to come. CAS activities start at 14.00 and last all afternoon. If the activities are cancelled I sometimes do a bit of homework or take a nap. Before supper I like to go jogging or train for a bit. The evenings are spent with watching movies, chatting or studying if we have homework for the following day. Bedtime is normally between 23.00 and midnight.

I experience the hardest time at UWCCR right now, when I am starting my second year. It has been strange to go back to a home where half of the students are missing and soon after watch it being invaded by enthusiastic first year student. It is a difficult transition, because certain things keep reminding you of experiences and people from the previous year. I do everything I can to make the first years feel comfortable here, but it will take some time before we bond and get the close relationship that I had with my second years at the end of last year.

One of the things that has surprised me most about being here is the freedom we have. I feel that I am being treated like a responsible, mature person on the same level as every grown-up. The teachers are not just authorities, but can become your friends, and it is your own responsibility to decide your bedtime and whether you do your homework or not. I think that the atmosphere at UWCCR is different to many Danish high schools because everyone is equal and respect each other here. 

The project I went on for project week in March took place in northern Costa Rica in a Native American reservation. We were about 20 students who spent a week with the Malekú tribe. They taught us about the state of the reservation and the many problems they have regarding pollution and extermination of their language due to globalization. We had workshops in the local school where we taught the children about the importance of maintaining their own language and taking care of nature. One of the days we spent on clearing the school’s court yard of garbage and big stones in order to make it easier for the children to play there. My project week was a learning experience for me. Even though we did not make a big difference, I personally feel much more ready and aware of the involvement that this will need in the future. We have maintained contact with the Malekús and hope that we can come back for next project week now that we know more about what kind of help they actually need. Reservations like this one is not something that exists in Denmark or Europe and it was therefore very exciting for me to visit one and talk to the people who live in one. Despite my expectations I found that many of the Native Americans are modern people who wear modern clothing, watch TV and drink soda.       

I think my biggest challenge in my second and last year will be time management. I used my 3 months of summer vacation on travelling, having fun and relaxing rather than school work, which I probably should have spent more time on. This means that I have to work hard – especially in third term. I hope and think that I will have time to relax and have fun at the same time – even though this will mean missing eight hours of sleep.  

I cannot wait to enjoy my last UWC-year to the fullest. I am excited about all the good times with my own year as well as the new 1st years, whom I cannot wait to get to know. Right now it is a bit strange to think that I will get to know my first years as well as I know my second years, but at the same time I am thrilled about it. Regardless of Extended essay, Theory of Knowledge and World literature I will try to be as social as possible and enjoy the experience while it lasts. Hopefully I will still have time to go to the beach now and then.   

Since the UWC in Costa Rica is very new (This is the fourth year) there are still many things which are not quite settled. This is sometimes a negative side to the school, but it means that we as students have more space for new ideas. If there is anything we want to change the administration listens to us. At the moment we have a project relating to one of the student houses, which will have the functions of a social area where we can play games, watch movies or just chat. As some of the first generations at the school we are the ones that can shape the school to what we want it to be. We can create the traditions, the rules and the profile of the school. It is interesting to be a part of this. Furthermore, UWCCR has the advantage of the amazing Caribbean and Pacific beaches only being a cheap bus ride away, which means that they are frequently used by students. Furthermore, the climate is warm all day and night so I have already put my woolen sweater away.   

Through our service activities we have a lot of contact to the local environment. We cooperate with the local kinder garden, a home for elderly people in the vicinity and with a sustainability group in Santa Ana (the city in which the school is located). The school is also connected to other IB-schools in Costa Rica and we have, among other things, been a part of the Model United Nations in Lincoln School and we had an IB-day at UWCCR. However, I do think that there is space for improvement in this area. The school is relatively new and it will take time before we obtain a really good connection and be integrated into the local area. Our CAS-activities, for example, can be improved if we develop cooperation with organizations in Santa Ana more.       

That UWCCR is a bilingual school is something you notice every day. You constantly hear conversations in Spanish, English and sometimes a debate can change into another language or be carried out bilingually. The ‘madams’ at school speak Spanish mainly, while most of the teachers speak both. The students can choose to take all classes in either Spanish or English or mixed, which I have chosen. In the beginning of each year we have some problems relating to the bilingualism of the school since some students only speak Spanish and some only English. All information is therefore given in both languages – at least in the beginning of the year. Most people learn, during the year, to speak and understand English, but in my opinion Spanish is being overlooked. Many students do not take the advantage of learning Spanish because they do not want to or are intimidated by it. I believe that the school should take a more active approach on this to eliminate the ‘fear’ in the student body. During the year English quickly becomes the preferred language in lectures, debates and when information is given the Spanish version is left out. I arrived with Spanish skills from one year of teaching, but decided to do what I could to learn this language from the beginning. I speak fluent Spanish now. The ability to speak another language fluently has given me a lot. This gift is one of the things that make me never want to change my UWCCR experience for anything in the world.          

Since the UWC in Costa Rica previously functioned as a SOS-school there is still a great deal of cooperation with the SOS children’s villages – especially in Latin America. Every year a number of scholarships are given to the young people of the SOS children’s villages to make it possible for them to attend UWCCR. The number of scholarships has decreased since last year which means that the number of SOS students at the college currently is three. The goal of the school is to spread the information to the children’s villages in Latin America and increase the number of scholarships during the next years.

UWCCR focuses on the environment, which is felt in most places. The school is very green, we have a greenhouse and recycling takes place in all the student houses. Both sides of a paper are used before the paper goes to the recycling. Furthermore, we have different service activities that focus on the environment. One of them is working in the greenhouse of the school. Another is to collaborate with organizations in Santa Ana to inform the citizens of the importance of sustainability.  Last year we had a competition between eight student houses on campus that competed about being the greenest house. They had to cut down the use of water, electricity and come up with the most creative and environmentally friendly ideas. I think I have, myself, become more aware of the importance of sustaining the environment since coming here. My contribution does not have to be enormous to make a difference.    

 – United World College Student Magazine –

3 thoughts on “A look at UWC Costa Rica from a student perspective

  1. Hello Natasha, I have to say I really enjoyed your essay, since I am a Costa Rican and seeing all this from an oustider’s perspective is really interesting. Surely the UWC is an experience to enjoy, I hope my school and yours can do some work together, since apparently they both have the same social-ecological focus. Live everyday the fullest🙂

  2. Your UWC experience sounds so exciting! I love being surrounded by different kinds of people and knowledge so I’ll be applying to UWC in the fall. But just out of curiosity, what do you think my ACT or SAT score should be for me to even be considered?

  3. Hi both of you,

    Layla, your SAT or ACT score won’t matter at all. You don’t need to worry about it for your UWC application – SATs and ACTs are for university applications🙂 The national committees are supposed to base their decision on your personality, enthusiasm and grades, but it can vary from the different national committees. Where are you from?

    Mariana, Natascha has just graduated from the school in Costa Rica. She actually wrote this article in Danish for the newsletter of the Danish national committee. I asked for permission to translate it and publish it here. Therefore she won’t actually see your comment, but since she has graduated already you might want to contact the school itself if you want to organize some coorperation with the UWC Costa Rica in stead.
    🙂
    Lin

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