Lars Laichter – Class of 2014

June 13, 2024

Can you please introduce yourself?

I go by Lars in English now, while I used to go by Štěpán when at UWC, which I recognise can be a little confusing. I am from Czechia and I graduated from UWCM in 2014. While at UWCM, TEDx Maastricht and the Social Entrepreneurship Hub were some of my favourite projects.

What is your favourite UWC memory?

I often think back to the project weeks that I participated in while at UWC Maastricht. The first one was actually related to the Social Entrepreneurship Hub. A group of us went to Amsterdam and visited different start-ups and businesses. It was on the way to the train station when my roommate and I found a table on the street that we really wanted to bring back with us. While carrying the table, we ended up missing the last train, slept in a park in Amsterdam, and ended up coming late to campus the next day. While we were lucky that the school didn’t call the police to look for us, we had to write a reflection, which we called the “Story of the Table”.  Peter Howe, the Head of College at that time, later called it the most creative reflection on breaking the college rules that he had ever seen. Coincidentally, I have the table at home now. It is a great reminder that sometimes it is worth it to break the rules to forge new friendships and to obtain great furniture.

My second project week was in Ukraine. We went there during the Maidan protests to blog about the events with the goal of making the reporting more accessible to young people. We stayed with some UWC alumni in Kyiv and wrote articles about what we witnessed there. It was quite the learning experience. Looking back, I remain baffled that the school trusted us, as a group of teenagers, to go to the midst of such major political shifts. I still think having these trusting relationships between teachers and students, as well as having the students to learn to trust one another, is what makes UWC such a unique learning environment.

What have you been up to since graduating from UWC Maastricht?

After UWC, I went to study in Canada at Quest University and pursued a liberal arts and sciences degree, consisting of a combination of cognitive science, computer science, and philosophy. After graduating, I did my masters in logic back in Prague, Czech Republic, with a year abroad in Amsterdam, where I conducted my final research project on modelling silence in a computer-generated dialogue. After completing my master’s, I fully immersed myself in taking care of the Laichter House and all that comes with it.

Can you tell us more about your latest project, the Laichter house?

In short, I returned from Canada, after about 7 years of being abroad because I realised that I was losing touch with the culture and language of my home country. My great-great-grandfather used to have a publishing house in the centre of Prague which he co-founded with the first president of Czechoslovakia at the end of the 19th century. The family ran a medium-sized publishing business that was primarily focused on publishing philosophy, translations of foreign literature, and political texts, with the goal of producing affordable high-quality literature for the youth. The business survived until 1949 when it was liquidated by the communists.

The building of the publishing house itself is quite interesting too because it was designed by an architect who is often referred to as the father of Czech modernism, Jan Kotěra. It was he who brought modernist architecture from Vienna to Bohemia and educated the generation of architects who later pursued that architectural style.

My family restituted the building in the 1990s, following the Velvet Revolution. My grandfather and his sister used to take care of the house, but by the time I finished university, they were both quite old. Since there was no one else in the family to take on,  it was up to me to take care of it.

Today, the building is designated as a cultural heritage site and I am working towards opening it to the public. While we run cultural events, the goal is also to set up a small museum which will tell the story of over 300 publishing houses which were often violently shut down in 1949 by the communists in Czechoslovakia and many of the books were burned. In the case of my family’s publishing house, there were over 10 tons of books that were labelled and burned.

Would you say that your UWC experience has played any role in your decision to take on this project?

I think that a part of it has been influenced by the social entrepreneurship experience that I was exposed to during my time at UWCM. It was the first time for me to get to think about the idea of leveraging profit for social impact. At the Laichter house, I have set up a non-profit foundation which enables us to use any profits from renting the space for culturally beneficial programming. I also feel that as a UWC graduate, I am now more inclined to bring an international aspect to the events at the Laichter house. For example, we have recently hosted a reading of a book written by Palestinians living in Czechia and we will be hosting more events about literary censorship around the world in the fall.

In what ways do you see this endeavour as your way of living the UWC mission?

Partially. There are, of course, other local and personal reasons behind my motivation for the Laichter house project. Thanks to UWC I get to be in touch with friends from places that do not have freedom of expression and I get reminded of the privileges that living in a democratic society offers. Moreover, we use the space to host some of the UWC Czechia events there, so it’s all connected.

In what ways have you kept in touch with UWC? How have you been giving back?

I am on the board of the Czech National Committee, so we run the selections every year and we are now also trying to professionalise the NC and look more into potential fundraising. We also organise Czech UWC alumni reunions twice a year and, of course, we support the students who were selected and are currently at a UWC.

What comes to your mind, 10 years after your graduation, when you hear “UWC mission and values”?

Well, I still know the mission statement by heart… I feel that after I have graduated, the mission and values disconnect from the strictly educational part, but I have had the chance to stay a part of this large global community. As a UWCer, I am still connected with my friends all around the world, so whenever something is happening, it is hard to remain indifferent.


*All photos used for this article are by Michael Tomes,