Why Did We Launch Our Own Podcasts?
Why Did We Launch Our Own Podcasts?

"We hope to build a bridge connecting people all over the world through sharing real stories to promote understanding."

Content

I’ve been going to UWC Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Balkan Peninsula for almost a year now. This city is called Mostar. Recalling the moment when I walked out of the Sarajevo airport, I was amazed by the peaceful picture-perfect indigo sky and could hardly link the country with the suffering it had gone through during the War. Yet soon enough, in the following months, I witnessed the looting of the bank at the entrance of the school, heard people discussing murder fugitives escaping from prisons and news that near the dormitory were incidents of deliberately hurting with knife... Similar report titles along those lines in mainstream media were not uncommon, reminding me of the harsh truths: Conflicts are right under my eyes. The only thing that keeps me and my peers hopeful and what brings such hope to others is the teenagers who walk under the ruins of Mostar, but still full of dreams. 

 

We wondered: what can we do to somehow change this world, even in its slightest? I was inspired, after returning from winter break, by my co-year from Poland, Antek, who was fortunate enough to be invited to a podcast for interviews during the time. Both of us felt the power of this voice when we talked about it. Out of nowhere but somehow predestined, we came up with the idea of launching our own podcast. We are beyond lucky: UWC’s parents, teachers, and even classmates from more than 100 countries have so many stories, diverse backgrounds, and all sorts of anecdotes that they never get chances to share with others—Why not let the world hear what these voices have to say?

 

  • My classmate Antek(from Polish) and I (left) hosting the podcast together

 

By now, we have recorded 13 episodes and released 10 episodes. Each episode has a different story, different people from different countries and races sharing impactful stories with us.

 

In one of our latest episodes, we interviewed a student from Syria, Engy. In 2011, a large-scale national demonstration took place in Syria: While the other side of the world may be calm, yet in a corner of Homs in the Middle East, a girl stood on the balcony next to her home, where she saw, through her iron railings, civilians bleeding downstairs. Engy said that every day, when she would go to school, she worried about whether she could still see her parents tomorrow. "Halfway through the class, you would hear the bomb. Everyone would beg the teachers for a cell to make a phone call." And at home, her parents could only helplessly turn up the volume of the TV with the hope to slightly distract her and her brother from the horror outside of their window panes. But in the end I also heard her surprising description of her hometown. "You hear a bomb, and after two hours there’d be people on the street. They clean it, they wash away the blood, and they open stores again. They will tell you: Yes, it happened, we are sad about it but we want to survive. People there… People love life, they always want to survive. They are willing to re-start their life again. Again, again and again."

 
 
  • Engy from Syria sharing the story of the people in her hometown

 

We also had the privilege of inviting a very dear friend of ours — who was under the spotlight and featured on this account as the youngest biker across the silk road — Ruijie Huang, (Jerry) from Chengdu, who is also a graduate from UWC Mostar. Jerry took a courageous bike ride all the way from Turkey to China last summer. 80 days, biking for 4033 kilometers, passing through Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Jerry had a lot of stories to share. Along the way, he experienced shock, danger, joy, happiness, and so much more. For one, he shared a story about biking through a tunnel in Azerbaijan. "The engine of the car behind me was shrieking like a monster. I was terrified…" Yet there were also stories filled with love and kindness. When crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, he did not have a single penny — there was no way to pay in order to cross the border. At that time, he tried various methods and was so anxious, thinking he had to camp beside the border control. Just as he was about to prepare to spend the night on this barren land, a Turkmen aunt gave him a pat on his shoulder: "What happened, young man?" After explaining the situation to the aunt and a few other old ladies with her, some stepped forward. They pulled out their wallets, a dollar after another, 12 paper money quickly stacked up on the table. When Jerry tried to pay everyone back by handing them souvenirs, the ladies only took a few, smiled and said, "Welcome to Turkmenistan!". "My eyes are wet," recalled Jerry. Sitting on the other side of the microphone, witnessing Jerry’s grateful countenance when he was retelling the story: we were simply astonished and could hardly believe it was true. "We might have different backgrounds, thoughts, or religions, but we all share a sense of caring for each other. A sense of humanity", he concluded.  Such spirit of adventure and exploration are what UWC education is about.  Such kindness and caring which go beyond nations and races can be discovered in every corner of the world. 

  • Jerry shares his story of the Silk Road ride

 

As Guaido announced that he would replace Maduro as the "Provisional President", Venezuela's domestic political situation has become increasingly turbulent. We invited Alejandro from Caracas, Venezuela, to talk about his experiences back home on our podcast. After recording, Alejandro lingered and continued to share his stories: His grandparents lived on the farm without electricity, water and lights. His mother is a doctor, "because of the busy schedule, she can only buy some groceries every morning", he said. But the government declared that ID numbers ended with 2 could only go to the supermarket on Thursday. When he was talking about how his mother was only able to purchase a liter of milk every time after standing for hours in the endless queue outside the supermarket, he couldn't help but whimpered. "It’s UWC that made me see the other side of the world," he said. It was UWC's cohesiveness that made him strong and hopeful. UWC provided him the opportunity to have an education that broadened his horizon.

