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"different than any other school in the world"


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Review of: UWC Canada

Jacqueline Tam - Alumnus    (Jan 24, 2018)

Overall Experience

When I arrived at Pearson, I could feel just how different of a place it was than any other school in the world. First of all, being in a deliberately diverse community of 160 students representing around 80 countries alongside faculty and staff from all over the world inherently pushes you out of your comfort zone in a beautifully unifying way. We lived in houses of 40 with each room consisting of 4 students from different countries. This is one of the most key aspects of UWC– living with people from all different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds, and being forced to figure out how to live harmoniously. The communication skills I gained here could not have been done in any other way but true experiential learning, and the flexibility and adaptability I grew to have was largely thanks to the compromises that need to happen between roommates. Pearson prepared me incredibly well for my next steps; travelling through Europe on my gap year. I came out more understanding, more bold, more confident, more curious, more open, more receptive to different ideas, more emotionally intelligent, more resilient, and so many more valuable things. One thing I would change about the school is to have more time there on campus with everyone before and after the academic year to really take advantage of the diversity of the community instead of being sucked into an academic system that inherently stratified the student body. Additionally, it would be ideal to have full scholarships for every student again. I say this because it serves as a barrier for families who could contribute, but do not support their children in going to the school. This occurred to an extent in my situation, and I know some of my co-years went through this too. Evidently, everything worked out in my case, but I am afraid that not every accepted student lucky enough to have the support of their families.


School Leadership

The leadership at felt more horizontal than any other organization I have been part of. Generally speaking, there is a great level of trust and respect between students and administration, but there is always room for improvement. I would appreciate seeing less bureaucracy and politics in administration, particularly speaking about divesting the college's endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry, as well as other harmful industries. In general, students and administration got along very well, as everyone tends to appreciate the work that everyone else does. This mutual respect allowed for a great deal of empowerment, as both students and people in administration often ask each other for help with projects and collaborate on many things together. In terms of responding to problems, the administration took issues that the students brought up seriously, and did what they could to address those problems. In my opinion, issues were dealt with fairly and communication was clear to both students and parents.


Teaching

I was incredibly happy with the quality of instruction I received at Pearson. Never before had I experienced teachers who were so dedicated to their students. I felt comfortable asking my teachers anything and seeking help when I needed it. There was a great level of respect and appreciation between student and teachers, and you can tell that every teacher is at Pearson because they believe so firmly in the values and mission of UWC. Samuel Perez, my economics teacher, had a huge impact on me. He showed me that economics is something that everyone can learn, and it is especially important to think outside of the box when it comes to economics. Paul Faber wowed me with his dedication to the school, Sherry Crowther inspired me everyday with her insights and intentionality, and Nazim Acar was a wonderful friend and conversationalist to me throughout my two years at Pearson.


Academics

Strengths -- very efficient and effective in teaching the IB, studious academic culture, very motivated teachers and students, lots of camaraderie between students, lots of help where needed from teachers and peers, good amount of support for non-native English speakers, around 4-5 hours of classes everyday allowed for students to pursue lots of extracurriculars. Weaknesses -- the curriculum moves very fast, making it even more difficult for non-native English speakers, there is a lot of focus on the IB and I believe this takes away from giving UWC values the attention they deserve. At Pearson, there is a constant battle of sentiments amongst the student body regarding the amount of focus we put collectively on academics. On one hand, some students are adamant about the UWC experience being for UWC rather than being sucked away by the IB; and on the other hand, some students have more at stake academically and need to focus on the IB. This speaks to the differences in privilege we come from -- for some students, doing well academically is the only way to bring themselves and their families out of poverty, while for others, it is a privilege. Generally speaking, there is respect between these two viewpoints, but the pressure to spend more time socializing and learning from each other is definitely more present at UWC than it would be at other IB schools. That said, students at Pearson are always helping each other study, reviewing each other's work, and supporting each other in any way possible. There is a great deal of camaraderie in the academic life at Pearson.


Extracurriculars

Simply amazing. There is such a wide range of activities to do, which are all so meaningful and intentional. Diving, kayaking, eco justice, yoga, wilderness, visiting an elderly home, culinary arts, emergency medical response team, singing, guitar, Ukrainian dance, etc. They are student-led, with some activities bringing in adults to teach specialized things such as Ukrainian dance, diving, and kayaking. The culture around them was very enthusiastic and collaborative and did indeed provide for meaningful personal development. We were active, creative, and exploratory. In my opinion, the extracurricular program did a fantastic job at developing well-rounded students because we had the opportunity to and were encouraged to try new activities that we never would have tried otherwise. For example, I joined Ukrainian Dance in my first year and very quickly fell in love with all forms of dancing. I joined the greenhouse activity and ended up working on 2 farms during and after my time at Pearson to learn more about sustainable agriculture.


