Welcome!

Hi there,

Welcome to lilyinthevalleys, a blog about my time at the United World College of the Atlantic, from August 2010 to May 2012. I’ve also put together an extensive FAQ section of questions which people have asked me about UWC – just click the link at the top. Please do bear in mind that information is not up-to-date, and I can only speak for my personal experience of the college. Feel free to comment through the site, or contact me through the ‘Find Me’ section! If you do so, bear in mind that I may add your question to the FAQ (anonymously, of course!)

Enjoy reading,

Lily

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Wrapping Up

Hi there,

This is my final update for this blog. As I am no longer attending Atlantic College, I am neither required (by CAS), nor able (by proximity), to discuss my experiences of AC and its goings-on. It is time to move on, and therefore to wrap up.

This blog will remain open for as long as I think it will be useful for those with an interest in the UWC movement and in AC. I have also created a Frequently Asked Questions page, which I will update as necessary for the next year or so, with the aim of helping those who are either interested in applying, are currently applying, or have already applied to UWC or to AC specifically. Feel free to continue commenting on the posts and messaging me privately- I intend to  remain up-to-date with the happenings of AC and the UWC movement, particularly because my brother is joining AC this August!

Atlantic College has changed me more than I will ever understand. I have grown and developed through the unique combination of a rigorous academic and social lifestyle, and a loving and supportive family of peers and staff. Although it has been hard to leave, I remain committed to my belief that the real challenge of the AC experience is not surviving and enjoying one’s time at the college, but learning to use what we have learnt and discovered throughout our later lives. We don’t fulfil our mission statement through Service, through the CAS programme, or through living in our international microcosm. Rather, we gain the skills during our time in the arms of the UWC family to go out into further education, employment and communities, and to strive to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future, in whatever field we find ourselves.

There is no greater challenge.

Personally, I will be spending the next year back home, working to contribute to my university fees, but also immersing myself in my city and community, using the fresh outlook that AC has given me. In Autumn 2013, I’ll move to Kings College, Cambridge to study Human, Social and Political Sciences. From there, I don’t know. But whatever path I choose or stumble upon, what I learnt over the past two years will stay with me, reminding me what is important, and that it is worth fighting for.

All the very best,

Lilyinthevalleys

44. Endings Part Two

Hi there,

Here’s my second blog about the end of my time at Atlantic College. It discusses the leaving ceremony (or graduation, as everyone insists on calling it here), goodbyes, what I did in the week following AC, and what I’m doing now: AOC Summer. It’s quite hard to talk about a lot of these events, both because of their emotional significance, and because I was so sleep deprived during the final few weeks of term that I don’t fully remember what happened in what order- bear with me!

Graduation

The last IB exams, French, were on the morning of Tuesday 22nd May. That very afternoon was the Leaver’s Assembly. Here’s what I said about it last year:

Speeches from the acting principal, Paul Motte, a few visiting dignitaries, and the Chair of the Board of Governors, were attentively listened to. The couple of student speeches were perhaps more so. The second years walked out of the Bradenstoke Hall through a guard of honour from their first years, and onto the Top Lawn for a buffet lunch, which turned into a few hours of photo-taking and picnicking in the sun together. Some people started leaving around then: cheaper flights were already booked, and had to be taken. Most of the first years left on the bus that evening, or the one the next morning. The second years had another day together before leaving.” (25. End of First Year Part 2)

Not a great deal changed in terms of content, however the emotional impact of the ceremony was naturally much stronger this time around- I was not saying goodbye to my second years, and telling my co-years that I’d see them in a few weeks, but instead saying goodbye to every member of the college community. In addition, the student contributions had particular significance, as they were all done by good friends of mine, and included some of my favourite songs, as well as speeches which exactly echoed my sentiments regarding leaving AC- joy, both to have had the experience and to be continuing on to fresh challenges, as well as great sadness, to be leaving the place and the people. By the time that I sang Seasons of Love with my Acapella choir, much of the room was crying, yet at the same time, almost all of it was smiling. The guard of honour was poignant, reminding me of the excellent legacy that my year group has left for our highly capable first years to pick up. I am so happy to have left the college to such a quirky, fun and organised group- I have no doubt that they’ll be ready for whatever the next year throws at them, and make wonderful second years for the new group of arrivals in August. The food at the buffet was good- I realised that I hadn’t eaten properly in days- and the inevitable photograph session ranged from hilarious to bizarre to tragically sad.

Goodbyes

As with my first year, saying goodbye was incredibly painful and difficult. However the crucial difference this time is that many goodbyes were for a long time- I certainly won’t see a lot of my dearest friends for a few years at best, given the distances that we are apart, and the reality of university courses and finances. I have never cried so much and for so long in my life. Busses left on the morning and evening of the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of May, first for first years and secondly for the second years, which, combined with other people constantly leaving by car and train, meant that we had no time to recover emotional or physical energy before the next round of hugs, tears and conversations. It’s not easy to describe- by the end I was utterly exhausted, but unable to go to sleep for fear of missing someone (and, indeed, I managed to miss quite a few people even though I was awake- it’s such chaos!). There’s really nothing that any of us could to but grimly struggle through it, and hope that we’ll see each other again, soon.

A week of serenity

I left on the Thursday morning, picked up by Carys B’s mum, along with Andy, and later Kaylea and Sonia, to spend a few days at Carys’ house in London. We were very peaceful and relaxed, watching films, chatting, eating lots of gorgeous food from international supermarkets or street markets, exploring Spittlefields antique market- essentially spending time attempting to recover from the double-whammy of the IB and the end of term. It was great to be with people after leaving- we all felt similarly about any things, and it’s always good to talk them over. After a few days, Carys, Kaylea and I headed up to Sheffield, were we did a similar thing again- food, sleep, conversation, and lots of time in my garden, reading and enjoying the glorious sun. It was wonderful to see my family again for a little while, as I’d not gone home over spring break, and therefore not seen them for quite a few months. We then took the train back to college on Thursday 31st, ready for AOC Summer.

