Happy UWC Day!

I was seventeen years old when I left my parent’s home in the Philippines and moved to Costa Rica to share life, learning and boarding school with over a hundred teenagers from roughly seventy different countries. It was a life changing, mind stretching, and heart strengthening experience – my first solo adventure that began as a two year education but evolved into a way of living and being.

The school was called the United World College Costa Rica. It was 2006 and I was joining the pioneer class of the school. Our school was but one new piece, a part of an international movement of many schools all across the world that were using education to change the world in a very special way.

 

Last night, I fell into the vacuum of looking through old photos from that special season of life. My intention was just to find one photo to share in celebration of UWC Day, but that intention turned into a couple of hours of flipping through the digital albums. The experiences felt like they happened so long ago, but as the photo flipping went on, I felt like I was living in those moments all over again.

Because so much time has passed since, I struggle to write about the experience with balance.  I don’t want to downplay the impact nor exaggerate it, but it was truly beyond and beautiful – the intensity of which remains unparalleled in my adult life, mostly because it all happened when I was so young and had at that time I had still experienced so little.
There are years worth of storytelling that I can share from my time at UWC. Even as I write this, I don’t know where to start or how to bottle it up and express it. I look back with joy, wonder, amazement, nostalgia, pride and love.

I was a shy teenager on her first trip away from her family. I can’t believe I had the privilege to go the distance that I did, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t.

At UWC I discovered what I believe in. Every day, my ideas and ideals were challenged, questioned, nurtured, tested, strengthened or broken down – in the classrooms, yes, but more significantly in the regular day to day life on a UWC campus. From the moment you woke up, you were immersed in diversity. I shared a room with two other girls, the three of us representing three distinct continents. On our floor of twelve girls, we could collectively  speak about seven or eight different languages. In our literature class where we discussed colonialism or the slave trade, romance or family ties, we had a room of fifteen students speaking up for fifteen different cultures and ideas. Every meal in the dining hall (which was basically every single meal you had) was a meal with the world.

We were all young humans, only half-molded into the adults we would later become. Living the way we did would leave a mark on us, even on those that didn’t want to be changed.

It is still so magical to me – the simple method of bringing young people together the way that UWC does. The idea has not grown old, not in the eleven years since I first stepped on campus, not since the fifty five years when the movement first began. And if you’ve been watching the news, you know we still need more of these experiences that build friendships and understanding between differences.

Even after so many years, I hold on to many memories. As I looked through my photos last night, trains of recollections ran through my imagination. Here are but a few: Meeting one of my best friends while brushing our teeth on our first night in the dorm, mouths foaming and toothbrushes poking out of our smiles. My first informal salsa lesson. Lining up at the outdoor pay phone so I could call home with a phone card (Yes, a pay phone. Yes, a phone card with the scratch out code!) Shedding tears because the cafeteria food was so bad one night. And then the surprise of friends bringing a cheeseburger to you late at night to make up for the bad meal.Tequila shots for 500 colones each (roughly $1). Sleeping outside on the beach with your friends. Holding somebody’s hand. Learning to speak up when you don’t feel like it. Being a Spice Girl. Joining late night impromptu worship sessions in the music room. Dancing in the ampitheatre to let out steam. Learning how to read another language using the packaging of instant noodles as you wait for the water to boil. Learning how to make pre-columbian style pottery from scratch. Learning the tinikling from online videos (was it YouTube already back then?) and then teaching it to your friends. Going into the neighboring “forest” area with the college gardener and his machete, to gather bamboo for the tinkling performance. Getting a scorpion in my hair. Carrying my country’s flag around town during the independence day parade. Performing for Queen Noor of Jordan, talking to her about my art. Walking in the rain forest looking for tiny frogs with funky patterns on their backs. Late night conversations on the hammock. Late night conversations after watching strange movies. Impromptu dance parties in the dorm room. More late night conversations. Going out for pizza to celebrate my roommate’s country finally being internationally recognized as a country! Weeping at graduation – from the joy of having made it to the finish line and for the despair of life apart from some of your favorite people in the world. 