Students

When I was there, our student body consisted of 160 students from around 80 countries. This intentional diversity created for the perfect place for us to explore living together and overcoming cultural barriers. The students at Pearson are generally very motivated, enthusiastic about learning inside and out of the classroom, discussing and debating, supportive of each other, curious about the world, and excited to try new things. Idealism is definitely a common trait, though there is most definitely a good mix of personalities at any given time. The socio-economic background os the students is across the scale from people coming from refugee camps in parts of Africa and the Middle East, to people coming from wealthy families in the global north. Pearsonites create extremely deep friendships that last lifetimes, enduring different time zones, thousands of miles of separation, and years apart. The fact that we all go through the very intensive experience at Pearson College together binds us so tightly together.


School Life

I absolutely loved it, although my two years at Pearson were two of the most challenging years of my life. As an introvert, it was hard for me to deal with so many things going on at once– extracurriculars, managing coursework, bonding with regional groups, birthday celebrations, group walks to the lake, different projects going on-- there was always something to do. I was constantly learning about the people around me, their cultures, their languages, and learning about myself and how I could be more present and mindful. Some things I picked up at Pearson was the practices of yoga and meditation. For me, they served as an escape from the bustle of Pearson life and allowed me to recenter my intentions as I went about my day. Mental health remains a problem at UWC because with everything going on, it can be extremely difficult for students to navigate what is going on in their own heads, whether it is homesickness, academic stress, feeling inadequate, feeling overwhelmed, etc. At Pearson, a lot of work is being done to address this problem such as scaling down the number of scheduled activities in the calendar, hiring professionals to counsel students mentally, spiritually, and physically, and training students to be able to coach each other effectively.


University placement and counselling

During my time at the college, the university counselling was not as robust as I had hoped for. I felt like I got more helpful information about the process of applying to schools in Canada and the US from friends than I did from the university counsellor. It felt like the university counsellor was there to answer questions we brought forth rather than to suggest paths that we could take. We were coached as a group, where we were given basic information on application processes, what supplementary tests we would need to take for certain regions, and what kinds of financial aid and scholarships were available to us as UWC students. However, after this, it was largely up to us to figure the rest out which was fair enough, but I still felt slightly lost in the process. I think the main issue was that our counsellor was quite busy, so it was either hard to find time with them or it felt like I was taking away time from another student who needed their support more than me. Ideally, we would have another university counsellor to balance out the workload. Our counsellor did a great job at bringing in representatives from a very diverse range of schools around the world to expose us to different schools and give us the chance to ask questions. Gap year ideas were also very much supported, which I really appreciated as I myself went on to take a gap year.


Community

Never before have I stepped foot in a more diverse place with such a bounty of altruistic and kind people. At Pearson, people tend to be incredibly fond of each other and it is not rare to find students hugging each other absolutely everywhere. There is so much love, appreciation, and support for one another, along with the awe that comes with living with such different people. The faculty and staff that live on campus tend to have very close relationships with students, opening their homes for tea and coffee, or letting students use their kitchens to cook or bake in. Since we are there without our parents, the support of adults is so valuable to Pearsonites. Leaving UWC, I found that I felt even more connected to alum all over the world. As soon as you make the connection with someone that you both went to Pearson or any UWC, there is an instant connection and sense of community. After Pearson, I travelled through Europe and stayed with a number of my friends form Pearson and we always picked up right where we left off.


School Location

Pearson College was built in the forests of Southern Vancouver Island on the unceded territory of the Scia'new (Beecher Bay) First Nation. About an hours drive from Victoria, or 2 hours by bus, our community is quite isolated. We call it the "Pearson Bubble", because as a student at Pearson, it is quite impossible to have a life outside of Pearson. We had the forest to roam, the ocean to play in, and a lake nearby to swim in during the warmer months. For me, being surrounded by nature was perfect, but some students who thrive in the city sometimes found Pearson's isolated location to be constricting. We had many host families in the area who would come to campus for Regional Day shows, where we would perform songs, dances, and poems form our cultures. Sometimes on weekends, project weeks, or holidays, students would stay at host families and in this way develop connections to the local community. The town of Metchosin, where Pearson exists on the outskirts, is a small and friendly one with lots of farmland. It is a very safe place to be and students sometimes walk into MyChosen cafe for a meal or cheesecake.


Admissions

In my experience applying to Pearson, the main contact person was very helpful answering questions. I remember writing a series of short answer and long essay questions, discussing things like my interests, passions, extracurricular activities, and what I saw as the biggest problem facing my region that year. Overall, it was clear that the selection committee wanted to find out who we were as people and how we saw the world. I found it to be a very reflective process, but it was a little stressful given that I really wanted to get in. After submitting my written application, we received an email letting us know if we were shortlisted or not. Those who were shortlisted were invited to an interview in Vancouver and were asked to fill out a family means testing. The interview was one day long, and we did activities such as ice breakers, preparing a mini One World performance to represent the province of BC, art collages, and a half hour personal interview with a panel of interviewers. I found the day to be very inspiring, but incredibly nerve racking. The team of alumni and board members who were facilitating the day and interviewing us were very supportive and welcoming, which made it a lot easier! My only frustrating memory was waiting longer than expected to hear the final decision after the interview was complete. My advice to someone who is applying would be to be as true to yourself as you possible can. Pearson is made up of real people with flaws, quirks, and insecurities.


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