College honor 50 years of global involvement
83 Luther students will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United World Colleges (UWC) program this month.
UWC, founded by Kurt Hahn in 1962, is a series of 12 schools located all over the world. Its mission statement from its website reads, “UWC makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”
Claudia Calderon (‘15) is taking the lead in organizing activities to honor UWC’s influence on the Luther campus. She attended the Red Cross Nordic UWC in Norway from 2009-2011 after growing up in Bolivia.
“[My experiences in Norway] were by far the best two years of my life,” Calderon said. “Everyone becomes your family. You learn a lot about cultures and interact with people who are really different from you.”
Along with the International Baccalaureate academic curriculum, the schools mix students from about 100 nations on each campus so they encounter new cultures, religions and languages, as well as introducing local values.
“The first challenge I faced was culture shock,” Luther UWC alum Imsouchivy “G.V.” Suos (‘15) of Cambodia said. “The day I arrived, eight students came and spoke to me in English with different accents, and I didn’t understand them. Fortunately, they were good enough to help me understand English.”
One of the seven guiding principles of UWC schools focuses on community service. For instance, Suos worked with women and girls who were victims of sexual abuse through the Li Po Chun UWC of Hong Kong. As an extension of this principle and part of the anniversary commemoration, the UWC alumni will help build homes in Decorah through Habitat for Humanity on Sept. 23.
The large number of UWC alumni attending Luther shows the efforts of Executive director of the Center for Global Learning and International Admissions Jon Lund, who has traveled to most of the schools over the past seven years.
“[The UWC Scholars] bring to Luther a passion for education, unique perspectives on countries and cultures around the world and a desire to become globally involved,” Lund said.
Lund interviewed students at the UWC schools, which was where Calderon met him. She echoed his impression with the welcoming environment from her experience.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you believe, or what you do,” Calderon said. “It’s such a great thing to do, but so many people don’t know about it.”
Founded as a way to bring young people together amid the tension of the Cold War era, more than 45,000 students have studied in the UWC program. The 140 participating countries each have a national committee which helps select students for the program through an application process.
Of the 83 Luther UWC alumni, 14 are seniors and over 30 of them are first-years. Shelby Davis, a patron of the UWC program, funds a scholarship that pays in full for many students to attend colleges and universities, including Luther. They maintain a connection with each other, helping to make their transition to college easier.
“Everyone had a similar experience so even if you don’t know the person, you can easily talk to them,” Calderon said. “But everyone also has a really different story, especially about how they got there. In my school we had a lot of refugees, and also people from wealthy nations, but that didn’t really matter.”
To honor the program’s 50 years of service, the alums will lead the chapel service on Sept. 21, hold a UWC fair in Bentdahl Commons on Sept. 22 with a variety of cultural activities and build homes with Habitat.
To learn more about United World Colleges, visit www.uwc.org.