UWC College Freiburg: “School for benefactors”

in the middle

Status: 02/09/2022 13:07

At the Robert Bosch United World College in Freiburg, young people from all over the world learn how to make it a better place. Or at least how to discuss it.

By Jenni Rieger, SWR Stuttgart

At half past seven in the morning, Terry, Victor, David and Heinrich don’t look like elite students – they look like very tired teenagers. The four come from all corners of the world, from Germany, Zambia, China and Armenia. “It’s hard to feel special early in the morning,” says Terry in English, the slang language of Robert Bosch United World College (UWC) and Victor adds: “Sometimes I forget what is expected of me and enjoy breakfast, but the standards are high here.”

100 nations learn together

And by that Victor, who comes from close to Shanghai, he doesn’t mean academic requirements. All around 180 students here at Robert Bosch College in Freiburg will complete an internationally recognized university degree, similar to the German Abitur.

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What Victor means is more the ideological statement. Because all United World Colleges have big plans for their students: they want to teach them to live together peacefully and productively and to find solutions to the world’s pressing problems together. International understanding, sustainability, world peace: big issues for teenagers.

Victor comes from close Shanghai, Terry from Zambia, they study together at the UWC.
Image: Jenni Rieger, SWR

Learning to understand others is important to Heinrich, near Chemnitz.
Image: Jenni Rieger, SWR

Commitment instead of good grades

But the concept is very popular. There are now 18 united world colleges spread across four continents. Each year, UWCs accept hundreds of young people between the ages of 16 and 19, regardless of their grades or parental salary. Only one third of the UWC in Freiburg is financed by the state of Baden-Württemberg. Most of the costs are covered by donations and grants, for example from the Robert Bosch Foundation.

In this way, three quarters of all Freiburg students received a scholarship. Terry, from Zambia, also got a full scholarship, because his mother couldn’t afford the 33,000 euros in tuition due here every year. But Heinrich from Germany is also financially supported and Victor from China too.

Principal Nodder is counting on his students to burn for a better world.
Image: Jenni Rieger, SWR

What do they all have in common? Principal Laurence Nodder explains:

We are looking for passionate young people, who have ideas, who are committed to something special. It can be environmentalism, feminism, whatever, but it is important that they learn to deal with the ways of thinking of different cultures.

ideas for peace

And so this morning a colorful, noisy, lively mix populates the Assembly Hall of the College. Songs of Arabic, German, Chinese are heard. And of course English, because it is the general language of instruction.

Principal Nodder provides some organizational information and then leaves the stage to the students. And this is already what they urgently want to discuss: racist historiography, the Balkan conflict, intersectional feminism – very special topics. But topics that young adults here consider relevant.

The crises of the world, the role of the church or the theme of racism: this and more is discussed in the assembly hall.
Image: Jenni Rieger, SWR

“It’s kind of a bubble here,” says Heinrich, who comes from close to Chemnitz. In fact, he would have liked to go to a UWC abroad, but the students cannot choose the location. It will be assigned to you. So he now studies in Freiburg for two years until he gets his international degree.

But even the place is not that important, says Heinrich, the “spirit” is much more important, the spirit that prevails in the school: “There is more understanding and acceptance for everything. You don’t walk around alone, you feel more like yourself. himself as part of a large group with similar ideas. Although there are times when I wish there were more controversies. “

life in the bubble?

The “spirit” of the UWC Freiburg becomes clear when you look around the building. A “Fridays for Future” poster hangs in front of a classroom and there is an invitation to a climate strike in the girls’ bathroom. Rainbow stickers and feminism slogans adorn the laptops of some female students.

Indeed, there is concern that a school that selects its students on the basis of their beliefs and worldviews risks avoiding controversy. Principal Nodder knows this fear and vehemently contradicts it:

Even though this is a bubble, there are things that are very uncomfortable and that’s what we want to talk about. In Germany, for example, great importance is attached to sustainability. But for the people of Burkina Faso this is not an urgent problem. They get angry, they say what’s the point of all this talk of sustainability, they even call us hypocrites!

And he adds: “Our school simply wants to give impetus to peaceful coexistence. And we do it by provoking discussions, even uncomfortable ones”.

From Freiburg to the world – to the UWC, students should also reflect on topics that have not yet been discussed in their home countries.
Image: Jenni Rieger, SWR

“There aren’t even many discussions in Zambia”

And by constantly comparing students, especially with themselves. Although there are 33,000 euros in tuition per student per year, four of the young people are housed in one room. In a very small space, with virtually no privacy. “I had more space at home,” says Heinrich.

But Terry is lucky. He feels “enlightened”, he says, since being here: “At home, in Zambia, there aren’t even many discussions. For example, about homosexuality or about racism. I only learned what it means here in Germany, because in Zambia anyway. they are all black. “

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