Who doesn’t want to live by the UWC mission? After graduating from UWCRCN (1 year ago now) I felt encouraged and ready to change the hard realities of our daily lives. I was sure that in RCN, I got the necessary tools to make an impact in my home country and wherever I went. I felt the responsibility to carry with me all the lessons I learned in UWC. But the truth is that taking a gap year in Senegal made me realize that is there still a long path to go to change the hard realities of the world. First, I needed to change my own world and my own perspective on what it really means “to change the world”.
Every year, Shelby Davis donates 40 scholarships for UWC students to take a gap year with Global Citizen Year. Global Citizen Year is an USA-based non-profit organization that recruits and trains high school seniors to participate in an immersion-based international bridge year before starting college. 40 UWC students with eagerness and maybe a lot of confidence start an experience in which we can put in practice our UWC values and skills.
Often we discuss in GCY what was the motivation of taking a gap year. Some of us, we said very enthusiastically that every second of our gap year will be an adventure, others think that they will come to “save Africa”, or that they will “find themselves”. I am happy to know that all these misconceptions about bridge years in a foreign country were challenged and discuss several opportunities in our gap year. However, I think it is necessary to also prepare us before our gap year. Question if we are capable of changing the world, or if the world needs or wants to be changed. Questions that shouldn’t be only applicable for UWC students but for every senior high school student who wants to take a gap year in a foreign country.
My first motivation to take a gap year was to pop the utopic bubble that UWC Red Cross Nordic was for me. After graduation, I felt that I was disconnected from the real world – in which the chaos of my own home community felt far away from me because of the privilege to go to a UWC. Of course, UWC also has its own problems, but in my eyes, the perfect world looked pretty much like the most amazing two years of my life in the rural Flekke.
What I end up doing in my gap year is not far from my first objective, however, it is far from my expectations. I never imagined learning so much, in such a little time, both about the world (its hard and beautiful realities) but also about myself (what motivates me to become a better self: my passions, my triggers, and my future dreams). And to be honest, going back to the “real world” after UWC is hard (or at least for me it was). Because it is harder to listen when you decided that you already know the answer. I felt disappointed to see how naive I was to think that the world or my gap year would be an extension of my UWC experience.
The only truth I concluded with is that I know very little, still yet by the time I started my gap year I though still the world turned around me and my ideals. The pressure to be the reflection of my UWC experience within my cohort and in my host community overlap my eager to learn more about the world. I went to learn but once I enter my comfort zone, I found myself lecturing and judging the initiatives of my fellow fellows. Wondering if my environment was good enough or diverse enough, or if my organization was providing me enough. I started judging before wondering.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t be critical about the things don’t match our values. If IB taught me something is to be critical about the things we are supposed to accept. But the problem is if we only criticize and judge, and we see that the only solution is if the world was a little bit more like UWC. The world isn’t UWC and the expecting dream of changing the world towards this ideal shadows the realities of it.
I discovered that leaving outside the bubble requires curiosity before judgment and if I still want to change the world, I need to understand it first. Wonder first, if the world wants to be changed. Criticize and challenge the hard realities, but being humble and accepting that I know just a little and I am still learning.
UWC gave me the skills to immerse myself if the beautiful life and culture of Senegalese people. But none taught me how to deal with organizations that don’t meet our expectations because maybe our expectations are surreal. Because I am still learning and some lessons are learned in a stuff way.
My biggest lesson learnt during my gap year is that sometimes only expecting will paralyze your growth. I realized that expecting that GCY would be like UWC was just going to be disappointing. Expecting that any organizations or institutions, or anything I will be part of in the future will be like UWC is going to be a disappointment. BECAUSE THE WORLD ISN’T UWC.
Only expecting it is not good enough. If I am expecting the best out of the world, out of myself, or out of everything, I should work towards that expectation. Don’t only judge and criticize and wait for the world to improve by itself. Because even though GCY didn’t meet many of my expectations, I am happy I persisted. I stayed to fight for what I believe in within the organization and my cohort. I am happy I stayed to see that my voice was heard and valued. I am happy to contribute even if it is on a smaller scale to the change I wish to see in the organization, discussing with people and making the hard questions. I am happy and immensely grateful that I stayed due to this amazing opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture thanks to GCY and UWC.
I have heard many stories of my UWC classmates during my gap year. I have heard them complaining and being sad because their universities or jobs are not like UWC. Some of them are even thinking about quitting and looking for other opportunities. But is this really what UWC has taught us? After my gap year in Senegal, I have concluded that perhaps, UWC distorted our perception of the world. While this is not necessarily bad, it could be harmful if we think that the change comes by itself.
Maybe I cannot change the world. But I can change my own realities. I can enter an organization that doesn’t meet my expectations but I can work to improve it. I can fight for more diversity quotas or gender quotas. I win nothing only being sad and frustrated. But I win a lot of learning or trying to understand.
During my gap year, I understood that not everybody has the privilege to be part of a UWC school. So instead of being angry all the time because my expectations are not being met, I started learning and understanding that I still have a long path to go.
So if you are a UWC alumn and you want to change the world, maybe first you should understand the different circumstances. Understand that the world is complex and everything within is. We need to understand that sometimes there will be problems and often our expectations will not be met. We need to understand that sometimes it will be hard and it won’t be simple. We need to learn how to fail and not give up. We need to understand that sometimes we don’t have anything to give. Sometimes it is just enough to sit and listen. We need to stop doing things for an extrinsic reason, but rather because we see that everything has value in itself. We need to understand that sometimes the small step you do, leads to something bigger, even if we don’t see immediate results. We need to understand that sometimes the world doesn’t need to be changed. Sometimes we just need to have fun and take a break from expectations. Have fun and breathe. Have fun and listen to the world.
A friend once told me “those who love are already giving” so maybe the world just need us to love it. Love all its chaotic beauty. We need to stop being human doers and start becoming human beings. In that way, we will be the change we want to see in the world.
By: Salomé Valdivieso UWCRCN 18’ and GCY Senegal 19’