AOC Summer

The Atlantic Outdoor Centre is part of the college, located in the Barracks, down at the seafront. (It was previously called the Extra Mural Centre (EMC), and that’s probably what I referred to it as in previous blogs.) During term time, AOC trains students to instruct children in at least 17 activities (that’s as many as I can remember right now), such as orienteering, climbing, a ropes course, and canoeing. Students spend a year of service sessions learning these skills and how to teach them to kids (anything from 7 year-olds to adults), and their second year either teaching their first years in turn (i.e. passing the knowledge on), or running what are termed ‘sessions’ for visiting groups, in these activities. AOC Summer is an extension of this- throughout the summer, the student houses are used to hold a far larger number of children than during term time, and approximately 30 instructors (of which I am one) are employed to run sessions for these groups for between a few days and a week.

The groups that come to the college are everything from typical primary school kids, those with behavioural problems, those from deprived or inner-city backgrounds, to those with physical disabilities… a huge range of children come to the to enjoy outdoor, experiential learning at its’ best. Our job is to make that happen- to do everything we can to ensure that the sessions we run are fun, interesting, informative and unique, and that the kids have a great time at meals, the nightly disco, and simply whilst walking around campus. So, whether we’re working with the group to re-take the castle from an army of ghosts that has invaded, throwing water bombs at them as they try to solve clues to find hidden treasure whilst dressed as an evil pirate, or having them run along the bows of rafted-together kayaks whilst the kids in those kayaks each shout animal noises, we’re also trying to give them unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and to offer them skills that they have never had the chance to learn before.

No pressure.

AOC is mad but phenomenal- exhausting, physically and mentally, and just as full-on as AC in general, though in a very different way. Instead of academic pressure, we have the desire to make every session as wonderful as it possibly can be. Instead of constantly stopping on main drive to chat to our friends and teachers, we are asking the kids how their days were, and whether they’re coming to the disco. Instead of busy and varied social lives… well, they’re just as busy and varied as before, except that we’re now treated as adult employees and therefore can spend more time enjoying ourselves and less time being creative with the rules! (I find it important to point out that this doesn’t result in worse behaviour or inappropriateness than when check-in and no alcohol rules were enforced!) Socially, AOC is strange- one friend described the group as ‘AC after a nuclear apocalypse’. It’s a very random selection of individuals- we’re all here for different reasons, and few of us knew each other well before. It’s therefore been a great opportunity to get to know some people from scratch, and also to understand old friends better. As well as co-years, there are instructors here for work experience from local schools, and quite a few ex-students, some who I know, and have greatly enjoyed getting to know better (Steph!), and some who are new to me. AOC has definitely been a good way to leave AC slowly, and dampen and delay the inevitable shock and pain of transition- a lot of friends that I’ve talked to who headed straight home have had a pretty tough time quickly adjusting to such a different atmosphere, lifestyle, and lack of friends. AOC Summer has given me the time to be ready to return home happily and comfortably, which I’m very pleased about!

Although I’d worked quite a lot with kids before, and was fairly confident running activities and games, AOC takes this to a whole new level- organising a full two and a half hour session, including dozens of items of equipment and costume, a whole variety of different activities, puzzles and games, and numerous mock-battles between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ instructors (be they jedi, knights, zombies, princesses, time lords… you name it!) becomes a quick and straightforward process- the excitement comes from constant pressure to innovate and create something original- how can you make your session more interesting than the last one of that type that you ran, or than the ones that everyone is talking about?

That’s all for now. I’ll post a final time after I finish AOC, to wrap that up, offer a few last reflections, and let you know what will be happening with this blog and with my life in the future!

Until then,

Lilyinthevalleys

43. Endings Part One

Hi there,

I’m done!

I finished my IB exams on Monday 14th May. It’s been a bit mad since then- I’ll explain why below. I thought I’d give you an overview of the last few weeks, and what I’m up to now. This will take the form of a few blogs- the first is below. Once I get time over the summer, I’ll write a few blogs about initiatives and activities from fourth term, and wrap everything up…

IB Exams

The IB May exam season stretches from 30th April to 22nd May at AC (different schools offer different subjects, so it depends slightly). For us, there’s normally a couple of exams every day, in the Bradenstoke Hall, Sosh Gym or one of the smaller rooms, if only a few people take a particular subject. Almost everyone has six subjects here- a full IB diploma. However some (such as me) have an extra subject, and a few people don’t do a full diploma, and instead take individual certificates. Nevertheless, the exam period is a time where pretty much everyone vanishes into their dorms, quiet rooms or carrel units (what we call study rooms; mainly in the castle, and shared by 5-12 people or so). Check-in becomes somewhat extended, with most people struggling up Main Drive with armfuls of books at 10:30 (15 minutes late), ready to continue studying in their dorms or quiet rooms. Likewise, although we stop being woken up by our houseparents, most of the second year still makes it to breakfast.