 

The often neglected small country, Austria also has its story to tell. Austria and its people are still slowly coming out of the shadow of the World War II. Thomas from Salzburg was telling us the experience when he first went to the site of the Jewish concentration camp. He said: "There's this common sense of guilt among the people". He said that a core part of the curriculum at schools in Austria is to take everyone to visit at least two concentration camps. When we asked him about how he felt when he visited the concentration camp, he did not hesitate to describe the experience as "very powerful." What he saw were photos after photos of dead bodies stacked one after another. He said frankly that seeing such photos is "very important" to him — because they reminded him that if he lived in that era, he would also have been be part of the photo. He spoke into the microphone in a firm tone, that he also brought this "understanding" and "empathy" to UWC, and he said it's important for people to remember the history and treasure peace.  To maintain peace is the responsibility of all mankind. 

  • Thomas from Austria thinks that peace is not easy

 

Our second-year Lin is from Istanbul. She always tells people at our school about our podcast. Her previous school was very special as it was located in the very center of Istanbul.  Before all the political turmoils took place, it had always been a school with a good academic reputation. Yet things changed drastically after the coup. As an atheist, she felt not only uncomfortable, but uneasy, in the increasingly strong religious atmosphere at her school. In the geography class, the teacher finished a concept and called her name to ask, "Doesn't this prove the existence of Allah, Lin?" She did not learn any useful knowledge in classes, she said. Thus she is extremely grateful to UWC which not only gave her the opportunity to enjoy high quality education, but also to share her experiences with peers and teachers from all corners of the world. "Everyone had listened to my Turkish stories," she teased herself. We were chuckling, but also fully aware that this kind of willingness that she had to share and the students’ willingness to listen serve as testimonies of the UWC spirit.

 

What cheers us up the most is all the positive reactions from people around us after listening to podcasts. An Iranian peer of mine, talked about how I should interview refugees at the Red Cross camp; the Macedonian teacher who worked in Germany who was more than willing to share his insight on politics on Macedonia.... Each UWC student, teacher, and alumni is full of stories, and they have confidence in the Bridge of Stories podcasts - we can't wait to interview everyone of them, sharing their unique stories, regardless of race, nationality, age, to the world at the other end of the microphone.

 

Despite all the diverse backgrounds and different stories, one thing that I have heard the most is the power of education that UWC brings to every individual. At the end of the interview with Engy, we asked her if she thought that there was hope in Syria. With a bit surprise, we saw an expression of anticipation on her face - "As long as everyone is full of love, full of life, nothing can't be done." She said gently and calmly. "After coming to UWC, I was shocked at the beginning..." She mentioned the cultural shock when she first came to UWC: there are so many different views, especially on complicated issues like Syria. She also began to question herself, and then began to listen, to understand, to find similarities and differences, to find ways to communicate despite of conflicts.

  • On June 11th, Economist reporter Ana Landes came to our school to interview us

Sound quality may need to be improved, music quality may not be good enough, some students may not want to be interviewed, or even the application we use crashes during the recording process... There are numerous challenges, but we believe that as long as we do our work, and try our best to promote the cross cultural understanding, we are doing our bit to contribute to the UWC mission. "World Peace" is still a long way to go. Yet from a microphone, we believe that the positive impact we are making will spread far and wide.

 

From the birth of an idea, to hectic purchases in furniture stores, to drafting interview questions, opening remarks and analysis until midnight… Despite the hassle, the happiest moments of our days always take place in that studio room where all the magic sparks. In the early evening of the town of Mostar, you can probably spot the warm light penetrating out of a teaching building. That would be us, we are doing our utmost to show the world how young people from all over the world with ideals and aspirations to unite people together for peace through sharing their own stories.

 

On June 20th, we were so excited to know that our Podcast "What Does War Mean to Syria? Engy's Story" entered the finalist in the second round of Winners of Second Annual Student Podcast Contest of New York Times.

 

Our podcast’s name is Bridge of Stories. Why "bridge"? The Old Bridge (Stari Most) of Mostar was built after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, with the intention of uniting the divided peoples of this city. Our podcast shares the same purpose. We hope to build a bridge connecting the young and the old, students and teachers, through sharing their real stories to enhance mutual understanding among people all over the world.

 

Author:Michelle Wang, 2018 graduate of UWC Changshu China (FP), currently studying at UWC Mostar.