The United World College, also known as UWC, is a global education movement that makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. Tenby SEP has had its fair share of students being accepted into UWC, pretty much on a yearly basis, being sent all over the world from the Netherlands to Norway. My name is Preethika Ruth, I’ve just graduated Year 11 and I am grateful to be able to continue the UWC Tenby tradition and share my experience with you.
I write this article with the hope that you too may be inspired to apply for this opportunity of a lifetime.
First, to outline the application process. When it comes to UWC, you don’t apply to the individual college directly but rather your National Committee (NC), so in my case this was the Malaysian NC. I had never heard of UWC before another guy from my year told me about his application, which pushed me to further probe the college.
After researching, I discovered how prestigious the college was and in what high regards it was held in. One normally applies to your NC for a scholarship, all of which are awarded based on the individual’s financial need so everyone has an equal chance of being part of this experience.
The application forms were released on the UWC Malaysian NC’s website around November, and as I read the rest of their page and blog posts, I found a couple familiar faces from the 2016 batch, one of them a friend I had made a few years ago, Jacqueline. She has been instrumental to my application process and I would not be where I am without her. I got in contact with Jacqueline immediately to get more information about her application and to ask for some tips with mine.
The forms were due in by the 20th of January, so by the start of January I was frantically pushing to get all my forms and documents in order. The application form itself was very lengthy and thorough, consisting of 19 pages, not including the many documents they required to support your application.
At the end of the day I managed to send it out, but my nerves started to get the better of me when I found out other students from my year had too had learnt about UWC and were looking at applying, and mind you, these other students were the top-of-the-class, all-rounded students. So naturally, I was afraid that what I had to offer would not match my peers’ all-rounded nature.
On the 13th of February, I was cooking my lunch when I got a call from my friend, asking if I had gotten the email. I was confused at first, but when I realised what email she was talking about, I frantically reached for my laptop and opened my email, crossing my fingers it would be good news. To my delight, the attachment on the email had the details of the time and location of my first interview. I was over the moon, but I knew this was just the first step of a very long and tough road.
Once I confirmed my availability for the interview, the feelings of excitement slowly seeped away as I had just under two weeks and much preparation to do. Jacqueline suggested I go online and search for common interview questions, on top of a few she had given that are commonly asked to UWC candidates. I immediately did as she advised, creating a Google Doc with the mission statement (which I was told is always asked in the interview), common interview questions and the key points of my answer so I wouldn’t be caught off guard during the interview. My aunt, who helps people with interview preparation,
gave me a list of questions which covered areas I hadn’t looked at yet, which was good because it gave me a more holistic approach to my preparation. A key tip she gave me was this: you need to tell yourself you’re the best and most deserving candidate walking into the room. This may sound arrogant, but when you think about it, when you feel like you deserve it, all your answers fall into place because you go into the interview with the mindset that you deserve what you’re fighting for.
After two weeks of thorough preparation the day of the interview arrived. At the venue, I was given a form to fill up with my particulars as well as to tick boxes of issues plaguing the world that interested me. I started to get slightly nervous, but I recalled something I had learnt from reading articles online: you can tell when a person is nervous almost immediately from the way they speak. So I made it a point to make sure I was at my most confident point walking into the interview room, because when you are confident and passionate when you talk about what you do, it creates a great impression on the interviewers.
In the interview room, I was greeted by 6 interviewers around an oval-shaped table, with me their prey at the head of the table. They started off with a disclaimer of confidentiality, stating whatever was said in the room stayed in the room. The first question asked was what was the mission statement. To my delight I had this down, so I answered it with confidence and ease. Then they asked me about the founder and founding year of UWC, to which I replied Kurt Hahn and 1960. Half of my answer was correct, as it was 1962 not 1960. This next question caught me off guard: What does the UWC mission statement mean to you? I had been so focused on memorising the mission statement, I failed to understand it. This taught me a great lesson that I’ve kept with me till today, never accept anything until you understand it.
That question threw me off but I managed to get back on track. There were many other questions, but I’ll highlight the main ones that they probed me on. They delved rather deep into my community service at the Positive Living Community which is a home for HIV patients and recovering drug addicts. They asked me questions like how I felt I was making an impact, how I would carry on making an impact once I left etc. and this went on for about 20 minutes. They also asked me about my experiences with leadership, specifically in the Student Council, to which I was able to reply confidently because I had prepared for this question.They flipped through my application and asked about possible career choices, a tough one for me because I was undecided, but I managed to answer it as honestly as possible. Other questions came at me, with the interview lasting about 45 minutes. When it was over, I walked out feeling like a burden had been lifted off my shoulder, knowing I had answered them to the best of my abilities.
About a week later, I received a notification with an email from the NC. Before I opened it, I tried to prepare myself for the worst case scenario because I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was overjoyed to see I had been accepted for the final round of interviews, which was to be a group interview. All I could do for this one was keep up to date with the news as it was going to be a day of in depth discussions.
The dress code was casual, and I’m not the most outgoing person, so I decided to wear my Star Labs sweatshirt as a conversation starter (and it worked really well!). The candidates were nothing like I expected. I came in expecting people to be very competitive, but it turned out everyone was super friendly. We started the day with a couple of icebreakers and some wicked dancing, followed by some heated discussions on world issues. It was then that I appreciated my MUN experience more than ever.
We discussed issues such as the US presidential election and Trump (they even tried to show us how we were more like Trump than we think, relating it to the migrant problem in Malaysia), the question of whether vernacular schools should be removed, whether international schools should exist or whether it just creates a barrier, whether Ben Affleck deserved his oscar and other current issues at that time.
We were also in for a treat with a delicious buffet for lunch, which fueled both our brains and tummies. We had other activities and brain teasers sandwiched in between the discussion so we wouldn’t burn out from the heavy discussions. The whole thing started at around 8.45am and finished at 4.30pm. Overall, it was a great day, filled with intense discussions, fun activities and friendships forged. We were told we would hear from the NC within a week (yet more waiting!!).
The following Monday, while I was sitting in tutor time, my phone buzzed. I opened my email and it read: We are pleased to inform you that we are able to offer you a partial scholarship at UWC Thailand for the 2017-2019 intake. I was elated. Over the moon. All the months of preparation had finally paid off. It was slightly bittersweet as I was expecting a European country, but after researching the campus and seeing its extensive facilities, I couldn’t be happier. A plus point was that it was near home so I could come back often! They stated in the email that this was merely a nomination, and while the NC has never had a college reject their nomination, it was a possibility.
On the 10th of April, about 3 weeks after I received the nomination email from my NC, I finally got an email from UWC Thailand. I had sealed the deal, and it was confirmed that I’d be heading off to Phuket on the 7th of August.
While this is a bittersweet moment for me as I leave my home for the first time, I am definitely looking forward to this new chapter ahead and for all the adventures that lie within it!
Also to the next batch of Year 11s, feel free to hit me up if you want any tips on applying!