Critical Engagement with alumni Siem and Hazel
November 8, 2021
Siem van de Kar, Class 2018, returned to UWC Maastricht in October as one of the facilitators of this year’s Critical Engagement (CE) and told us why alumni should think about joining the CE team.
Please tell us who you are, when you graduated from UWCM and what have you been up to since graduation.
Hee heey! So great to be back in touch with UWC again! I’m Siem, a now almost 23 year old Dutchie that graduated from UWCMaastricht in 2018. In the years after graduation I’ve been doing and going to different places for my studies and projects, all with the UWC mission at heart.
I was given the wonderful opportunity of taking part in the Spring 2019 Semester at Sea voyage during my gap year, which in all aspects was a phenomenal new learning experience around the globe. I then left the Netherlands to start my bachelors in Liberal Arts & Sciences at Quest University Canada for a year, and returned back to the Netherlands to continue a similar study in Utrecht. My studies have taken me through many different disciplines so far and seeing the connections & intersectionality between them is what I enjoy most. In particular I found my passions to lay in (informal)education and theatre/performance, but it’s honestly difficult to name one course I enjoyed or learned most from..
Most recently I’ve been on the team for the UWC-Building a Sustainable Future short-course in Germany, a program that I am very excited about and will be part of this year as well. In my free time now (taking a semester off from university), I spend time connecting back with the people here in Maastricht, taking on (personal) projects I’ve been willing to do for ages, giving back to the UWC mission through projects like CE, and figuring out my next steps in life from here…
How would you explain what CE is to someone who has never heard of it?
I understand Critical Engagement as a program which initiates an important foundation of thinking and engaging with the world around us. Specifically in our context, we often get (rightfully) excited about what UWC stands for, most of us joined here because this mission in particular resonates with us. However, how do you, me, and us collectively, actually understand this mission?
What does “Celebrating Diversity” or “Uniting people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future” actually mean to us?
CE in my eyes is a great initiative that makes us literally ‘engage critically’ with the three pillars of “Identity”, “Diversity” and “Social Responsibility/Justice”. Through fun and interactive workshops/discussions we try to create a safe space to engage with each other about these topics in depth. The activities often lead to new realisations, seeing the overlaps & differences between these pillars in our lives, and the strength of CE in my eyes becomes the ownership participants take and the reflections they make over these topics (for themselves and in relation with each-other)! Overall, I believe the program helps us to see how we understand ourselves, how others understand us, how we act and react, how we understand the influence of (power) structures, and how this all relates to personality, community, society and the world as a whole..
What do you enjoy about being part of the CE team? And what are the challenges?
Well first of all it is so much fun to see myself facilitating a program I participated in myself back in my first year at UWC. I remember some of the workshops very well, and being blown away by some of the activities and the discussions I had with my co-years.
The CE team was amazing, some of us had a lot of experience already in facilitating or CE in particular, while others like me were new to the program. I loved how open this space was for us to grow in and how we collaboratively prepared for the CE days on Thursday and Friday. Facilitating the workshops was also a highlight, though also challenging. Working with the first years was a lot of fun and it was fascinating to see where they would take the discussions and activities we were doing. I’m also very grateful for my facilitator partner as we were able to balance each-other out when needed! Overall, the team became a little community of itself, I made some great new friends and I’m excited to stay in touch with them!
The main difficulties we faced with the team were time related. The training and program was compressed in a few days and this definitely was a challenge. We felt that the training could have been a little longer and that the program should have been more spread out over the/(more) days. The first day of CE was especially challenging as the energy levels of both the participants and facilitators dropped significantly the longer the day lasted. We always try to take into account the needs of the group and add in more energizers when needed, however we do think that logistical tweeks could make a huge difference in how the days flow.
You were part of the facilitating team here at UWCM this year, what was it like to be back at school but in this different role?
Ahhh! My time at UWC is still one of the most precious experiences in my life. Walking on campus I’m continuously reminded of all the memories I created here, making me quite emotional. Coming back now as a facilitator of CE was both exciting and strange. I kind of relate to UWCers as my family, so while my batch of brothers and sisters were gone, I now got to meet all my new family that is now in the same position I was in a couple of years ago. Being a facilitator of CE was challenging in the sense that at times I just wanted to bond directly with the students and join their discussions. Of course there were times that that was perfectly possible, but whilst giving the program, I also had to make sure that I fulfilled the role of facilitator and being aware of the responsibilities that come with that.
Besides that, It also was a lot of fun seeing my old teachers and staff members around the school, some of whom I hadn’t seen since graduating! It was great to talk to them again, especially now that I was allowed into the staff room haha!
If other alumni might be interested in joining the CE team, what should they consider before reaching out to the CE team? Is there any advice or any wisdom that you would like to share with them?
My first thought would be, just do it!! Reaching out is the first step in finding out if joining CE would be something for you.
Honestly, I’m not too sure what to “advise”, I believe CE is a very great experience for anyone that is interested in the topics of Identity/Diversity/Social Responsibility and who wants to give back to the UWC movement.
