Christine Alhalabi – Class of 2019

June 14, 2024

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Christine Alhalabi. I am from Syria. I graduated from UWCM in 2019, and I have just graduated from Bard College Berlin. When I think about UWCM, the first thing that comes to mind is the art classroom. Taking visual arts as a subject at UWC Maastricht was an important experience that helped me understand many things. It helped me to process my experience of exile from Syria. And of course, when I think about UWCM and my art class I cannot forget the very special relationship with my art teacher Miss Blain (Antoinette).

What have you been up to since graduating from UWCM?

Belonging and community were important for me before and even more so following my graduation from UWC. So I applied for the Global Citizen Year gap year program and eventually got placed in Senegal due to some visa complications. Senegal was advertised as a very welcoming place, and it was. I lived there with a host family, and I learned a lot of practical skills such as sewing and teaching. Then, I returned to Germany to begin my studies at Bard College and started to build my roots in Berlin. Here, I was able to connect with other Syrians and various diaspora communities. Then, in 2023, I went for an exchange year to study abroad for a year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and it changed my life completely. I moved quite a bit after my time at UWCM and I now feel like I belong to so many cities.

When thinking about your gap year internship in a middle school in Senegal and volunteering with Ubuntu, an intergenerational art NGO in Berlin, do you see these connected to the UWC mission and values?

I was not thinking of the UWC Mission and Values per se, but of course, as a UWC scholar, I resonate with the UWC mission, so it reflects in my life. The importance UWC places on civic engagement led me to pursue it even after graduation. I wanted to be part of the community in Senegal and Berlin, which is why I looked for opportunities to give back and exchange.

In what ways would you say your time at UWCM prepared you for these experiences?

After leaving UWC, I became more aware of how intentional it was as an experience. To be honest, after I left UWCM island, I was a bit frustrated when the idealism and world outlook I took away from UWC was far from the reality of the everyday world. There was a big mismatch between what I thought could happen and what happens in the real world. While at UWCM, I took away a lot from my classes, what I truly took away with me was the experiential learning side of the experience. One important event that stayed with me was the Curriculum Hackathon for Amala Education hosted at UWCM in 2018. This special collaborative event started my thinking about education and its meaning. Similarly, some of my teachers, for example, my English teacher Larissa, showed me that learning and education can and has to be fun and that’s a motto I live by in my academic work.

You recently received the DAAD Prize at Bard College Berlin as a student who showcases a remarkable blend of academic excellence, cultural exploration, and dedicated community engagement. First of all, congratulations! Again, has the time at UWC provided you with some guidance in these actions?

When I first started at Bard College Berlin, I was driven to go out and be civically active. At the same time, I experienced anger and frustration from not doing enough. I had an unhealthy attitude towards my responsibility and role in the world that was rather pressuring and unloving. I used to be very harsh with myself. Later, I found my balance and figured I wouldn’t be doing something meaningful unless I showed up as my best self. While that meant volunteering and organizing, it also meant resting and having joyful experiences. I changed my attitude about work and reframed my perception of the responsibility that I felt I carried as a UWC alum. Now, I have a more balanced approach to the way I show up as I learned to listen to what the world needs as well as to my inner self and what I need.

Storytelling seems to be a common thread in your work, you developed a booklet of Syrian women’s stories as a part of the “Feminism and Community” course and your BA thesis is about the collective memory cultivated within SAARA, the historically Arab market in Rio de Janeiro where you went for your exchange. Where does the interest in storytelling come from?

All of this comes from my parents’ village, called Breikeh. I was born in Damascus, but my happy place has always been my parents’ village, which I often visited as a child. I remember how I always loved listening to what was being said in this village’s different women’s circles. I preferred listening to play with my cousin. I was so curious. To be honest, I only realized this recently, but this was where my love for stories, the manner of speaking, and the little details was born.

After I left Syria, I followed a Facebook page called “Syria Speaks.” This page that collected stories from different parts of Syria helped me to keep the memories of my home alive as well as get to know my country. I always wanted to know how different people experienced Syria. I pursued this inquiry in the Feminism and Community course at Bard College Berlin, where a classmate of mine and I asked different Syrian women to share stories about how their womanhood has changed after 2011. This made me see that although I am far from Syria now, I am still very much part of it and it will never evade me. Through this project, I also managed to progress in healing a wound caused by my departure from my home country. In this specific project, it was important to me not to curate or edit the stories. I was more of a story collector rather than a storyteller, but I am a writer and storyteller in other settings. I love creative writing. Of course, I loved the stories of my peers and loved friends at UWC Maastricht. Hearing from my peers what their lives before UWC were like and what their families’ lives have been like was fascinating to me and a big reason why I wanted to come to study there.

UWCM is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. What would you like to wish to UWCM?

I would like to wish UWC Maastricht to attract more people who are full of life. Vibrant people who are living their purpose and being such inspirational role models like my educators (staff and students alike) at UWC Maastricht who I still reference today and tell stories about.