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Shayna Robinson (2015-2017, UWC Changshu China)

UWC may not be for everybody but I found myself there. Due to the support and close-knit network of friends and teachers and a residential community away from home, I learnt to build and value my confidence, ideals and form and express my own opinions comfortably and without penalty, even to those in positions of authority. I learnt to not shy away and stand in my own light. UWC, for me, was an environment of positivity, passion, care, anguish and love for the people in this world and what was going on around us. Those heated debates in our rooms, or the dining halls, or during village meetings over the issues of the world or within our own community and with each other sometimes united us and often made us share for hours over a meal about what we could change or sadly, could not. I learnt to hold my skills as well as strengths and weaknesses in humility and not arrogance or shame, as everyone at UWC morphed into a teacher of their cultures and traditions and simultaneously a student of intercultural exchange. I learnt that our perception and interaction with each other made UWC a very distinct place from any other workplace or home or school environment. It stands on its own and the experience of leaving home for your own freedom and risk at the age of 16 or 17 is something quite priceless. Few of my friends outside UWC could say their school was where they truly found themselves or that they had even thought about the journey or process of self-discovery during their education. My education at UWC opened so many doors for me to the world – I took a gap year and went on a Semester at Sea cruise sponsored by Shelby Davis for selected UWC graduates to 12 countries and 4 continents, I learnt Chinese as a third language and more importantly, I made full use of my 2 years there to make friends and build relationships with people from all over the world, connections which have never left my side since the years I have graduated. I never quite grasped while I was experiencing the highs and lows of the stressors of UWC how important or powerful or grounding or fundamentally inspiring this could be. I am forever indebted.