Things to take into account would be making sure that you have time to fully engage with the preparations and program and being comfortable (or willing to learn) facilitating a program in front of +/- 20 students.
I’d also say that there is no ideal facilitator. All of us brought in different strengths and that is also what makes the program more fun, we get to work as a great team and support each other in whichever way needed! If you are interested in CE but you have doubts about certain aspects, reach out! We’re all more than willing to tell you more about the program and listen to you!
You mentioned that CE is for you about giving back to the UWC movement, have there been any other ways in which you’ve given back to the community?
Haha this is such a CE question! “Community” would have to be defined here! 😉
In terms of giving back to UWC, I have been working as a facilitator on the UWC-Building a Sustainable Future short-course last summer. Since I joined the team back in February/March, we had been working on putting together an immersive learning experience for participants of this UWC summer school. I was particularly involved in selecting participants, organizing workshops and community events. It was an incredible experience working on this project under the UWC mission again and next year I will be one of the coordinators of the same in person short-course in Berlin, Germany. I’m very excited to work with the UWC movement in this way, spread the mission and collaborate with all the lovely people that are involved in the project with me!
Besides the short-course, I remember taking part in an alumni workshop back here a 1 or 2 years ago and taking part in other small alumni events and reunions.
UWC means a lot to me, so I’m generally always willing to help out, host students when I have space, help them arrive in Maastricht/on campus for the first time or give back in any other way!
Hazel Mehta, Class 2018, who co-coordinated and facilitated in this year’s Critical Engagement also found 5 minutes to tell us about her experience.
What have you been up to these last two days back at UWCM?
Together with an incredible team, we have been running the Critical Engagement (CE) workshops for DP1 students. Prior to those two days, we had two days of training for the new facilitators, so I was actually around for 4 days.
In case someone is not familiar with the programme, what is Critical Engagement?
CE is a community interest company founded by UWC alumni from around the world from different year groups who recognized that there is a need to address the topics that all students at UWC want to talk about outside the classroom. Those of identity, diversity, social responsibility and the links to the UWC core values and mission. CE aims to create a space to talk about them without the sort of school environment coming in the way. CE is focused on talking about these topics in a smaller group space, doing activities, playing game, reflecting, engaging and communicating.
Why did you choose to get involved in CE?
I was actually a participant in CE when I was a student here. I was in the first batch of students at UWC Maastricht who got to do it back in 2016. And I must say, although it might be hard to believe, that it was one of the best experiences I had in my two years at UWCM. About a year after my graduation, I was contacted by CE facilitators who were back then also teaching in Maastricht and they asked me if I wanted to be involved and there was no hesitation. It was such a great opportunity for me to give back to something which was such an important part of my UWC experience.
Is being a facilitator very different from being a participant?
Honestly, yes and no. It is always a new experience. There are activities that we always do but you always hear new perspectives and often the conclusions that the students come to are also different. I am not there to give them answers, if I had them or if those answers were known to anyone, we would be living in a very different world. My job is really to let them talk and engage with the topics and I get to listen and learn in the process. So yes, It is quite similar to being a participant in the sense that I get to re-experience the discussions and conversations again, which I love. That said, I am still not a participant anymore and my role strictly speaking is quite different. I have done CE four times and it does not get boring, it is always somewhat different. I like to try to keep myself challenged, I do not ever want to get bored with it. This year, for example, the team needed someone to facilitate a group on their own, so I did and it worked out well in the end. It was definitely a challenge, there is no denying that but it was fun and a good experience for me as well.
What was it like to be back at UWCM?
Strange! The mensa is new, I haven’t seen it, I miss the flags on the pillars but other than that it is quite lovely. I remember craving a social space on campus and it looks like the new mensa has addressed that and created the space for students to socialize. It is also so nice to come back because I still know a lot of teachers and I get to say hello and catch up.
If there are any alumni who are thinking of ways to get involved with the UWC movement, should they consider CE?
Yes, I think so! CE is great. It does get involved with other schools and organizations but a big part is about working with UWC. I remember that when I was a participant those 5 years ago, I thought that what everything we were doing in CE is what I wanted to spend the next 2 years talking and thinking about at UWC. For anyone who wants to stay close to the UWC values, CE recreates those meaningful conversations both for participants and facilitators. We have training for facilitators so really anyone who is interested can join. Those interested in facilitating should remember that they will be working with students and that the DP students are an interesting age group. I forget that I was once that age too. Sometimes it can be a kind of a challenge to engage with that age group as times are changing, especially the way they use technology and a lot of priorities are different. The facilitators should be willing to learn with the students, to engage with them, and to re-experience a bit of UWC. At the end of the day, it is in a way like being a participant, facilitating is not like teaching, you are not there to give a lesson, you are there to present the activity and then stand in the back and watch them do it. Of course, there is also the element of being there for the students and supporting them when needed. For those who want to find out more about CE, I recommend checking this website and getting in touch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org