Most people had pretty spread out exam schedules, with free time to catch up on sleep and energy in between. Somehow, I had all of my exams from 30th April to 14th May, with only a couple of free days in between. Although this meant that I was one of the first to finish, and that I had a lot of free time to sleep, celebrate and sort things out, it also gave me two weeks of hell… I’d be up at seven every day, exam or not, and down to my nest of books and notes in the castle- the Kitchen Tower carrel unit, where I’ve studied since the start of my second year. I’d drop my bag and notes from the night before, and head to the dining hall for breakfast. If I had an exam, it’d be straight on from there- they start at 8:30, with the afternoon session somewhere around noon depending on the length of the morning exam.The exams  are between 45mins and three hours long, depending on the paper and subject. If not, it was back to the carrel unit, with a break for lunch and dinner, and occasional spontaneous pauses to chat to my carrel unit-mates. The Kitchen Tower was a lovely place to work- I was surrounded by people that I love, and helped along by the presence of tea and a kettle, as well as endless quantities of marmite, Nutella, stolen canteen crackers, picked onions (which became quite a craving) and chocolate, which would generally be eaten in mysterious and sometimes highly alarming combinations by the seven of us. However, I also loved the fact that, unlike other carrel units, we were (almost) always able to stop chatting and get on with work- which was important for the weeks prior to the exams, and honestly vital during exam period, particularly as more and more of us came to use the unit regularly!

Following a day of work, I’d walk back up Main Drive at check-in (or after), ready to hopefully sleep a little, and start the whole thing again the next day.

US vs. UK Applicants

This is something that I guess is quite unique to UWCs, or perhaps to international schools in general, which I thought would be interesting to note. There are quite tangible tensions during the IB period between those students with unconditional university offers, or who are going to work, do apprenticeships or national service, and those students with conditional offers, mainly to the UK. For us (UK applicants), every IB paper determines our future- whether we make, or fail to make, our university offers. For them, lie-ins, ultimate Frisbee matches and trips to the pub are considerably more possible. It’s a tension born out of reality, which makes it hard to ignore, and definitely caused some mild strife in carrel units and on the corridors of houses. Nonetheless, excepting this division, we really were all in it together, and the supportive and friendly atmosphere of the college during May was really powerful.

My IB

It’s not easy to talk about how IB exams go: you never really know, to be honest. Although a few exams didn’t go as well as I hoped, there were no major disasters, and nothing utterly unexpected came up in my papers. The real question is whether I did well enough to make my university offer for the UK- I’ll find out on the 6th of July, I guess! All that I know is that I couldn’t have physically or mentally worked any harder- whatever comes is whatever the IB (that omniscient god that we all come to worship and despise here!) thinks that I deserve…

Post-IB AC

Although I had more time than most between the end of my IB and the end of term, it certainly didn’t feel like it! This was for the following reasons:

  • I was incredibly exhausted and sleep deprived, and spent a good couple of days catching that up. With the sudden loss of pressure and routine, my sleep pattern became even more erratic, increasingly so in the lead up to the last days of term.
  • Due to a combination of being very involved in service and activities, and having first year dormmates, I have a lot of close friends in the year below. Therefore, I attempted to spend as much time as possible with them before the end of term, and before my co-years finished, forcing me to prioritise them. Increasingly, there were also second years free from the IB, or left with only language exams, which it’s pretty much pointless to revise for.

End of Term Socialising

The last week of my time as an Atlantic College student was, of course, crammed full of glorious moments with a mixture of old, beloved friends, who I’d known for much of my time at college, and with newer friends, often discovered far too late, and attempts to catch up time with them.

The weather was (luckily) wonderful, so I spent a lot of time in the many gardens and fields on campus, as well cooking and drinking tea in dayrooms, chatting or watching films in empty classrooms, or meeting people in parts of the castle, and down at the seafront.

The end of term is also a time for different activities and service groups to gather and celebrate their time together- I organised and participated in a number of such gatherings, including a surprise meal cooked for MEMS second years by our first years, and a party at the seafront for the acapella choir that I co-lead.

Whether it was with a large group or one other person, in any location, at day or night, these times had a special magic. They were imbued with awareness that these moments were stolen: snatched from that leviathan spectre of ‘The End’, referred to rarely and subtly, which dominated all of our minds.

  • I channelled a decent part of my natural workaholic tendencies from IB revision and preparation into writing yearbooks.

Yearbooks

These are a really big deal here at AC, due to a combination of very high previous standards, and the fact that we live together, and therefore probably have more to write about each other than the average school group. An activity works throughout the year to write and collect content and pictures, including articles and pictures on various themes, as well as an individual slip written by each student, and student-written slips for every teacher. These range from the serious and highly emotional to the humorous and in-joke-filled.

It is a big tradition to sign yearbooks. However, what is meant by signing is much more than a signature- everyone writes their name along the edges of the pages, and leaves it in the dayroom of their house, for others to access. On the blank pages at the back of the book, and on separate sheets placed inside envelopes if necessary, people write heartfelt messages. They do this to all of the individuals which had a major impact upon their life at AC, and discuss their relationship, key events in it, inside jokes, future plans, and suchlike. Yearbook messages are also a great opportunity to tell people things that you’d never dare to tell them otherwise, or that you never got around to saying. Due to the fact that we are scattering across the globe, there is a high chance that you will never see many of your friends again in person, or not for many years.

I therefore did my best to be as honest and meaningful as I could for as many people as I was able to. I ended up typing my messages, both because it was faster, and because I fell out of a rope swing during the last week of term (long story), which put my right hand out of action. Nevertheless, all my attempts at organisation and preparation didn’t prevent me from spending a couple of sleepless nights at the end of term frantically typing, printing, cutting, hunting for yearbooks, and gluing. Albeit highly sleep-deprived, the atmosphere is nonetheless wonderful- there is essentially no check-in during the last few days, and people from all across campus gather in the dayrooms to chat, drink tea and coffee, and struggle through the cathartic yet emotionally draining process of writing their goodbyes in yearbooks, and beginning to say them in person.

Therefore, I didn’t have time to catch up on this blog, my emails, correspondences outside college, or anything else, until after the end of term.

That’s all for now. I’ll discuss the actual end of term, as well as what happened afterwards, and AOC summer, where I am now, in the next few blogs.

