Dumisile Mtambo (Zimbabwe, UWC AC 2011-2013)
In the 50 years of United World Colleges entrance into the world stage as an agent of positive change, change that would see the creation of a united global society in which people from myriads of cultures and backgrounds live together in peace and understanding. These 50 years represent an attempt to redefine social interaction in such a way that ensures that positive changes remain in place for 50 more years to come. The UWC mission is the summation of the values to be instilled around the world and the actions done in support of this new world order. Owing to the volatility of our global society, it is undoubtedly a struggle to achieve what the UWC mission sets out to do but yet other agents seem to be headed the right way. 50 years on, one might question whether the mission in all its grandeur is relevant in our society today.
The world is becoming increasingly globalized and many people around the world experience the effects of this increased globalisation through the growth of multiculturalism in their particular parts of the world. Society has not only been driven towards experiencing varied foreign sectors of society including cuisine, music and fashion. Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, has long been subjected to an influx of foreign influence in the aforementioned cultural sectors. Around every street corner a retailer sells Ghanaian traditional costumes right next to a Chinese fast food restaurant run by the very nationals whose aspects of culture are growing to be loved by many Zimbabweans. Interaction develops into the daily conversations between the customer and owner of the store in which they share relevant stories about their cultures in those particular situations. Inter-cultural exchange is integrated into the very fabric of daily social interaction. People are becoming increasingly aware of the contribution of foreign cultures to the enrichment of their own cultures.
The UWC mission is promulgated through mass emigration, for whatever purposes, by peoples from different backgrounds to places where foreign cultural experience is limited. Slowly the world is achieving the ideals of understanding and unity. It is worth noting that the dynamism of our world is almost guaranteeing the change of our society into the realisation of what the UWC mission stands for. Is it still a relevant concept to stand by and is it still worthwhile to push what is already happening in the world? One can argue that these small-time interactions will only bring minimal change and UWCs present a guarantee to the effectiveness of intercultural interaction but does it really guarantee a future that the current version of the mission depicts?
The United World Colleges provides a formidable opportunity for inter-cultural interaction through gathering together many people from different parts of the world. But who is to say that this opportunity is one that the very students blessed with it grab it with full on enthusiasm for positive change. Young children nowadays are taught to acknowledge and tolerate others especially those of different races and cultures. Toleration and acknowledgement become the new ‘opportunity.’ Many see it fit that to simply consider the meagre political correctness as the realisation of the UWC dream. This is evident not only in what is observed around the numerous UWC campuses, but also universities across the world that pride themselves in having numbers that portray the diversity of our world.
Self-segregation, a relatively unexplored issue, becomes a point of consideration in question of whether or not the UWC experience is actually making a difference. National groups tend to group together primarily and so do racial groups, seeking out the interaction that there are most familiar with. It is not bad that unity amongst a single culture is expressed even when they leave their homes what becomes unfavourable is the lack of interaction between the different people that the schools pride themselves so much in having. Are we actually going to see a world wherein interaction is not simply a version of tolerance and acknowledgement but actual lasting friendships that go against societal expectations? It is true that some people become admirably ‘intertwined,’ but is some enough? How relevant is the UWC mission then in a world wherein diversity is simply a statistic yet somehow it is slowly reaching the level of being an experienced and accepted reality through other means?