Monday, August 21, 2006

Why United World College?

I've written previously with regards to the United World College (UWC) as well as the International Baccalaureate programme which is offered there. The following post is written by Yoong Pui Shen, who has just flown to the United States to pursue her pre-university education with the UWC. She writes about the reasons why she was keen on UWC and how a little advanced planning helps fulfil one's little dreams. I met her first time during our little blog meet up and I certainly wish her all the best with her educational pursuits :-).

The United World Colleges
by Yoong Pui Shen

A-Levels? ADP? SAM? CPU? Form 6? Oh no! SPM first!

Such was the condition of my mind one year ago. “So what are you going to do next?” everyone asked, and all I could offer was a weak smile and a shrug. I don’t know, I would say.

Truth is, I did know where I wanted to be: at a United World College (UWC). I harboured hopes of learning and living amongst peers from the four corners of the globe. I wanted a comprehensive education that would allow me to explore my ‘other’ interests like music and theatre without forsaking academic prowess.

“What? What’s that?” was the common reaction when I expressed my desire to friends and teachers. So I patiently explained: The United World Colleges movement primarily offers pre-university education. What’s special is that it is the only global educational movement that brings together students from all over the world regardless of their ability to pay. There are currently 12 UWCs, situated in the UK, Hong Kong, US, Singapore, Swaziland, India, Canada, Venezuela, Norway, Italy and recently, Bosnia and Costa Rica.

“Oh, is this new?” they would ask next. No, I say with a smile, it’s just rather unknown in Malaysia. In fact, the UWC idea originated in the 1950s, as an initiative to ease post Cold War tensions. German educationalist Kurt Hahn (who is also founder of the Outward Bound School) envisioned a global college whose students were selected purely on merit, regardless of race, religion, nationality, background or financial means. Its objective was to achieve international understanding, peace and justice.

Today, that guiding principle of UWC is more relevant than ever. Tell me: where else in this bomb-fearing world can you find Israelis and Palestinians working together on a Middle East presentation? Or Africans and Americans dancing to the beat of Malay joget? To me, the UWC is like a microcosm of the world, tempered with some idealism: 200 students from over 90 countries, learning how to tolerate one another’s quirks and values. Every room is a veritable melting pot of cultures and beliefs– even the teaching faculty is multinational!

The curriculum at nine of the colleges adopts the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma. The IB, as it is known, requires that candidates take subjects from 6 groups – two languages, humanities, mathematics, natural sciences and the arts. With its additional components - CAS (Creative, Action and Service), Extended Essay (EE) and Theory of Knowledge (TOK), the IB is fast becoming the preferred option to develop well-rounded graduates with a genuine interest in thinking and learning.

Therein lies the strength of the UWC. Many other schools in the world offer the IB Diploma, but the sheer diversity of UWC maximizes the meaning of its global syllabus. Imagine studying the Holocaust with people whose grandparents have survived it. Imagine working with the homeless in Los Angeles with people who have been homeless at a time. Imagine having the freedom to try new, exciting things like ballroom dancing and capoeira. If the outdoors is your passion, well imagine having the opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon or the Niagara Falls. Or experience glacier climbing in Norway, as accomplished by Sijie, a 2nd year student at Red Cross Nordic UWC.

It is for those reasons that I applied for the United World Colleges scholarship last March. While it is possible to pay for entry to certain UWCs, most students are awarded scholarships after a rigorous selection process by National Committees in about 115 countries. Scholarships range from a full one for certain colleges down to 50% for some. Interviews are conducted by the UWC Malaysia National Committee, chaired by Tan Sri Awang Had. Here, PETRONAS also awards UWC scholarships to selected successful candidates.

The new scholars are (left to right) Front: Arif Imran Zahari, Tang Shu Haur, Nik Razman, Yap Ee-Lynn, Yoong Pui Shen, Nabilla Ariffin, Natasha Su d/o Sivarajah, Nadhira Abdul Halim,
Back: Amir Kamarudin, Teh Min Sern , Wong Loke Jin, Lim Yangli, Joan Low Su-May, Nishreen Daud Ali

As much as I wanted to go, my elation lasted but for a second when that fateful email came informing me that I had received a partial scholarship to Armand Hammer United World College, USA. Due to the UWC’s non-profit nature, my parents would need to contribute approximately RM90, 000 towards my education at UWC-USA for the two years. How extravagant for a pre-university education! I thought, as many Malaysians would. Where am I going to get funding for university?