Until then,

Lilyinthevalleys

42. CAS Completion

Hi there,

This blog will outline the activities, services, mission focussed periods, summer activities and initiatives that I have been part of during my time at UWC Atlantic College, in order to demonstrate and reflect upon how I have changed and developed during my time here as a consequence of the extra-curricular activities that I have participated in. As well as being for my interest, and for your enjoyment (and hopefully use, if you’re a 0 year or prospective student!), this blog is intended for accreditative purposes, as part of my CAS Programme- Community, Action and Service are an important part of the IB.However, it should also be an interesting read, and provide an overview of the things that I’ve been involved in throughout the past two years (or, at least, as many as I can remember!)

Personal CAS Programme

The below list is in no specific order, and contains both what I’ve been involved with, as well as what I’ve helped to organise or run, which is in bold. It does not contain activities which were part of my IB, or part of college politics, such as study groups, the student council, and conflicts within the college community. Most of these events and initiatives will have been discussed on the blog; if you’re curious, use the search function to find more detail.

Activities

Piano Lessons ~ Voice Lessons ~ Clarinet Group ~Folk Band ~AC Apella Choir ~Atlantic College Choir ~Ukelele Activity ~ Ecoschools/10:10/EcoReps/Sustainability Council ~Newsflash ~Amnesty International ~American Contemporary Politics Mission Focussed Class ~Powys Tea Drinking ~Boat Handling ~Doctor Who Club ~German Film Club ~Ceramics ~Atlantic College Acromantulas Quidditch Team

Service

Marine Environmental Monitoring Service ~Language-Related Support

Mission Focussed Periods

Geography of Thought (September 2010) ~ Gender and Sexuality Conference (January 2010) ~Model United Nations (January 2011) ~Interfaith Conference (April 2011) ~Service Period (April 2011) ~August Period Service Period (August 2011) ~ Human Interaction Mission Initiative (September 2011) ~Sustainability Conference (November 2011) ~Peace and Democracy Conference (January 2012) ~Arts Mission Focussed Period (March 2012)

Mission-Related Summer Work

Summer 2011: Travels in Germany- improving my Group 2 Language and doing volunteer work ~ Summer 2012: AOC Summer

Initiatives

Amnesty International Headshaving 2010 ~MSF Fast ~British National Night 2010&2011 ~ ‘AC’s Got Talent’ Concert ~ ‘AC Vibes’ Concert ~ ‘Endnotes’ Open Mic ~ Church Concerts ~Folk Sessions ~ Friday Lectures ~ Shared Planet 2010&2011 ~ Anti-Fracking Protest ~ Language B Day 2011&2012~Middle East Project ~ Amnesty International Street Theatre ~World Water Day 2011&2012 ~International Show 2011&2012 ~MEMS Focus Week 2011&2012 ~Powys Braces  ~First & Second Year Shows ~Macbeth Trip ~La Traviata Trip ~Group Six Project 2011 ~Harry Potter Focus Week 2012 ~Age of Stupid Screening  ~Storytelling Night ~Attendance at every Focus Week and National Night

Reflections

Now, I need to write some ‘reflections’ about the impact that these have had upon a number of fields. Writing about every activity/conference/initiative is clearly impossible, so I’ll pick one representative example for each field. More information can be found about each of these examples simply by searching this blog.

Accepting challenge

The best example for this section is the work that I have attempted to do to improve English language support for non-native English speakers at college, particularly those who arrive here with very little English. The structure which existed before our new system was small in scale, and gave students no opportunity to learn how to support their peers properly. The new system includes two representatives for language-related issues per house, regular initiatives such as Language B Day and a project to simplify the Codes of Conduct for the college, and a clinic which meets for two hours every week to provide a select group of students with one-to-one language support and tutorials. All of these initiatives are planned to continue, and hopefully also to expand, in future years.

It is therefore clear that I faced a considerable challenge when approaching the problem of language support at the college. Although there was general goodwill to improve the system, there was not a great deal in place, and the constant problems of both staff and students being incredibly overstretched in terms of time and resources, as well as apathy and inertia, made the project quite a challenge for me.

I have learnt a huge amount from attempting to conquer this lack of co-ordinated and coherent support in the college- both in terms of general skills of leadership, organisation and perseverance, and specifically in terms of providing good support to people lacking either vocabulary, grammar or  fluency in their spoken or written English. It has taught me that I can rise to such a challenge, build a system that I am proud of, and pass it on to others once the times comes to leave it. I’m particularly happy that I managed to actually enjoy the problems and setbacks which I faced!

Awareness of strengths and areas for growth

A major part of how to enjoy and be successful at AC is to discover what spheres you are interested in, and use the community and resources that we have here to turn weak areas of this interest into strong ones. One example of how I have become aware of an area requiring concerted effort, and attempted to transform it into a strength, is music. I have enjoyed playing a number of instruments for many years. However, prior to attending Atlantic College, I rarely performed, generally only as part of large orchestras or concert bands. This meant that I completely lacked confidence and style as a performer, whether solo or in small groups, and was therefore unable to really enjoy myself on stage.

I therefore did my utmost to embed myself into the ‘music scene’ here. I recognised how vibrant, exciting and diverse it is from the moment that I carried a Danish co-year’s bag up from the bus in August 2010, and learnt from him that it contained  a number of percussion instruments from across Africa! My dive into the world of musical performance began by auditioning for both the acapella and larger school choirs, continued further by becoming heavily involved in the small folk bands and groups, became ever deeper as I sung solo and in a duo at a number of school concerts and shows, and matured to a comfortable depth as I came to co-lead ACApella and run two folk sessions during my second year.

