Critical Engagement

Kevin Steve Sathyanath (Indonesia, AC 10-12)

One of the best parts of being in the Atlantic College is the exposure we as students experience. To enable us to make the best out of each experience, we have certain periods of time devoted to the achievement of this very essential part of the AC “experience”. Thus, I recently had the good fortune to attend one of the most unique conferences I had ever been to.

The Critical Engagement workshop was run by eight ex-students from AC, who had graduated only five or six years ago. We first years were divided into groups of eight, with each group being assigned an ex-student as a facilitator. It was stressed that the three topics to be covered were Identity, Diversity and Global Justice. But, there was a big difference. Instead of us being spoon fed lots and lots of information, we were told that the discussions would actually go the way we wanted it to. The facilitators would only nudge us in the right direction every time we strayed away from the selected topics. But as I thought about it, I realized that these topics were very flexible, and could be taken to mean just about anything. Many of us wondered how such a feat could be achieved. In fact, many of us wondered why the workshop was named “Critical Engagement”. This I learnt to answer in the coming days.

The next few days saw us go through a similar pattern of events. The morning saw two periods of debates and discussions, each lasting around 1.5 hours. The afternoon sessions were action sessions, with us basically going through stuff which our ex-students learned after they graduated from AC. In the evening, we would watch a movie, except on the third day, when the conference was drawn to a close. In my group, the first thing that would happen was that the facilitator would make a mind map of the initial thoughts we had of the topic at hand. Then we would just naturally start the debates and discussions.

This was the first time in the past four months that I was able to appreciate the vast cultural diversity within AC. Each individual had his or her own opinion, and this led us to have some very interesting debates. From the topic of identity, we rapidly progressed to differences between the ideologies of the West and the East and to the definition of a “true self”. The topics would change after a certain amount of debate to another topic somehow connected to the grand theme. Each of us had a wealth of information concerning our native countries or religions that gave the others an insight into our world. We understood identity as meaning more than a simple name. Identity included everything, the person, his environment, culture and backgrounds. Each person is unique.

It was at this time that I saw the whole workshop in its grand picture, the way it was meant to be seen. I could finally link identity to diversity and diversity to Global Justice. Each of us individuals in a multi-cultural community such as AC have an unique identity, which promotes the diversity of the place. But being in such a diverse place, drawing up rules is really hard. A law could be insensitive to a certain culture or religion. But it was agreed that all human beings are equal, so there will be certain sets of universally shared human values that would be applicable to all people, regardless of where they are from. To our group, this is the global justice framework that is necessary in the world today. All three topics are linked to Cultural sensitivity, which is a major aim of the UWC movement. Through intense debates and discussions we came to discover cultural sensitivity in a new light that we had not seen before. The debates and discussions gave life to the words “cultural sensitivity” and made it mean something in or minds. This was something that I don’t feel very often and I enjoyed experiencing it.

Another thing that really amazed me was how the presence of the ex-students brought back some of the sense of excitement that we had during camp. Sometimes, the IB can bring our spirits down and make us forget the real reason we cam to AC. But now, the intellectual stimulation provided during the day, sparked many active interactions between students in the dayroom in the evenings. The movies were very interesting as well. They were completely related to the topics and helped us reinforce the topics.

Another crucial part of the whole workshop was the fact that the people running it were not experts and professors in certain fields, but ex students who left as few as four years ago. We could relate to these students in a way that we cannot relate to a visiting professor. I found the alumni to be very interesting, and it has showed me the many opportunities awaiting an AC student once he or she leaves the safe bubble that is AC. I found it interesting that each of the ex-students were working in a field somehow related to the UWC ideals that they picked up from school. The afternoon workshops saw us exploring vital parts of the different fields that our facilitators now worked in. We were engaged in different activities to help us learn more about their jobs and the responsibilities attached to it faster.

At the end of this conference, I learnt several crucial lessons which I will never forget. Critical Engagement means to be engaged in an activity, but to be critically aware of all the different factors included within this activity. I just wish that the Critical Engagement workshop could be extended to other UWC’s as well, because it has really caused a shift in the way that I think and could really shape the minds of several students within the UWC movement in a positive way. At the end of the day, the facilitators received a standing ovation from several first years that they truly deserved. I think the workshop has strengthened my belief in myself, and has made me more able to meet new situations and troubles with the mindset of a global citizen. For once, I actually believe I can live up to the expectations of an UWC student.

-United World Colleges Student Magazine-


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