段必安 中國UWC 畢業年度2023
Brian Duan 在中國常熟的歷程回顧：
I am Brian Duan, a Foundation Programme student at United World College Changshu China.
Hsi Chinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, has described the atypical year of 2020 with the following sentence: “The world today is marked by changes unseen in a century” (「當今世界正面臨著百年未有之大變局」). Indeed, amidst the pandemic and other global challenges, the world has been reshaped through unprecedented political, social, and economic changes. With the uncertainties and risks ahead, it is on this occasion that I embark on my UWC journey in Changshu and beyond.
Mao Tse Tung, former leader of Communist China, equated the foundation of modern society to constant transformations and contradictions in his book ‘Mao Tun Lun’ (矛盾論). He believes that everything in the material world exists based on opposing contradiction, and that transformation is achieved by the unity of contradictions. These two concepts– transformation and contradiction – are perhaps the most accurate descriptions of my days in UWC. They, in reality, represent some hidden aspects of UWC often shelled under promotional posters and videos. Nevertheless, they are the core keys that make UWC education peculiar yet invaluable.
Throughout my four months in UWC Changshu China, I have experienced some striking contradictions between the traditional school and UWC, between expectation and reality, and between idealism and pragmatism – as I will discuss below:
1. Contradictions Between the Traditional School and UWC:
This form of contradiction is the most prominent during the adaptive period in UWC. It is manifested in two aspects: curriculum and environment.
On contrary to the traditional education that looks for the definite answer, the International Baccalaureate is an explorative process where student problem-solves and thinks. In the Foundation Programme, a core subject – critical thinking – exemplifies the role of thinking in the IB curriculum. In the class, we were encouraged to explore on a problem of our choice. This came with researching and drafting where we formulated arguments and sought evidence for them. Subsequently, the teacher guided us to examine our arguments – by looking for logical fallacies and searching for a counterargument. This form of learning also applies to almost all disciplines. Compared to traditional education, is this kind of learning harder? Perhaps yes. In the IB system, students have to gain, learn, and think about their knowledge. However, after adapting to the contradictions between the learning style in the traditional system and that in UWC, the transformation is also striking. I learn to be vigorous, holistic, and independent in my learning and thinking. I learn to perceive knowledge in various lens and to accept different perceptions. Most importantly, I do not merely memorise content but to also explore the world beyond the classroom.
Another contradiction revolves around the environment and its atmosphere. UWC is a relatively free and liberal school. Students are endowed with different rights and freedom almost paralleled to university and college. Students’ electronic devices are not collected, and they are entrusted to use the device responsibly. When students are absent from classes, the teachers do not order the students to come but to simply mark them “absent”. The school does not supervise over extracurricular time, and students can design their schedules. Compared to traditional schools, this represents tremendous freedom and may be hard to adapt to. However, through such freedom, I have the chance to arrange my time and extend my learning outside the classroom – by socialising and participating in different activities. Although not perfect, I have also learnt to balance three aspects of my time – social, academic, and sleep. Also, I know the importance of self-discipline as I am the only one who can manage and “supervise” my time. These qualities and skills are one of the more valuable take-aways from UWC behind academic learning.
UWC is very different from the typical form of school. Acclimatising to UWC might be difficult, but one could transform into a more mature, disciplined, and independent individual after this journey.
2. Contradictions Between the Expectation and Reality:
The year 2020 is unusual. The latter part of the name “United World College” – “World” – seems to be absent as foreign students are not able to come to the campus. Thus, disappointment was the main word that represented my earlier journey at UWC.
In this year, many have questioned the value and practicality of the UWC mission – making education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and sustainable future – and the extent to which it is realised in UWC school. The school waves the banner of diversity, yet the population remains relatively homogeneous. The school aims to unite the world, but the Changshu China campus only mirrors a part of the world – China. These differences between what I expected from UWC and what it is have been poignant at first.
Kurt Hahn, the founder of UWC, once said: “Disability is an opportunity”. When expectation contradicts with reality, we can not only adapt to reality but to also see opportunity. For instance, the lack of national diversity this year has increased the chances of dialogue between the Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese students. It has also enabled us to find the subtle form of diversity beyond that of culture and nationality, predominantly how each of us is unique in our thinking and personal qualities. In the end, it is up to us to decide how to make the most out of our UWC experiences, disregarding the obstacles along the way.
It is might be a cliché to say that adapting to the differences between expectations and reality is a part of the UWC education. However, it simply is a fundamental part of the UWC journey that every student has to undergo. Do not misunderstand: UWC is a very good and unique experience, but it is certainly not a utopia.
3. Contradictions Between Thoughts and Ideas:
In the opening speech of the school year, Mr Jiapeng Wang, Chairman of UWC
Changshu China, recognised that national diversity may not exist this year. However, he pointed out that subtle diversity between our background, thoughts, and ideas remain. Indeed, the absence of foreign students provide us with a chance to discover the subtle diversity amongst us – one that exists beyond our nationality.
As an organiser of the bi-weekly Global Issues Forum – a platform where members of the community discuss global issues, I have sought values and qualities that I have long aspired in UWC: Dialogue, international and intercultural understanding, and global perspectives. GIF is an event peculiar to UWC institutions, where a speaker presents on a global issue that sparks dialogues and discussions between students. Although we have no international students this year, GIF remains an event rooted in UWC values as students discuss actively their diverse thoughts and ideas. From the GIF about the American election in early November to the one about the Artsakh conflict, I have witnessed how students present their thoughts and challenge the thoughts of others. Even though a consensus may not be reached at the end, every GIF is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of perspectives, voices, and ideas in a seemingly homogeneous community.
The lack of international this year has also forced us, the Taiwanese students, to confront the Mainland Chinese students. Within and outside of the classroom, students from both regions have more chances to demonstrate the UWC Mission – unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. Outside of the classroom, we have had the chance to discuss openly on the differences between Taiwan and the Mainland and to find the similarities between them. Inside the classroom, we have shared the unique social and cultural characteristics of Taiwan in Chinese, history, or geography seminars. Although we may not be able to delve into the sensitive aspects of cross-strait issues, these opportunities have allowed us to see various perceptions and experiences often not presented on news or television. Similar to GIF, these discussions might not havea consensus at the end. However, this is the first step to realising the UWC mission – we step out of our bubble to talk, exchange, and understand one another.