Throughout this period, I have noticed a gradual loss of nerves or concern for public performance, which has extended to other aspects of my life, such as public speaking and theatrical performance. The process of preparing performances with groups has taught me a lot about the different ways people learn music, prompting me to discover further areas requiring effort, such as my inability to play by ear and to improvise. It is clear that AC and the musical activities that I have enjoyed here have strengthened both my love of music and my ability to play and to perform. But what excites me more is that it has also shown me a myriad of further skills, styles and instruments which look forward to developing in the future.

Cooperation and collaboration with others

Although it is perhaps a cliché to discuss team sports in this section, I believe that what I have learnt from my time as Ref of the Atlantic College Acromantulas Quidditch Team extends beyond the simple camaraderie of tossing a ball about.

The college Quidditch team was founded by a dear friend of mine, who shares with me a love of alternative and quirky media and culture, which is probably best described as nerdy. The majority of the rest of the team share this personality trait, which is unsurprising, given the origin of the game! We relish the fact that Quidditch has over 700 rules, and love finding explanations for them, in and out of the Potter canon. However, this does not make us particularly proficient players.

In contrast, other members of the team are fast, strong and able to tackle excellently. They have backgrounds in sport, particularly the team sports from which Muggle Quidditch is derived; rugby, dodgeball and basketball. Some have never read the books; others care little about the minutiae of rules and positions.

It is clear that this could provide a considerable problem, both to the Captain in terms of ensuring the unity of the team, and to myself as Ref, in terms of ensuring that every member of the group is challenged to their limit, and feels that they can have a legitimate impact upon the game.

These potential disasters were successfully averted due to a combination of the general good humour and spirits of the entire team, and by figuring out positions and tactics which reflected both the physical skill of some players, and the intelligent attention to the rules of others! This led to a team which was excellent at cooperating and working together, for mutual benefit, through training exercises and in both mock and real matches. I only wish that the rest of the college had ‘cooperated’, by coming to practices and boosting team numbers!

Developed new skills

I discovered during my application to MEMS that I wasn’t able to dive. As I said in my blog at the time, “This was pretty hard to find out”. However, it is only a small part of MEMS, and gave me opportunity to learn a different new skill- how to handle power boats! Although I have some sailing experience, I’d never used a motor boat prior to learning through the college. After some persistent badgering, I was able to organise the opportunity to learn this skill. This was done through a combination of learning from the diving instructors during our service trips, and by going out with the Inshore Life Boat service. I gained the skills necessary to provide boat cover for divers, finishing at the end of the week by rescuing the instructors, as they were carried out by a current a little way! I also gained the RYA Power Boat II qualification, which could well be useful in the future.

This was a classic example of the value in turning bad circumstances into opportunities- I have developed an exciting new skill, which I’m sure will serve me well in the future!

Engaged with issues of global importance

I remember reading an Edmund Burke quote once, which said (to paraphrase) that without truly understanding our local communities, we are nothing but ‘ghostly cosmopolitans’, unable to know or engage with anything. Atlantic College is such an international community that what is ‘local’ is also essentially what is ‘global’. One example of this is that I distinctly remember my first reaction last year, when I walked into the Breakfast Room and saw news of the tsunami in Japan on the television. Instead of considering the larger picture of chaos, destruction, and huge loss of life, I turned and asked the Japanese girl standing beside me whether her family was okay.

It is therefore clear that when one lives in a microcosm of the world, Burke’s statement becomes blurred. I have found this to be true to an even greater extent regarding environmental issues at AC: although we make small, local-based actions, they are constantly considered as parts of the global picture. Through my involvement in the 10:10/EcoRep group at the college, I have become involved in everything from improving recycling facilities to discussions on the proposed ‘Sustainability Charter’, which would assess every aspect and level of policy making at the college in terms of sustainability.

I have come to understand more fully the oft-repeated mantra that small changes have a big impact- teaching someone to recycle properly here at college may well mean that they return to their home country and teach others similar skills. Extrapolating from this, and in clear danger of over exaggerating the importance of what we do, it is clear that education itself is an issue of global importance: every time that we are taught or that we teach here at AC is of global importance in a tiny way, simply because we are part of the world, and are sharing our knowledge about it.

Considered ethical implications of their own actions

The clearest and simplest examples are sometimes the best. Although my head shaving occurred a year and a half ago now, this action to raise money for Amnesty International is the most visible manifestation of the way in which I have found that AC offers students the opportunity to commit actions with profoundly important ethical consequences. In very few places would one have the emotional and social support, as well as the practical structures, to do such a bizarre thing!

The ethical implications of head shaving for charity seem quite clearly positive: the money goes to a good cause. However, there were some at the college who questioned Amnesty’s operations, whether in terms of how the organisation is managed, or regarding the issue of whether human rights are a useful concept, from either practical or ethical relativist perspectives. There were others who questioned whether my action was efficient: was there really any point in cutting my hair off- couldn’t I raise just as much a different way? What about the moral aspects of raising money from friends and family, instead of by confronting those responsible for human rights atrocities? I greatly enjoyed these conversations/confrontations, which allowed me to see the issue in a more complex light, and to make an informed decision that I am proud of, based upon weighing up my now-conflicted perspective. It is wonderful to be able to think back on a decision with absolute clarity of conscience and with contentment. For this, I must thank those who helped me to consider all of the implications of my action.

Initiative and planning

As the co-leader of AC Apella, the college acapella choir, I enjoyed the opportunity to practice initiative and planning skills, to ensure that the activity ran smoothly and was enjoyable for our 10 other members. As well as the simple bureaucratic skills of organising and arranging music for the group, I ran the weekly rehearsals with my friend Andy, and learnt useful skills for stopping to group from getting flat, in both senses of the word! Indeed, we got on so well that the main problem was realising when we’d fallen into conversation, and ought to get back to the scores! I also further developed my organisational and initiative skills by giving tutorials to a member of the group who struggled with some aspects of technique and sight reading. It seems to me that running an activity is a wonderful way to keep these skills developing and improving.

