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How can there be peace without people understanding each other, and how can this be if they don’t know each other?

Lester B.Pearson

Early supporter of Pearson College, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Nobel Peace Laureate

The striking feature of the UWC is that they embrace the entire world. They are unique and they are conscious of their responsibilities.

Nelson Mandela

Late Honorary President of UWC, Former President of South Africa

We have realized our dream to create a dream school for you. Please go out and realize your dream and other’s dreams.

Wesley Chiu,

Member of UWC National Committee of China, board member of UWC Changshu China

The sense of idealism and a purposeful life really makes the UWC experience unique and its impact life-long.

Wang Yi

Co-Founder, Vice Chairman of Board and Executive Director of Harvard Centre Shanghai. Pearson 89-91

UWC was one of the ten members of the international schools association that created the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva in 1963 … today, they are taken in over 4,000 schools worldwide and have become the gold standard for university entrance.

Sir John Daniel

Chair of UWC International Board and International Council 

I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and above all, compassion.

Kurt Hahn

German Educator, Founder of United World Colleges

Once a UWCer, Always a UWCer

Issue date:2023-01-12

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of UWC, we interviewed UWC alumni currently working in UWC Changshu China. In the following interview, Yutian Zhou shared her experience from a UWC student to a UWC admissions manager and her reflections on the UWC movement. She said:" It was a wonderful experience that enriched my mind and gave me spiritual strength for the rest of my life."

 Yutian Zhou 

UWC Changshu China

Senior Admissions Manager 

Yutian Zhou studied at Pearson College UWC from 2005 to 2007. After graduation, she double majored in Human Biology and French at Brown University in the United States, during which she spent half a year as an exchange student in Paris, France. She joined UWC Changshu China in 2015.

Interviewer: Would you like to share with us your UWC experience? At that time, what was your understanding of the UWC mission?

Yutian: I remember the first week I arrived at Pearson College UWC, we started Action Week. The school organized our class of students and teachers from 88 countries and regions to hike through the virgin forest to the seaside to watch the sunrise. When we finally arrived at the destination on foot with camping bags weighing tens of kilograms on our backs, the sense of unfamiliarity among us no longer existed. On the beach, we stayed up all night and watched the incredible and unforgettable sunrise alongside our new friends from all over the world.  

From then on, whenever I feel pressure from my study or life, I would think of that hiking trip into the nature and the sunrise. Compared with the vastness of the world, many mundane difficulties would seem trivial. In the very first week of coming to UWC, I was brought, by UWC’s unique activities,  to realize the existence of a vast world beyond my limited knowledge back then, both of the human and the natural world. From then on, I began my journey of understanding the world and more importantly, understanding myself, through the two-year UWC education. 

Yutian with her classmates and teachers hiking through the virgin forest to the seaside

Another unforgettable experience was the Village Meeting. We had a fixed time every week for Village Meeting when everyone gathered to discuss current affairs. In the beginning, I was just an observer because I had never participated in such discussions when I studied in China. I found it quite difficult to engage in the discussions and would be happy enough if I could just fully understand the flow of conversations among my foreign peers and teachers. 

When I watched news reports on TV before, I only learned what I heard, but rarely thought about the authenticity or objectivity of the news.  With more participation in the Village Meeting, I came to realize that everyone has their own views, and many of us are biased in one way or another. Fortunately, our teachers were also highly involved in these discussions, and they often reminded us to respect different voices and inspired us to think from different perspectives. 

As I became a second-year student, gradually, I was able to join the discussions. From an observer to a participant, the Village Meeting not only broadened my horizons but also enabled me to become more mature and critical in my thinking. Of course, Rome was not built in one day. It is a gradual process in which all of us took part in every week, shared and heard different voices, and reflected each time.  It was in this process that we made progress and grew up.

Other activities such as National Days and the One World Concert also left me with very vivid memories. Through these activities, I experienced the cultures of different countries, enhanced my understanding of my peers from different backgrounds and learned to look at and analyze international events more rationally in multi-dimensions. Although participating in various activities took up a lot of my time, I really enjoyed myself, and it turned out that the study of IB courses and the activities of UWC complemented each other.