You will later gratefully discover that life allows you to keep those precious friendships – for this I am incredibly grateful.

As for keeping the UWC spirit alive, as an adult it becomes a choice you have to make – to continuously draw near to the heart of the movement or to snuff out whatever spark of it was left in you. After all these years do we only hold on to memories and ideals – or have we also transformed these into action and impact?

Thank you, UWC, for the ounces of courage and compassion in my heart that were a gift from you.

If you know someone young who could use a grand adventure to mold, stretch, challenge life – consider inviting them to apply to UWC through the UWC Philippines National Committee here: www.ph.uwc.org.

If you would like to contribute to the movement and help send more Filipino scholars to UWC campuses around the world – consider donating to the UWC Ph National Committee. You may also visit www.baa-ul.com where you can benefit the UWC cause just by shopping for gifts – use the discount code UNITEDWORLDCOLLEGEPH when you check out. The code will give your FREE SHIPPING* and 5% of your purchase will donated to UWC Ph.  

Today there are 17 UWC campuses in 17 different countries. Students from 150 countries are sent to those campuses every year, with a growing alumni of over 60,000 people, after about 55 years of the movement.
*Free shipping to Philippine addresses only

C is for Coffee

My brain hasn’t taken a break since 8 am today. Even if it’s tried.

I blame it on the caramel macchiato that I started my day with. I haven’t been so relieved to find a Starbucks open on a weekend in an office building. I was running low on sleep, after a busy week and I did something out of character: kickstarted my day with a generous helping of iced coffee.

Har har har. Joke’s on you girl because twelve hours later your brain is still raring to go, but at the same time, blindly seeking the likings of a pause button. Or a break pedal. Or an open field with wild flowers to run my energy off, and cold, soft grass on which to crumple with relief.

Let’s just say I don’t do coffee. In the past it has, for me, only resulted in heart palpitations, feelings similar to that of a panic attack, or lost hours of sleep. I love everything coffee flavored. I love everything coffee scented. It’s coffee that I can quite manage in heavy proportions. Even if it’s poured over ice and drowned in milk. Heck, I can get an energy kick out of a bead of chocolate. Or a drizzle of caramel. Or a glass of water. Or a smile. Seriously.

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Thus, even if I want le brain to stop. It just keeps going.

Which was probably a great thing today. Saturday was non-profit work day! 🙂

From 2006 to 2008, I studied at an incredible school called  the United World College Costa Rica. Those two years changed me. Changed my life. UWC makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. The network is global, as each campus has about 200 students each year, representing more than 100 countries. The exciting part is that the real UWC experience happens after graduation. I have not stopped being surprised with how the movement continues to challenge me, as well as open doors. Not to mention, some of the most interesting and talented people I know, I’ve met through UWC, even in the years since graduation.

Today I worked with the UWC Philippines National Committee, helping facilitate the selection of two new young scholars to be sent out to international campuses. What an exciting process! This being my first year home since I was selected myself, I loved meeting the candidates and connecting with other members of our committee. I helped facilitate round table discussions on loaded debate topics while the formal interviews went on. I had so much fun (especially since I purposefully played devil’s advocate) that I would love to organize conversations like this just for the pure joy of the experience. Conversations like this were a norm at UWC, often without prompting. Would you give cash to the poor to reduce poverty? Should prostitution be legalized? Is bribery sometimes acceptable? Should developing nations place restrictions on rural-urban migration? 

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The second highlight of my day, which took the late afternoon and early evening, was meeting with the Board of Directors of my non-profit organization, the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project. It’s been a long time coming, and I finally had this key meeting. And just like my brain has been foreshadowing all day, I am now raring to go. Might I remind you that I moved back home because I wanted to focus on Buhay Makulay? Wait and see, wait and see. And pray for me. Big changes are brewing, and you can be a part of this story too.

In the meantime, hydrate.

More soon,

T