Perseverance and commitment

What was likely the most challenging aspect of my CAS programme was my service, MEMS. Upon joining the service in September 2010, I quickly realised that there was little focus, structure or plan to the service- often the first years would arrive at sessions to find that our second years had no idea what to do, or what projects to attend to. Many of the second years drifted away from the service within months of our arrival, taking with them useful pieces of knowledge and information about how projects should be run.

With my co-years and a few of my second years, as well as the ‘constant revolution’ of Paul Dowling, our service manager, we managed to create some momentum and purpose to our sessions, though we were still woefully lacking clear structure. It was only after the service was fully passed on to my year group that we managed to build an outline as to what should be achieved by every MEMS student during their two years. We also started to create clearer, more methodical methods of documentation, so that projects and initiatives could be continued or reused by future years, instead of starting afresh annually. This was done predominantly through the leadership team of myself, dubbed the ‘Bad Cop’, my co-leader, the ‘Good Cop’, and our ‘Chinese Communist Party-style secretary’.

Throughout hours of discussions over dinner and meetings during service time and hundreds of emails, and despite the constant temptation to give up on the whole project, to be lazy and skip a few service sessions, we managed to create both a structure and a system which we could be proud of. This was developed, improved and test-run by the arrival of our wonderful first year MEMS group, who cheerfully picked up the baton, bringing a joyous creativity and sense of fun to our sessions and constant email dialogues.

The new system of four faculties will doubtless change the shape of the Marine Environmental Monitoring Service; as well as being renamed, it will be restructured, and integrated into one service, formed of all of the environmental initiatives in the college. I hope that the skills of dedication and hard work to the cause of marine conservation which my service taught me will still be available to future generations to learn, in whatever form MEMS becomes!

Conclusion

There we are: I have reflected!

The small, scared, shy girl smiling from the passport photo that I took just before coming to Atlantic College has been forged into a challenge-loving, improvement-driven, cooperative, skill-learning, global, ethical-implication-aware, enterprising, organised, committed young woman.

Or not.

What I’ve really learnt from my two years of the UWC Atlantic College CAS programme is that you can always improve.

You are always a little bit scared of the next challenge.

You can always grow a little bit more.

You never lead, facilitate, work with or learn from a group quite as well as you could.

You never have all of the skills that you want out of life.

You can never have both a truly international mindset, and a developed understanding of your roots and background.

You can never know the full implications of your actions, no matter how aware you are.

You can never take the initiative quite quick enough, or be as organised as you might like.

You can never be 100% committed to every project you are involved in.

 

Reading the 2011-2012 yearbook, I see over and over again the concept that our two years at Atlantic College are the best time of our lives.

I completely disagree. If that were the case, this school is a failure. The college lifestyle and experience has certainly improved me in every aspect of the CAS form, in more ways than it is possible to express with finite time, hard drive space and web hosting bytes. More importantly, it has given me the passion to live and experience more, and the tools with which to start seeking both.

All the very best,

Lilyinthevalleys

41. The IB.

Hi there,

This is a short blog.

I am in a long, dark tunnel, with just over two weeks before the light arrives. It’s time to put my head down and keep working, to stop looking around me, chatting to my dear friends and admiring the medieval stonework. The light isn’t far away, but right now I wish it was further- there’s so little time and so much to memorise and practice before I can forget it all (for a while).

Such is life. I’m glad that I stayed in the sun for so long. But now is the time for ink-stained fingers which won’t wash clean, for repetitive strain injury, and for sleep to become an even more distant mirage than it’s been for the past two years. Now is the time for my carrel unit to become my home, and for my study-mates to be the only people I see every day. Now is the time for the only music I listen to be Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and Copland’s El Salon Mexico (my Music Set Works), and my light reading to turn into stacks of verb tables and flash cards.

It’s not fun, but I’m content in the fact that now is the time for everyone to work- I’m not missing out on initiatives and activities by working.

I’m happy and wonderfully looked after, don’t worry. But it will be a while before those long-promised blogs arrive, and for that, I apologise.

Until then,

Lilyinthevalleys

40. Food at Atlantic College

Hello there,

Here is a long-promised blog about the dietary delights of Atlantic College! I’ve divided it up into sections by meal. They’ll hopefully contain pictures, depending on your browser. If you can’t access them, they’re also on my Flickr, along with much more (http://www.flickr.com/groups/lilyinthevalleys/).

Just a note before I start: this blog is neither a report nor a review of the AC canteen. It’s entirely subjective, and filled with admiration. I don’t have an up-to-date figure of how much money the kitchen staff have to feed us on per person per day, but it’s less than buying a sandwich in central London. The range and diversity of food they make, suitable for every dietary need from halal to celiac, is amazing.

However, the food does get dull and frustrating, particularly if you come from a family which is obsessed with good food, such as mine! So this blog will get a little angsty and cynical. The Sustainability Council and MEMS, both of which I’m involved with, have been working with the kitchen on more sustainable options, including reducing/redistributing the proportion of meat during the week (a massive college-wide debate, which I won’t get into here), introducing more sustainably caught/farmed fish options and reducing the amount of tuna available (Bluefin will be extinct by the end of the year), amongst other things. The staff are as keen as the student body on improving canteen food, which has led to them requesting student recipes, and introducing them to the menu. They’ve been really popular, both because they provide variation to the menu, and because they’re generally interesting vegetarian recipes, which makes everyone happy (meat eater or not, a good vegetarian dish is a good meal!).

