Interview with alum Lia Da Giau – Class 2020
December 13, 2022
Please introduce yourself to those who do not know you.
I am Lia. I am from Italy and I attended UWC Maastricht from 2018 to 2020, so I am from the covid generation. I went on to St Andrews, Scotland, to study Sustainable Development. I am now in my third year and will hopefully finish my degree next year.
What comes to your mind when you think of UWCM?
My first thought is that I have to go back to the UWCM island. I left so abruptly, had my stuff shipped directly to St Andrews and didn’t get the chance to visit Maastricht the year after. So there is still a bit of a feeling that things are unfinished. Not just with regards to people but also the place itself. I feel that I did not get a proper goodbye. I am hoping to return to the Netherlands in the spring and perhaps come back for the Outroduction in April 2023.
In what way have you been living the mission?
I feel that there was a lot of the UWC movement that I did not experience in person because of covid and the abrupt end of my time at UWC Maastricht. Just before covid, I had the chance to visit the UWC International Office (IO) in Berlin and learn more about their work during my project week. Once I had to return to Italy because of covid, I got in touch with the people from the IO and started volunteering for the communications team exploring what are the stories that we as UWC want to tell and how we tell them. Through this work, I was pushed to be engaged with other schools and that also allowed me to stay closely connected with the UWC mission and values. My covid summer then ended up being filled with UWC too, my co-year Marcela stayed with me for a month and a half and this way we kept living our UWC experience and went through the difficult transition together. I kept in touch with UWCers also during my interrail trip through Italy. And that was when I felt the UWC spirit the most when I suddenly needed a bed for the night and it was one message away. Also here in Scotland, it is the UWC alumni who are an integral part of my support network. With all of this in my life, it is natural for me to keep living the mission. The values and positive approach to diversity of perspectives that I made at UWC is intrinsic in the things I do, guiding the decisions I make.
In what ways have you been giving back to the UWC movement?
I have already mentioned volunteering for the International Office. I also volunteered with the Italian national committee and help with selections. However, I feel that my main way of giving back is raising awareness about UWC among students in my home region in Italy as unfortunately not many students from my province apply. I always speak about the doors that the UWC education opened for me, the skills it gave me but also the enormous UWC network. I also always talk about UWC when networking and spreading the word to those who could in one way or another support the school and colleges. In addition, me and my family always hosted UWC students and alumni. I keep connecting people from UWC Maastricht, UWC Adriatic, my Italian classmates and so on. I feel I am giving back not just by volunteering for the IO or the NC but also by continuously building and nourishing the UWC community. Moreover, I tried to spread the news about UWC also at the University of St Andrews, where I study. In one of my modules, called ‘Visualising Peace’, I had the opportunity to talk about UWC and the International Peace Conference (IPC) at UWCM as means to build sustainable peace starting from youth and education.
Nevertheless, I must admit that my transition from UWC to university was slightly messy, I needed to sort out my own life and I was not able to give back then but my family and my friends back home were always there supporting the UWC movement.
You mentioned your family giving back to the UWC movement. Can you tell us more?
It was always on my mind to not keep my life in Italy and my UWC life separate, I wanted to merge these two and bring my UWC friends to my family and my Italian friends. The aim was to expose more people to the UWC experience. One of my favourite memories is my Syrian co-year and my grandmother sitting at one dinner table, my grandmother asking him about life in Syria and slowly dropping all her stereotypes. It is hard to explain the impact UWC had on my wider family but it has been enormous.
Once I entered UWC, my mother got directly involved with the national committee and the selections. She is now more involved in the selections than I am. She is almost as if mentoring some of the parents of the current students from Italy. They created a support group comparing their experiences and sharing their highs and lows. I am really pleased that she is involved.
Would you recommend alumni volunteering with the International Office?
I would say the experience was a little peculiar for me as it was in the midst of covid and done fully remotely. I got a lot of flexibility and got to use my experience from working for UWCM’s Flying Dutchman newspaper. I definitely learned a lot of skills and got opportunities to develop these further throughout the various assignments. It was a lot of independent work but I also got continuous support from the IO team. Overall, the experience was positive and empowering. Also, it helped me to understand the work of the International Office and its role in the UWC movement.
You found many ways to give back to UWC, what would be your recommendations for alumni who are trying to find their own way to do so?
I do understand when people need to take a break from UWC, I also had this time in my life during my first year at university. I was scared that I would become this UWC person and UWC would be all I am and there would be nothing more to me. It is important to acknowledge that we carry our UWC part of self into the real world. The identity shaping is not over after UWC. We need to keep growing and recognize it but remember that UWC provides us with the knowledge and skills that empower us to make good and responsible decisions in all spheres of life. We develop multicultural competencies and skills but that also gives us the responsibility towards others while remembering that we are not special, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.