A long-distance call from my Malaysian senior studying at UWC-USA, Nithiyanathan s/o Muthusamy, dimmed my apprehension considerably. “I’ve only been here a year, and I’m not that worried about getting funding for university any more”, he assured me. Almost all UWC students get into reputable universities or colleges with very generous financial aid – Yap Xiang Ling from Pearson College in Canada will be attending Harvard University for 50 USD a year. The Shelby Davis Foundation gives full need-based financial aid exclusively to successful UWC applicants to Princeton, Middlebury, Colby, Wellesley, and College of the Atlantic. There are many other schools to which the Davis fund contributes $10, 000 towards fees. Lest you assume that the UWC only enjoys recognition in the US, Pravina Gopalan is going to Warwick University this fall while two of my seniors are attending the Australian National University, Canberra on full scholarships.

The beauty about UWC is that every graduate emerges from it with a different experience. Take my college seniors for example. Adriana Nordin Manan studied theatre arts and economics during her time at UWC-USA. Rina Ayob, a current psychology student at Princeton helped to set up a radio for the surrounding community. Ng Eng Han, currently a freshman at Dartmouth College, dabbled in water polo and trained to be a Wilderness Search and Rescue leader. Nithiya himself is involved in student government, Model UN and the Constructive Engagement of Conflict program.

And me?

For the first time in all my 18 years, I can’t wait to be dressed in a batik kebaya, waving the Jalur Gemilang a la the Commonwealth Games delegation flag-bearer as I walk in for the Welcoming Dinner at UWC-USA!

For more information about the United World Colleges scholarships, please contact the Malaysian UWC National Committee at or 03-78805455/66. You may also drop the writer a line at psyoongatgmaildotcom.

This same article may be published as well in the local papers, but well, you heard it here first! :-)


Anonymous said...

Miss Yoong is a very lucky girl. Doing an accredited 3-year Australian or UK PhD locally does not even cost as much.

Then of course money talks and we are talking of the elite class education. Hope Miss Yoong would write often to tell more of her experiences where many can only dream of.

ps said...

Just a slight further correction alerted to me by Ng Eng Han, whom I mentioned in the article - he didn't play so much water polo in UWC-USA due to injury, and he was 'trained to be a wilderness leader as well as a UWC-USA Search and Rescue volunteer', not a 'Wilderness Search & Rescue leader' as I stated earlier.

Thanks for posting the article so promptly! So much more efficient than NST...hehehe :)

Anonymous said...

Nice article! Just some more background infos ...
Kurt Hahn, migrated to the UK before world war II, and a hand full educators from Germany, some well before him, like Hermann Lietz or Rudolf Steiner, became reform educators after the frist and second world war. No only the new social value of education and the focus on "hands on" and artistic activities to form character were part of this reform concept, it had to be open to all levels of society, where richer parents and companies commit to support those who cannot afford basic school fees. Waldorf (Steiner) Schools, named after the founder of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and first school sponsor in Germany 1921, have since migrated worldwide and can be found in most countries (ca 900 schools). Different from the UWC IB concept, those schools try to adopt and integrate to local systems and their independent curriculum is always the outcome of such an adoption process. UWCs central curriculum development in Cardiff, which is under strong influence of English/US values, is more a global marketing approach. But either way, it gives you a picture of the paedagogic development to form and learn for a united world. Still one can find some minor differences between a French/German touch (countries which have had their revolutions already) and other who raid the wave a bit more on the economic front (look at the IRAK WAR supporters and those who did strongly oppose) ...
Gear up Malaysia - their is a lot to achieve in the education sector !

Best regards

Anonymous said...

Nice post =)
I myself am interested in joining it, but was reluctant when i found out about the steep prices.

Wasnt very confident in my talents that i would get even a partial scholarship, so didnt bother to try last year. Spm this year, gonna try for what you did =D

Anonymous said...

Jus to warn you that lots of questions are coming your way!
May I know which United World College offers full scholarship and has a Malaysian ever gotten a full scholarship before?
Oh, and when would the applications be opened as well as what do they require and when would the interviews or whatever selection sessions take place?

I would appreciate anyone who can answer the rumblings of my mind.