Breakfast

I go to breakfast every weekday morning, along with about half of the school. As with every meal, the menu is on a two or three week rotation, with some variations- the kitchen staff try to do something nice for holidays and for school events. There’s always a range of cereals, porridge, and toast (cold, burnt). I tend to go for porridge, and put in a load of muesli or bran flakes, to make it a bit thicker.

Then there’s a hot plated meal- something like scrambled eggs (which I assume are powdered), an English Muffin, a croissant (which sounds great, but they’re cold and hard). The highlight of the week is the chocolate croissants- they’re so popular that the kitchen staff are very mysterious about which day that they’re on, so that more people come to breakfast, in the hope of getting them!

After selecting our food, we sit in the dining hall. This picture’s from the very end of dinner, it’s normally very full at mealtimes. As you can see in the picture, there are lots of long wooden tables. There’s always a horrible split-second as you walk out of the canteen, where you have to decide where to sit- which group of friends will feel like talking, and which will be sleepily gazing at the jam? The tables are tightly crammed together so that there are enough for everybody, and it’s important to factor the difficulty of getting in to the chairs set back from the main aisle. However, the moment passes, you make your decision, and join a table. The problem is, did you join the right one? Every now and then, I sit down and realise that I’m surrounded by people speaking a different language, planning an event or initiative, or (the worst of all) discussing university applications or acceptances. You have to make the call as to whether you involve yourself in the conversation, make your excuses and leave for a different table, or eat quickly and go. A conundrum…

Break

After our first three codes (classes), we have twenty minutes of break. The only things I seem to get done are to switch over my folders for the next three classes, and to get tea from the coffee machines- I tend to bring my own teabag and get hot water, as their tea…isn’t tea. It’s nice to have a little time to stand and talk with people- unlike meals, we mingle and talk to lots of different people, clutching our blue (canteen-issue) mugs of tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

When I started AC, I had a normal-sized mug, but stress, busyness and lack of sleep gradually increased my required caffeine intake, to a massive yellow mug (which may or may not really be a vase…), twice or three times a day… I’m working on cutting back! So, I tend to fill up at breakfast, break and dinner, and make tea with the kettle in my carrel unit or my house in the evenings. Suffice to say, tea is a big part of my life…

Lunch

Lunch is a hot meal at AC; we have sandwiches once a week, but it’s normally a choice of three dishes, one or two of which are vegetarian. There’s a lot of potato, rice and pasta involved.  If you don’t like/feel like the hot food, there’s a cold cabinet at the back of the canteen, containing cheese, egg, fish, and humus. Hummus and crackers comprises about 2/3 of my meals at AC, combined with salad, tea and lots of Branston pickle (which serves to make meals taste like they’re not hummus and crackers…)

Dinner/Tea/Supper

This is another hot meal, and often also consists of hummus and crackers. I sometimes opt for cheese instead of humus (a diverse protein intake, I know…), and then decide whether I want to melt it over my potato/rice/pasta/crackers, which will get me a scolding from the kitchen ladies (“HealthnSafety, luv!”), or to eat it cold with crackers. Either way, it’s pretty much the same as Lunch, except for the constant debate as to what it’s called… As well as being a North/South British thing, the Americans seem to be confused about it too, which leads everyone to call it something along the lines of “dinnerteasupperohhgoshletscalliteveningmealandbedonewithit!”

When we get bored of canteen food, groups of people often cook together in the houses- generally something involving pasta, sauce, eggs and suchlike.

Sometimes, we make cake. This one was made for me by a couple of my wonderful first year friends, for my birthday!

Evening

 

Every house receives ‘House Supplies’, to feed hungry people during the evening. They consist of:

  • A few loaves of sliced white bread (well, technically one is brown, but I don’t believe it), which get toasted and slathered with Nutella or Jam, or burnt and set off the fire alarm
  • A pint of milk, which is generally eaten by whoever remembers to collect the house supplies
  • Butter, which is slathered on the aforementioned bread following the toasting but generally before the Nutella and Jam

Weekends

Less people go to meals at the weekends than during the week, because they’re either off campus, and get food there, because they’re organised enough to cook, or because they’ve slept/studied through meals. I go to about half of the meals at the weekend, and generally make up for it by making bread every Saturday with one of my closest friends, Rosario from Chile. Our bread is a constantly evolving wonder: sometimes white, sometimes brown, often not quite risen enough, because we have to run to another house to find a houseparent with an oven. We fill it with chocolate, cheese, pasta sauce or eat it plain with butter. We tend to make about a kilo, which makes us hideously full for the whole of Saturday, as well as being shared with whoever we encounter on our walk from the oven to the dorm. It’s wonderful to have something fresh, delicious and different, and the couple of hours that we spend over it, talking and playing music, are one of the highlights of my week.

Brunch

I’ve never understood why, but the word brunch has a somewhat sacred quality about it here at AC. This meal is served from 10:30 until 1 on Sundays, and consists of a mixed buffet of cooked breakfast and bread and cheese. The kitchen staff (benevolent yet militant) make sure that you take your “six pieces, luv”, plus cereal and toast if you’re hungry. Despite the choice, and the excitement of the first meal of the day occurring when I’m actually conscious, unlike normal breakfasts, I always seem to get the same thing: three rolls and two pieces of cheese, plus a hardboiled egg. It’s a bad day when they’ve run out of eggs, I must say.

As I said at the start, canteen food at AC isn’t the most inspiring or delicious, but it gets you by. It has its idiosyncrasies (pineapple in red pepper and carrot salad?!), but by the denouement of four terms, I’ve worked out what I like and how I want to eat it, and, despite the muted resignation I sometimes feel as I trudge down to the castle for tea, I do love parts of the food we get here…

There we are: the AC cuisine explained. As always, if you have any questions/comments/feedback, do not hesitate- I really enjoy reading it!

