Today we are sharing with you a second perspective coming in fresh from UWC BASF 2020. This time is the turn of one of this year’s coordinators, Susanne Schroll. Susanne will be sharing with us some reflections from her journey from being a participant in UWC Building a Sustainable Future, to becoming a coordinator of the program.
For those of you interested in learning more about the position and the application process, check the Apply section of our website. If you are interested in applying, fill in the application form before September 4th.
Good luck, and enjoy the reading!
I am Susanne Schroll, one of this year’s coordinators. I am 18 years old and have lived in Germany all my life until I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina in August 2019 to attend the United World College in Mostar. I am really excited by the concept of alternative education and I have engaged with it by teaching younger peers about safety on the internet and sustainability. I have also given tutoring and piano lessons. I attended the 2018 UWC Short Course, and this year I was one of the three coordinators of the online program we devised in the face of the global health crisis.
2018, UWC Building a Sustainable Future Short Course
It is about midnight and I am sitting in the hallway of Villa Wewersbusch with my friend Nele from Germany after a day of amazing vegan food. We are brushing our teeth together – like every night – talking about the day, our dreams, death, and personal experiences. I met Nele less than 2 weeks ago but it feels like I have known her forever. This is the way it works here. You talk about issues you normally do not talk about, you get personal in no time, you feel a type of comfort and connection with strangers – which can be quite strange. You become family. Cause family does not always have to talk, but family is always there when you need them and it doesn’t get weird even after months of not talking. At least that’s how a family would be ideally, mine definitely isn’t. So it’s nice being able to have this type of family in Nele and others I met through UWC.
On my first application to UWC through the National Committee, I was rejected however the direct application process to the Short Course got me in, so above all, I am very grateful to be here having this experience; this welcoming, uplifting and inspiring bubble that are the UWC Short Courses – no IB pressure, simply an opportunity to learn from and with one another about things that will stick with us forever. Learning how to be better friends, how to be activists, and how to be critical & compassionate thinkers. But we do not only learn how to create a better, accepting, and sustainable future. We learn how to be happier and healthier individuals.
All of the facilitators and participants created a safe space to share my feelings and to be comforted in a way that helped me deal with years of baggage by talking to the people I feel closest with and by participating in a reflection activity called “the labyrinth” that will shape me for years to come and that I still cherish as one of the best and most intense experiences of my life.
2018 & 2019 – After the Short Course
Learning and sharing don’t stop. This year I conducted 3 workshops I learned from the UWC Short Course in my high school in Germany. I became strictly vegan and today I got a message from a fellow Short Course alumnus that he became vegan due to conversations we had during the course. This fills me with so much hope and excitement to keep on making small changes even if I cannot change the whole world.
Sometimes my new knowledge gets on my nerves as well (and on the nerves of those for whom sustainable living doesn’t come as easily) because I restrict myself from eating meat (which I used to love) and buying fast fashion. And if I have to do something that goes against my values (especially moral ones and the ones relating to environmental sustainability) I feel a lot of guilt. These times I need to remind myself, that I don’t need to be perfect but that I can slip up from time to time.
I am happy with my life right now. I truly am. I am okay with not having been accepted to UWC at first, and I am okay with not being perfect when it comes to all the issues I want to solve – because, at the end of the day, who really is? The Short Course made me more confident about myself, my values, and my goals.
This is why going into the second round of UWC applications one year later doesn’t freak me out as much anymore, because I know that no matter what, I will find my way.
2019, UWC Mostar
This time I did it! I got into UWC. I have been here for a couple of months now and I have to say it is everything I expected to be and so different at the same time. Food is worse than expected but it is getting better with time. The people are more diverse than I thought they would be, not everyone fits into that picture of a UWC student that I had in mind. Not everybody cares about environmental sustainability the same way I do and I have to accept that. This is also kind of the beauty of UWC. Different people have different values and that is okay. This way we can remind each other to be better in a lot of ways and accept small changes. Because in the end it is not about being perfect but about learning and trying. “Kleinvieh macht auch Mist.” is a German saying that describes it perfectly: “Small animals also shit”, which means small changes together can make a huge difference.
This place with all of its flaws became home. People became family because you live with them and because you share the same pain, or because you try to understand theirs. At the same time, I feel closer to home and my culture, being so far away from it and realizing what makes it special.
Despite my having this new and very different UWC community than back at the Short Course, I think back to it often and how it has shaped my UWC in Mostar experience. I would not be the person I am today without it. UWC Short Courses are the perfect way to be a part of a UWC community without competition, without high expectations, and without pressure. I think this makes learning so much easier than the IB makes it. My experience has shown me that UWC Short Courses, can still have a major impact in your life, if not even bigger than UWC Colleges, while requiring less time commitment and – in all honesty – less money as well.
2020, Coordination of the UWC BASF 2020
Months ago I was advised to apply as a coordinator of the program by my coordinator from UWC BASF 2018. I was honoured and surprised that someone thought of me as a coordinator. However, more than anything else I was scared. Especially after my calls with my fellow coordinators, who seemed so much wiser, more experienced, and better than me.
Although this feeling stayed with me for months, now it’s minimal. Today I received a letter by UWC Germany that I wrote to myself a year ago at the UWC preparation meeting. It read “and maybe one day you will also become a facilitator” and here I am being a coordinator, making my past self proud. During the past months, I have learned how to lead a team, work in a team, and manage tasks. I became more flexible, having to switch the course to an online format due to the worldwide pandemic and learned a lot about working online. While I was scared on how to create a community online and how to translate this 3-week intense experience to a 5-week online thing, I was also quite relieved and happy that I could work on personal and academic things while coordinating the course at the same time.
Now, I can say that while we weren’t perfect, we will learn from our mistakes. Nevertheless, the online course was a huge success. I loved engaging with this strange, diverse, and virtual community everyday which gave me so much and was so grateful for everything I gave them. And after some time it didn’t feel as strange anymore: the virtual break-out rooms became new rooms and “co-workers” became friends.
I am so excited for the future, for the courses next year that I will have the pleasure of engaging with (and you can too) and for everything that is to come. And while the world can seem like a dark place sometimes, there is still some light left. In all of you.
Susanne Schroll, UWC BASF ’18 & ’20, UWC Mostar ’21