UWC’s 60th anniversary: “Let’s roll up our sleeves and do it!”
AUTHENTICITY, MISSION-ALIGNMENT & UWC MAGIC
For the past six years, Hannah Tümpel – a graduate from our Italian sister College UWC Adriatic – has worked for UWC International as Communications and Engagement Director; Deputy Executive Director; and finally as Interim Executive Director. She has visited RBC often and has always shown an incredible motivation and passion for UWC. In light of the 60th anniversary of the UWC movement, we wanted to find out from Hannah: What is the UWC magic? And what are her hopes and wishes for the UWC movement’s future?
What is this “UWC magic” so often described by alumni?
I think it’s something slightly different for everyone, and although so many UWCers speak about it, nobody can quite put their finger on it which makes it even more exciting but also a little obscure. [laughs] For me, it’s about the fact that UWC dares to provide a space for young people to discover each other’s humanity and to develop close friendships, also among those who would normally never meet. Something special happens when one provides spaces for dialogue and discovery, as Rumi would say “beyond the field of right and wrong.” And when alumni later in life refer to “magic”, I think they often refer to the special energy which is created when two or more people, passionate about creating a different and better world, come together.
And why do you think it is that so many members of the UWC community feel so passionate about UWC and remain involved and engaged?
That’s a great question. I have often wondered why so many alumni remain so full of expectations regarding what the UWC movement should, could or even must do and achieve. Over the years, I have come to realise that the “magic” people experience while at UWC means that UWC becomes a “North Star” for them. It’s not just a school. It’s the mission, a way of looking at the world, a community of like-minded humans, a common understanding that there is hope for a different world, and a shared passion that more peace, sustainability, and justice can be achieved. And this then leads to everybody holding UWC up to such high standards, because a “North Star” cannot fail.
What are the challenges for an organization as diverse as UWC?
Newcomers to the UWC movement sometimes forget about the complexity of the UWC system: UWC is a large, federal organisation, consisting of 18 schools and colleges, 155 national committees (NCs), over 10,000 current students and 60,000 alumni, alongside many friends, donors, and partners. And all the different stakeholder entities of the UWC movement exist in different regulatory and legal frameworks and very different cultural realities. So purely structurally it’s already a complex and multi-layered system reflecting all the strengths of a federal system – but also its challenges. The past three years have shown that any local or global crises and challenges immediately also affect UWC. From Covid-19 to political turmoil in many of the countries hosting UWC schools, colleges and NCs. From the mental health crisis to BLM. From #metoo to the climate crisis. All of these – in one way or the other – have forced UWC to rethink the way it is doing things and the way it will want to do things going forward.
The organization celebrates its 60th anniversary in October 2022. What are your hopes and wishes for the future of UWC?
I have so many hopes and wishes – after all UWC is my North Star as well! Let me pick four: I hope UWC stays relevant and aware of today’s issues, problems, and needs. I think we need to ask ourselves: What are the pressing issues today and how do we respond to them? What do they require from us? What do young people need today? What’s the role of education and what’s the role of UWC? And in light of our answers, I hope UWC will continue to offer a meaningful, perspective-changing, inspiring, caring and visionary education for its students. I hope that UWC will never shy away from going to difficult places to offer its education to those who would normally not even dare to dream of having access to a UWC school. A UWC education can and should not depend on somebody’s financial means. I hope that we will not get stuck in areas of privilege but that we push ourselves far beyond them, and that we continue to build a stable financial basis for UWC thanks to the generosity of many donors, public and private, big and small. I also hope UWC stays authentic to its colourful and at times slightly chaotic nature of being “Hippy Hogwarts”, as they say in the UK press. I think there’s a certain beautiful randomness about UWC – it would be nice if that could stay. My big wish for UWC, however, is to remember that the first word in its name is United – it’s the United World Colleges. I hope we will continue to remember that we can only unite the world authentically, powerfully, and convincingly when we as a movement stay united. This doesn’t mean to always agree with each other. But it does mean finding productive ways of talking with each other and agreeing on how to move forward when we disagree. I hope that the next 60 years will be united years. I hope we will become more united as a community – and by doing so, that we will become an even greater force for truly bringing the UWC mission to life. The time as a UWC student should just be the beginning – the real work comes afterwards.
So: Let’s roll our sleeves up and do it! Happy anniversary, UWC!