Yutian performing Ukrainian dance with peers at One World Concert

Before I went to Pearson, I had no idea about IB or the process of applying to American universities. It was not until the summer holiday at the end of my DP1 year that I realized I actually needed to apply to American universities one year in advance. I asked my Chinese second years for advice and borrowed their test preparation materials, such as TOEFL and SAT. I did not spend a lot of time preparing deliberately for university applications, instead, I  dove myself into fully experiencing UWC life. As a result, I became a better-rounded person with many interesting stories to tell.  Those skills and experiences I gained at UWC helped me through many later stages of life, up until today. 

Interviewer: What is the biggest impact UWC education made on your life?

Yutian:Definitely the people. My co-years from 88 different countries and regions at Pearson had a significant influence on me. Although the living environments and cultural backgrounds from which we grew up are different, since UWC selected us with the same philosophy no matter which part of the world we are from, when we got together, what connected us was not something superficial, but rather what resonates deeply inside our minds. During the two years at UWC, we had a lot of great discussions, and that sense of gratification we got was something I had never experienced before. In UWC, we can easily find each other's "soulmate".

Yutian and her peers at Pearson College UWC

When we were about to graduate and return to different parts of the world, everyone was reluctant to bid farewell to each other, because we thought it would be very difficult to meet such a diverse but closely connected group in the future. Thanks to this group of people, I lived a more exciting and interesting life than before, and I realized that life could be so full of abundance. It was a wonderful experience that enriched my mind and gave me spiritual strength for the rest of my life. 

Interviewer: Why did you choose to return to UWC?

Yutian: I never thought that there would be a UWC in the mainland of China so soon. Knowing that a UWC would be built in Changshu, China, was a huge surprise to me. I was so excited that I emailed UWC Changshu to seek for a job while the campus was still under construction. I got a position in the admissions office and it is now my 8th year working in the office.

In 2015, Yutian reunited with Dr. Aileen McConnell who has been sponsoring students from Suzhou to study at Pearson College UWC since 1992

One of the more realistic reasons of returning to work at UWC is my family. Working at UWC Changshu means I am back in my hometown--Suzhou. More importantly, I am grateful to UWC from the bottom of my heart. UWC opened up a new life experience to me and played a significant and positive impact on the formation of my values. In addition, when I  studied at Pearson, there were so many people who gave me selfless, sincere support and help. I have always hoped to give back. Now, finding the right young people for UWC every year is my way of showing gratitude and giving back. 

Interviewer: What motivates you to continue working for admissions? 

Yutian: For me, the most important thing about working at UWC is the sense of self-realization and belonging. This has been my 8th year of working at UWC Changshu. However, I am still enthusiastic in every information session because my aspiration of doing this job has always remained the same: to give more young people like me back at 17 years old, who are young but passionate, the opportunity of experiencing UWC education.

Yutian presenting at UWC information session

Going to various cities to do admission presentations in my daily work always gives me a strong sense of accomplishment and value. Whenever a parent comes to me and says, "Ms. Zhou, we decided to choose UWC because of your presentation at the last information session. Now my whole family believes it was  the best decision we made!” This is the best encouragement for me. Sometimes admitted students recognize me on campus and come to express the same gratitude to me. These moments always make me very happy and content. That’s where I see the value and the impact of my work.

The personal experience I share at information sessions often helps parents and students to understand the UWC mission and values better. It would be quite difficult for the audience to truly understand the UWC mission only in words, especially when this education is so different from traditional Chinese education. Only through real and vivid life examples can students and parents appreciate the uniqueness of UWC education. Once they join the UWC family and have experienced UWC education by themselves, either as students or parents, they will be able to appreciate the charm and value of UWC education and thank themselves for making the best decision.

Interviewer: As we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of UWC, how do you understand UWC mission now?

Yutian: Over the years since I graduated from UWC, I have gradually realized that one of the most precious gifts that UWC gave me is the "freedom of mind". I am not easily influenced by the surrounding environment. I know what I want and have my own opinions. This is the foundation for my peace of mind. Some people may struggle all their lives, focusing on the conflict of interests around them, causing themselves to fall into all sorts of meaningless comparisons, but still fail to achieve what they really want throughout their lives.  The "freedom of mind" is the best gear UWC gave me for the rest of my life.

Photos of Pearson College UWC Yutian took

Interviewer: What are your hopes for the future of UWC movement and how do you think you will continue to live the UWC mission?

Yutian:There are still not many people who know about UWC and even fewer who understand UWC in the world today. I will remain true to the original aspiration and contribute more to the promotion of the UWC mission and values. Whether it is world peace or sustainable development, it is more vital for today's society. Our world needs more UWCers --“idealists who do".

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