#livingthemission by Ilari Papa, Class 2016

June 24, 2021

Ilari left UWCM in 2016 to study international politics and security. Her work now mostly focuses on the US policy in the Middle East. Check here her way of living the UWC mission.


Please introduce yourself:

I: My name is Ilari. I went to UWC Maastricht from 2014 to 2016. I am from Tirana, Albania. After graduating from UWC I went to Georgetown where I studied international politics and security with a certificate in diplomatic studies. I graduated this May among the pandemic and right now I am in Washington DC, working at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank which focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East.


What have you been up to since graduation in 2016?

I: After we graduated, we actually went on a grad trip with several friends from UWC to Croatia. I am still so fond of the trip, it was a phenomenal one. When everyone was sad during graduation, my friends and I were excited about this trip and it helped us not to get too much in the zone of thinking that we have just finished our UWC experience. Although I do not think that the UWC experience ever ends. I was also fortunate to be able to come and watch my firsties graduate. It was so wonderful to see them succeed and shine and to meet up with friends from my year. Over the years I have met a number of my UWC friends and it is amazing to see how everyone has matured and progressed in life. What I enjoy the most is being able to discuss issues and have arguments, even if we disagree with each other.  We do have the UWC background but also the university and professional background and life experience which allows us to have some really illuminating discussions that involve diverse perspectives.


One of your co-years nominated you for this #livingthemission interview, so how do you think that you actually live the mission?

I: First of all, I am grateful for the nomination to whoever sent it in! I think that UWC has coloured my perspective in a very meaningful way in terms of how I see my work and mission in life. I do not only see it as that I want to have a certain job in order to make money. I am aware it is a privilege to have because I have not struggled financially so far. However, I understand that if you do not have the means making money is something extremely important and it is a prime driver. Aside from that I am driven from the sense that I want to do something that is meaningful for others. I am not naive to believe that I will personally change the world and the lives of those around me, but I do believe that my work can be a little contribution towards that. I have tried to do that by studying international affairs. I have been especially focused on international security in terms of conflict or how we can use diplomacy and other tools of national security to have a peaceful future and increase understanding between different cultures. At the same time I am very interested in disinformation, misinformation, and the intersection between technology and international affairs, especially as the spread of online dis/misinformation poses a vital threat to  democracies worldwide. I focus on how we can use the tools that we have, how we can use technology, policy, and research to boost digital media literacy, strengthen the bonds between human beings, and spread rightful and correct information to drive responsible citizenship. These are some ways I am trying to live the UWC mission.  


Would you have any advice for other alumni how to live the mission or how to reconnect with it?

I: It is not a magical process. I believe that in our lives we will have times where we are very clear on what we want to do and other times when everything seems vague and unclear. In those times I recommend talking to other people who you trust or even reaching out to people like myself or somebody else who you might not know that well but somebody who is willing to listen, ask questions and help you reflect. Along these lines, It is essential to find wise and reliable mentors who can give you sound advice as you face various challenges. 

I also think that it is important to acknowledge the importance of failure. Everybody who has succeeded in doing something has failed many times before. What is important to do is not look at failure as something bad but as a process of growth. I am aware that it can be hurtful at times. I was recently applying for something that was really dear to my heart and I thought it was aligned to the mission I want to pursue, however I did not get it despite toiling myself for it. I told myself that life goes on, it is not the end of the world at all, and I looked for other ways to make an impact. I believe that life offers us many means and tools, the most helpful for me when I am confused is talking to other people. And of course, it is key to understand that life goes on and ask yourself how I can learn from my experiences and how can I use these tools to do something that is really dear to my heart.his process requires a lot of reflection, but in the words of my two closest mentors “fail often, fail early” and “keep slaying dragons.” 


What would your life now be like if you had not gone to UWC?

I: Actually when I applied to UWC, I applied twice. First time I did not get in because I would not be 16 years old when school started which was one of the rules. I was so heartbroken. I put a lot of pressure on myself at that point because I had that one shot and had to make it (I was listening to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” on repeat — especially when he sings “you only get one shot … this opportunity comes once in a lifetime”). I remember talking to my dad about it, and he said  that if I did not get it I would still have other tools — as I mentioned in the previous questions.

As a humanities driven person, UWC expanded my critical and analytical thinking and it transformed my understanding of empathy and the ability to empathise with others, and I think without having those I would be in a totally different spot. I would not be as mature as I am now. Maybe I would be in Albania or in another place around the world, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is to see that it would take me many years to form the ideals and the perspectives that UWC laid the basis for during the 2 years I spent in Maastricht. I cannot explain how much of an impact UWC has had on my life. It has changed my life for good. It has shaped me in a way that very few experiences can.