When I was 17 years old, I only had one friend who was not white. I did not know anyone born outside of the United States. 99% of my high school was white. The first time I met a Latina was in college. She told me she was from Panama City. I thought she meant Florida. I had no clue why she had an accent. Yikes.
The United World College (UWC) makes sure other 17-year-old students will never write what you read above. I recently visited UWC Dilijan, in Dilijan, Armenia, and was beyond impressed with what I saw. I interviewed the founders, students, teachers, and administrators. I turned dozens of pages of notes into the 10 most exciting reasons UWC Dilijan represents the future of education, and here they are.
A global alumni network: Let’s look at the entire UWC system from a macro perspective. The UWC movement was founded in 1962. Its mission was to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. UWC colleges conduct educational activities on a not-for-profit basis. Instruction is provided to students aged 16-19 in English under the IB Diploma Program (International Baccalaureate), recognized by the world’s best universities.
As of today, the UWC network includes 15 schools and colleges in Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Swaziland and the U.S. The colleges in Germany and Armenia became full members of UWC in 2013 and welcomed their first students in 2014. In 2015, UWC Changshu China welcomed its first students. This year two new colleges are joining UWC movement. 15 schools around the world means 55,000 current alumni eager to help each other move into the borderless future. What a gift.
A global student body. Moving from macro to micro, UWC Dilijan is committed to a truly diverse student body. Armenia, for the first time in the post-Soviet space, has opened a school where students from all over the world come to receive a good education. It opened its doors in 2014 to 95 students from 49 countries. In 2015, the college expanded its geography by 14 countries and welcomed 92 students, making in total 187 students from 63 countries. In one minute, I heard two Spaniards singing a song in Spanish, and the next minute I was surrounded by a great group of Middle Easterners going back and forth in Arabic. It was like an international paradise.
The founders have ‘skin in the game.’ Ruben Vardanyan and Veronika Zonabend are true visionaries. They founded the school as a part of their long-term vision of reviving Dilijan. Dilijan, a beautiful small town in the mountains, is situated an hour and a half north of Yerevan. It was once known as a revitalizing place where artists and writers could create. Ruben and Veronika are implementing several initiatives to bring the city back to the vibrancy and creativity it once enjoyed. This vision and commitment inspires the teachers at UWC, who recognize that Ruben and Veronika ‘have a real commitment to both the school and the city. It is clear they are not just throwing money at the issue and walking away.’
Future-focused and culturally sensitive faculty: The visionary founders have clearly attracted an inspiring team of faculty members and administrators. The teachers come from 5 continents from 17 different countries. Paul Murray, head of languages, shared his vision of what it means to be a great school, and why he is excited about working here. ‘The school can’t be great just because it is one of the United World Colleges. We want to make it a place that every day you wake up, and can’t wait to get here and learn.’ Dr. Zuzana Roby, a professor of Economics shared the importance of a culturally sensitive approach to teaching. ‘I teach economics, and I I don’t want to make the students that come from developing countries feel bad about their countries when talking about GDP.’ What would it look like if all of our world’s educators thought this way?