The Homecomer

Six months into his university life Luis, from Mexico, an alumnus from UWC Dilijan’s class of 2016, returned to Dilijan to support the second years with university counselling as well as helping in the development of the UWC Dilijan Young Alumni association.

While in his own words everything felt so familiar here, there were things that had changed – namely, how the former first-years are now so different from how they used to be.

I’m proud to see who our second years are right now, and to see that they have actually matured a lot since when we left them. We used to see them as our little siblings, but now I see that, despite all the responsibilities and everything, they are handling it so well. It’s so great to see that while last year they weren’t fully sure who they were, what they were going to do, now they have plans about where to go and projects that they want to implement. It’s very nice to see them growing. They developed the buddy system so well, and I can see that they have solid support from the first years.

The “buddy system” is a method of providing support, where every second-year has a first-year peer who helps them to get through the tough deadlines by giving them small gifts that say “you can do this, it’s going to be fine”. These small signs of support have proven to be of significant value to the students and help to keep them working.

Having been away from the College for a couple of months already, Luis reflected on what life was like immediately after leaving UWC.

It was a little bit scary to move on, to adapt to not being surrounded by all these people: as much as we have different ideas here, we do share a set of values that we all support. I remember, when I first got to university and heard all those people complain about immigrants. If someone said something like that here, people would be like ‘where are your UWC values?’. And at university, you can discuss and argue, but people are less open to criticism than they are here. So it is a bit difficult to get used to, but wherever you go, you find people who are similar to you or who are good friends. I think it was a challenging transition for many of us. Some of my friends, for example, didn’t fully realise it over the summer, but once they stepped into the university, they had this crisis of identity. We try to catch up with everything going on in our lives, and regularly text each other or organise video calls; this lets us still feel connected.

Luis is doing a dual BA between Sciences Po and the University of British Columbia. A dual degree is a form of higher education when a student is working for two different university degrees in parallel, completing them in less time than it would take to earn them separately. The two degrees might be in the same subject area or in two different subjects.

Instead of doing one specific thing like in the UK, or many things like in the US, my programme is a bit like a combination of both. This term I’m taking history, economics and comparative constitutional law. In my second year, I will choose a major; I think I will probably go for government, because that will help my major at UBC, which is political science.
After graduating from Sciences Po, I want to spend some time working – I think I will join one of the projects of the Dalberg Global Development Advisors. The head is a UWC Li Po Chun alumnus, which is really great. They have various development projects tailored for separate regions, and I would love to join their projects in Mexico, or in any other country in Latin America.

In any case, Luis plans to head back home after finishing University, to work in some topical and sensitive fields that need attention.

The state I come from back home is relatively big but also very spread out, you have very dense cities, and then villages that do not get that much attention. I want to work with them. When I was back home I saw that HIV was a big deal in these small villages, so this could be one of the things I could work on. Also, I realised that there are so many things that could be improved in agriculture, just by introducing new tools and techniques that could improve their work.

What does it mean to be a UWCer outside the movement? Does coming from a UWC school help in life and in further education? Luis is convinced that it absolutely does make a big difference.

There were several essential things I learned here and took away with me after graduation. First, it’s the opportunity for networking: while studying at UWC Dilijan, we had so many guests on campus. This was a great chance for us to get be introduced to different fields, from simply getting to know new people to finding internship opportunities. Time management would be next on my list – here you live an experience and gain skills that then definitely help you at the university. And also, I know that we always say that IB is hard, but once you get out and get into a university it works in your favour. I know some of my co-years, who got credited for taking the IB. Some of them were able to use those credits and instead of 4 years at the university they are going to study three, which makes a big difference. For me personally, because I used to focus on my Econ studies a lot, I did really well in my midterm exams without too much stress. So, what I’m trying to say is that as hard as the academic part is, the moment you get to university you’ll understand you’ve got a head start.
Besides, on my campus at the university, for example, they’ve only had UWC students for two years. They’ve liked whatever UWC students have done as a part of their studies so much that eventually they’ve ended up accepting more and more UWC students. So, this year, we have eight UWC alums on my campus. This is an idea I was trying to promote among the students, to keep them motivated and give them the big picture of what being a UWCer means.

During his time back on UWC Dilijan campus, Luis had a chance to catch up with his friends, share with them what it is like to be a UWC alumnus outside the movement, reminisce about the times when he and his friends would organise a quick afternoon break on the football pitch during the lunchtime and do things he used to do when still a student. Things like cooking for the Toon time. Luis baked some chocolate chip cookies, as a throwback to the times when he, together with other students, organized a fundraising bake and sell for their Service, Orran NGO.

Now that I am back here, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, this feels so much like being back home, and I start remembering how we would spend hours talking about different things in the dining hall, the long walks. I got a chance to join Scott’s class – I sat in the same place I had sat for two years; the view of the mountains that opens from his window was one of the special moments that made me feel like being at home. At the same time, it felt like a “closure” to me: since I left Dilijan after the graduation, I’ve been wanting to come back. And here I am, feeling that my sad feeling of “I wish I could be with my friends” has transformed into the acknowledgement that this has been a place where I have made valuable and warm memories, and now it’s my responsibility to help the other students move on to new experiences and to help the UWC community and the RVVZ community that have given me so much.