As the founder of United World College Changshu China, as the college’s first Chair and as a UWC alumnus, I’d like to welcome you to our website.
UWC Changshu China opened in 2015, the latest chapter of the United World Colleges story that started more than 50 years ago.
When UWC Atlantic College welcomed its first students in 1962, the world was facing many challenges. 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the point at which many people believed the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States would escalate from Cold War to real, nuclear war. In 1962, the US was also becoming further embroiled in the Vietnam War. On the home, a group of white segregationists in the USA started rioting, protesting against the enrollment of black student James Meredith into the University of Mississippi.
However, the world also saw hope for a better future in 1962. The Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky, regardless of the tension between his home and his adopted countries, returned to Leningrad forty-eight years after he left the Soviet Union, and conducted two concerts. Elderly and physically frail, Igor still chose to raise a baton in peace instead of a weapon in hostility.
Atlantic College was founded in a similar spirit. Dr Kurt Hahn, a German educationalist, was also deeply troubled by the Cold War, witnessing the suffering Germany was facing through its divisions. At a NATO defence college he had seen men who had formerly been at war with one another now working together and from that observation grew his idea that peace could come from young people in their most formative years living and studying together. This was the idea behind Atlantic College and each subsequent UWC college. The mission and values that have been passed down from one generation to another have stood the test of time: to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.
I believe that this mission is even more relevant today. Peace and sustainability are without doubt the biggest challenges facing us. Increased inequality; the rise of nationalism; climate change; the exacerbation of conflict between and within countries and the tides of refugees that result. UWC’s role in educating young people to become change makers for a better future – and the need for a community that works towards a more peaceful and sustainable future – are greater than ever before.
On September 30, 2015, UWC Changshu China became the fifteenth UWC college. We welcomed founding students from 54 different countries and regions. When the next students arrived a year later, there were 99 countries and regions in our college community
UWC Changshu China was established after 15 years of relentless effort by many determined men and women – most of us ourselves UWC alumni. We worked together to realise a vision that I had formed many years before.
When I was 12, I narrowly escaped death in an air crash. My lower limbs were paralysed. In the long and painful process of treatment and rehabilitation, I went through ups with hope and downs with disillusion. It was my mother’s willpower that encouraged me not to give up – she taught me to be resilient and strong. Five years later, I could stand without the aid of crutches, and I successfully graduated from middle and high school.
In 1998, I was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway after HM Queen Sonja’s state visit to China. My two years in UWC totally changed my life. I learned to be independent, generous and respectful; I learned to be brave and to have a strong sense of social responsibility. More importantly, I learned to pursue my dreams. Although I had to walk on crutches, I was encouraged by my teachers not only to study hard, but also to engage in activities such as kayaking, swimming and skiing. That experiential education in a diverse community has been unforgettable and it has been of benefit throughout my life so far. Even before I graduated from UWC, I had a dream of bringing a UWC college to China. It was my determination and my UWC experience that helped me to make it happen.
So much passion and dedication went into the founding of this school. At times, we grew frustrated with setbacks, but we never gave up. Some words of Kurt Hahn inspired us all to keep going: "There is more in you than you think." Ultimately, we found an outstanding partner in the government of the City of Changshu and the result is the school that we see today on the shores of Lake Kuncheng.
For those of us who worked to make the school a reality, it was never just about the construction of a college. Far more important was the mission, values and educational principles that have guided UWC since its inception and that we knew would be as vital to China in the twenty-first century as they are in all parts of the world. Our achievement is therefore not in building the school, but in seeing each new generation of students joining us and experiencing an education like no other.
I hope you enjoy finding out more about our fantastic school through this website and look forward to meeting some of you in person in the near future.
Mark Jiapeng Wang
Founder and Chairman of UWC Changshu China