GETTING the UWC scholarship to study at the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I was full of anticipation after hearing so much about Italy, home to two of the seven wonders of the world – the Coliseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have definitely done more in the past six months here than in all my 18 years.
No doubt it has been a difficult and intense period but the personal enrichment offsets all the seemingly impossible difficulties I had to overcome.
Upon my arrival in Italy, I was greeted by a group of excitable students hugging and kissing me, exclaiming enthusiastic ciaos and lugging my enormous suitcases into the college van.
We were given a week to adapt and basically bask in the summer sun. Among other things, we were taken to the beach, the porto (the local bar frequented by college students every weekend), the landmark cliffs where most of the climbing activities are carried out, the best gelateria or ice-cream parlour, and of course the mensa or canteen, where you can consume enough pasta in a week to last a lifetime.
After the relaxing week, classes began with the usual associated chaos. There was such a wide range of courses and activities on offer, from compulsory physical, creative and aesthetic activities to social and college service.
Physical activities range from climbing to caving, sailing, hiking and the more mundane football and basketball; while aesthetic and creative activities include art and sculpture, choir, photography and playing the saxophone.
For social service, you can choose from environmental service, working with the old and disabled or teaching in schools. Lastly, college service covers activities like van washing, sorting out letters and preparing conferences and seminars. Clearly, there’s a lot to get involved in, depending on your personal interests.
I have had the opportunity to do climbing, caving, aerobics and cross-country skiing, as well as travel to exotic locations with the choir, discuss art, teach Italian kids, spend meaningful time with the aged, prepare workshops and conferences, and meet people like Queen Noor of Jordan, UN representatives, scientists and so on.
Time management is absolutely essential. With all these activities, tons of schoolwork, assignments, deadlines and tests, you have to plan your time right from the start.
Attending UWC in Italy has changed my way of thinking. I feel as though a light bulb has been switched on and I see things in a completely new light.
Visits to fascinating cities like Prague, Rome, Venice, Athens and Barcelona have been enlightening. I am proud to say my idealism has not been eroded by cynicism yet.
I have amassed a wealth of knowledge and a treasure trove of friends from all over the world. I’ve also learnt to appreciate and love my family and country so much more. My tolerance for other cultures, religions and races has increased tremendously. In a nutshell, I am learning to cherish each day and each new experience.
I’ve also become more politically, economically and socially aware, and am keen to share my experiences and make my country and the world a better place, idealistic as it may sound.
However, the pressure to succeed here is overwhelming as your peers are brilliant students, specially hand-picked from around the world. Many of them are future Cambridge and Oxford students.
Academic standards are high. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are common and you can feel very lonely at times though surrounded by people. Your ideals and values undergo drastic changes.
But, weighing the pros and cons, I would say that the wealth of experience gained more than offsets the difficulties faced. I strongly recommend UWC to anyone game for a challenge and those seeking an international experience. These two years are going to be the best years of my life.
I end with an interesting quote I came across which describes a UWC experience:
“It may be compared to a pressure cooker: just the proper mix of fresh, open minds, add lots of activities to spice up the stew, and a peaceful, supportive but individually challenging environment that boils away the hard outer layers we have begun to develop even at age 16 ... mix it all together, add the heat of a hectic pace, and after two years, the marvellous result is, it is hoped – bright young souls, ready to get their hands dirty in the simply-stated work of making this world a better place.”