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IB educational opportunities abroad: UWC

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Some of the 17 global UWC campuses. Photo courtesy of UWC International Office.

UWC offer a programme of experiential learning that focuses on key aspects of peace, a sustainable future and student initiative all within the framework of the IB Diploma Programme (DP). One alumna tells us how she found her way from Bolivia to UWC-USA in New Mexico and then to Switzerland, where she volunteers for the UWC Swiss Association to select Swiss students and residents to attend a UWC. We also share the perspective of a Swiss student on his UWC experience.

By Bertha Camacho

When I was 17 years old I was curious to see the world and live new experiences. Although I enjoyed my home country of Bolivia, I had a desire to see what was outside the boundaries of what I knew, so, I applied to the UWC. The UWC is “a global education movement,” that unites people, nations and cultures under the mission of “making education a force for peace and a sustainable future”. UWC schools connect students of different backgrounds to inspire international mindedness, personal initiative, compassion, service, responsibility and more. When I first read about UWC, I never thought I would be one of the two selected scholars representing Bolivia at one of the UWC schools and colleges around the globe. At the time, I did not know how much my two years at UWC-USA would transform me.

“I was looking for something unknown; something I found during my years at UWC and beyond”

The UWC was a challenging but rewarding experience. It is not easy to leave home at the age of 17, to live in a completely different country and to study in a different language. When I applied, I was looking for something unknown; something I found during my years at UWC and beyond. It was the first step I had taken to experience the world first-hand and gain confidence that I can contribute to positive changes in the world. It was about learning with and from inspiring young people from over 80 countries and having the opportunity to grow up, by taking responsibility of my own actions and by experiencing compassion through meaningful community service.

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UWC-USA in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of UWC International Office.

By attending UWC, I learned to see the world from different perspectives and also to understand and accept others despite disagreement. UWC taught me that academics is not the only tool that can make a difference in a troubled world, but that empathy and entering into dialogue with others are essential to making a positive impact.

It is for that matter, that I chose a career path in international cooperation. I think there is so much to do to eradicate poverty, inequality and injustice in the world. At the beginning of my career, I have dedicated my time to support women and children in south and central America to have better quality of life through better education and health opportunities.

“For me, compassion, empathy and responsibility are core values I learned at UWC-USA that continue to accompany me in my work”

Later on, I have supported people to have better living conditions through sustainable agriculture projects, including clean water and sanitation. Currently, I facilitate processes of change and support activists and professionals in improving their skills to share their knowledge, so that they can better serve people in need. For me, compassion, empathy and responsibility are core values I learned at UWC-USA that continue to accompany me in my work.

UWC is an important part of my biography, which is why alongside my job in international cooperation, I also volunteer with the UWC Swiss Association in the selection of Swiss students and residents to attend UWC.

Applying to a UWC

Students are given the opportunity to meet and study with a diverse group of peers and experience other cultures in a unique way as they focus on solving real-world problems at one of 17 United World Schools and Colleges across four continents.

UWC is built on the belief that this type of quality, internationally-minded education should be accessible to students all over the world regardless of their socioeconomic background. Of the IB DP students that participate in the UWC program, around 65% currently receive either full or partial needs-based financial assistance to support their education. The selection of students is done by the UWC National Committees.

There are UWC National Committees in 155 countries. National Committees help select, place and fund candidates at one of the UWC schools and colleges based on their country-specific selection criteria. UWC National Committees are largely volunteer supported by individuals with a connection to the UWC values like educators, alumni or parents.

In Switzerland, the representation is assumed by the UWC Swiss Association, an independent, non-profit association, run by a voluntary board and supervised by a patronage committee. In addition to recruiting and selecting candidates from Switzerland, the UWC Swiss Association also coordinates the funding and awarding of scholarships. Currently six Swiss students are studying in five UWC colleges.

In Switzerland, admission to the application process is granted to all students that meet the following criteria:

  • Being at least 16 and not yet 18 years of age by June 30 on the year of attendance
  • Swiss nationality or residency that shows a clear personal connection to Switzerland and/or Swiss culture
  • a balanced academic transcript
  • a demonstrated interest and commitment to UWC ideals

Any student living in Switzerland and interested in applying to UWC is welcome to send their application form including the required documents to the UWC Swiss Association by November 30, 2019. More information about applying in Switzerland can be found here.

If you do not live in Switzerland, you can learn more about what your country-specific UWC National Committee requirements are here or choose to apply through the UWC Global Selection Programme.

Perspective from a UWC Swiss student

Levin Stamm, a Swiss UWC student from Biel, Switzerland, is in the final year of his Diploma Programme (DP) at UWC Costa Rica, where language and cultural immersion is a large part of his education. Levin, who is member of the UWC Swiss Association, discusses why he chose to apply to UWC and how the experience impacted his way of thinking.

“I was eager to explore the mindsets of people with fundamentally different backgrounds and to thrive in the linguistic and cultural diversity of this place”—Levin Stamm

On why he chose to apply to a UWC program instead of a traditional high school experience, Levin said, “What mattered for me at that point was mostly the opportunity to live in Central America and explore a place with a totally different culture and socio-economic structure. On top of that, the idea of living together with people from over 60 countries in the same place fascinated me. I was eager to explore the mindsets of people with fundamentally different backgrounds and to thrive in the linguistic and cultural diversity of this place”.

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UWC Costa Rica campus. Photo courtesy of UWC International Office.

Levin also gave an inside look at the UWC Swiss Association application process from the student perspective. “The application process of the Swiss national committee includes various stages. First, I handed in a written application. Then I was invited to a selection day in Zurich, with three components: a written part, a personal interview and the participation in a range of interactive activities. Personally, I experienced the application process as very enriching rather than stressful. I could present my abilities and skills and at the same time learn new things about the objectives of the UWC mission in a way that benefitted me”.

“I am ready to give back to people by constructively helping others, thus contributing a little to the improvement of the situation”—Levin Stamm

Levin’s experience at UWC Costa Rica has been fulfilling. He shares: “A year and a half after my departure from Switzerland, it is difficult to put into words my experience at UWC Costa Rica. I realize how lucky I am to have at my age, the opportunity to explore and understand a completely foreign part of the world. Also, I realize that when I understand the problems that exist in a given environment, I am ready to give back to people by constructively helping others, thus contributing a little to the improvement of the situation”.

What’s next for Levin? After being inspired by one of his CAS activities, next year he has plans to participate in the Global Citizen Year Gap Year Program teaching English to students in India. He says, “The skills I acquired from my CAS service made me aware how an accessible, high quality education for the poorest social stratum can fundamentally contribute to an improvement of today’s omnipresent social and economic inequality all over the planet. I hope to deepen my understanding of this issue through the participation in this program. An opportunity I would have never received without UWC”.

Are you interested in diverse cultures, people and countries? Are you ready to be far away from your family for two years and live with teenagers from around the world to discuss with and learn from each other? Do you want to contribute to a better world with peers your age? Then a UWC might be the right fit for you!

Bertha Camacho is the Managing Director of the Skat Foundation and serves as a member on the Board of the UWC Swiss Association.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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