Lily

39. Peace and Democracy Conference

Peace and Democracy Conference

This mission focussed period happened on Thursday 26th January and Friday 27th January. Although it was shorter than last years’, I enjoyed it just as much, and got a lot out of both the visiting speakers, and the student-led workshops that I attended. Here’s a brief overview of some of the major events for me:

The opening speaker was Jan Egeland, who, as well as being the father of a current student, is the deputy executive director of Human Rights Watch Europe, and was a previous UN Undersecretary General for Human Rights. He gave a fascinating lecture about the history of conflict resolution, which was made particularly interesting by his personal involvement in many of the issues he discussed, from drug wars in Columbia to the Oslo Accords (which I found fascinating given that I study Middle Eastern History!) He discussed global social and demographic changes in the last century, and drew up a list of crucial factors in conflict resolution, based around conflicts which he mediated, hosted or facilitated. I really enjoyed both his speech and also the Q&A afterwards, which allowed me to ask a  few questions about conflicts that I have studied, as well as to listen to the questions of my peers.

The first lecture on Friday was by Eric Kaufmann, a Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, Uni of London. The aspects which I found most interesting were his discussion of the problems of creating democracy in non-homogenous states, and whether democracy is in fact the best way to achieve representation of the people, due to voting occurring on entirely ethic/religious lines. He presented some interesting research to prove that people who feel politically represented do not commit violence, which I’ve believed without basis for a while. I enjoyed hearing somebody discuss these issues, as it’s something that I’ve struggled with, particularly in relation to studying Middle Eastern states and also the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kaufmann’s discussion of the concept of mixing federalism and consociationalism, which has been attempted in Bosnia, and which is being considered for Iraq, was intriguing and inspiring for me. Perhaps such a concept would be beneficial in modern Lebanon, though I guess the scar of its failure in the past probably still shows…

Throughout the conference, there was an on-going discussion (as ever at AC) about the role and importance of the UN in conflict resolution, and international politics in general. Egeland was of course very pro-UN, given that he was a senior member of its bureaucracy, whereas Kaufmann criticised the fact that, as he put it, 95% of the world’s countries have more than one ethnic group, and 6000 languages are spoken globally, yet the UN is open only to internationally recognised states. By not recognising minority groups (such as the Kurds, Quebecois, Scots), the UN positively increases tensions in states where there is a significant minority population. It is also limited by only being able to work through states. I found this argument interesting, and, although I don’t entirely agree with it- the UN must place some limits on the number of members, even if purely for the sake of maintaining some speed in its’ cumbersome bureaucracy. Nevertheless, it was a good argument and well expressed.

Another lecture was given by Srdja Popovic, the Executive Director of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). For me, this lecture was really an example of how to present information in an entertaining, creative and inspiring manner: although much of what Popovic said was not new to me, the mixture of energetic, enthusiastic explanation and powerful use of statistics formed a compelling argument which I really enjoyed hearing. Popovic is an MP in Serbia and was one of the leaders of the Serbian non-violent movement, so could speak with great authority and experience about the key methods and ideas used. The statistic that 4% of violent campaigns, and 41% of non-violent campaigns are democratic 5 years after the conflict ends, will stay with me. Popovic also devoted much of his talk to highlight the importance of getting the people of the state to choose to act- they know what is best for them, and value their livelihoods enough that they will not inflict unnecessary damage. Overall, I really enjoyed the talk, and left it feeling very optimistic about the potential future of non-violent action worldwide.

The penultimate lecture of what became a very long day was given by one of the students in the year below me, Sarunas Genys. He comes from Lithuania, and gave a talk about civil disobedience in Europe, particularly the Baltic States. I really enjoyed getting a brief overview of the recent history of Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as mentions of the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Poland. The non-violent protest used by these states, such as the Solidarity movement in Poland and the Czech Velvet Revolution, was really inspiring to me, particularly the Estonian ‘Singing Revolution’, which involved mass demonstrations of spontaneous singing, particularly songs forbidden by the Soviet Union. The people’s bravery and unity was really inspiring, for example in the ‘Baltic Way’ protest, where people from Estonia to Lithuania (through Latvia) held hands in solidarity against the USSR at a set time. The power of a critical mass of united civilians is really astounding: all three states won independence, and despite later problems in Lithuania, were able to become stable independent states. It’s always nice to hear a success story!

Our final lecture was from a Professor of International Law at Middlesex Uni, William Schabas. He talked about Truth Commissions and International Courts. I found the talk interesting from an academic perspective, but frustrating in that these international bodies are able to do so little, and are constantly confronted with impossible expectations from both sides. Schabas gave his talk with rather minimal structure or direction, so, although I enjoyed what he was saying, I left the lecture with no conclusions in mind.

Following the lectures, we were free for the afternoon, and then invited to attend an ‘Occupation’ (in the spirit of non-violent protest) of the Glass Room (a room in the Arts Centre). This was, in a sense, a highlight of the conference for me- a group of us gathered for the evening, to sing, talk and share. We started off with an Open Space, which I used to put together a 5-minute musical based around the theme of Peace and Democracy. About ten people showed up, and we put together a fun little story about emancipation from slavery through non-violent protest, in the style of the Estonian ‘Singing Revolution’ that some of us had heard about that day. Following the Open Space, we moved into an Open Mic session, where I enjoyed listening to protest songs from around the world, and where I played and sang a few folk tunes, alone and with Maisie, a good friend who I do a lot of folk with. The atmosphere was lovely- very peaceful and welcoming- and it was great to see people that I’d never seen perform before pull out unlikely songs or instruments, and amaze me! I always love how talented the AC student and staff body is, and I really appreciated such a lovely end to a fascinating conference.

Talk soon,

Lilyinthevalleys