Daniela Olmos – Class of 2014

June 20, 2024

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Daniela Olmos. I went to UWC Maastricht from 2012 to 2014 after I was selected by the Venezuelan National Committee. When I left my country to go to UWC, I had the idea that I was going to study medicine. However, I soon realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. After graduating from UWC, I took six months off to process everything that happened while staying back home, and I gradually realized that psychology might be a field that was more aligned with what I wished to do.

After Maastricht, I came to the US thanks to the Davis scholarship program. I studied at Lake Forest College, where I completed my bachelor’s in psychology and politics. That time was my introduction to the world of research in psychology since I worked there as a research assistant for a community psychology lab that focused on gender violence. After graduating from Lake Forest, I found a job as a research assistant at the University of Chicago. There, I transitioned to being an assistant at a cognitive development lab. In 2019, I got married to my boyfriend from college and moved to San Antonio, Texas, which is where I live now and continue to work in the field of psychology as a project manager for a non-profit public health organization focused on expanding and providing access to care for people with substance use disorders and mental illness. We liaise with the state of Texas and administer a lot of the funds that they receive to treat substance use disorders and mental health illnesses in general.

My husband and I  have two big dogs and a cat. I love taking the dogs for long walks despite the Texas heat. Luckily, our city is quite green and has a lot of trails that connect the whole city. I also love to go hiking and travel. We actually just came back from our last travel to attend my UWC best friend’s wedding in Portland, Oregon.

What are 3 words that come to your mind when you think of UWC Maastricht?

Discovery, preparation, and community.

My UWC story and my connection to UWC goes back to before I was born because my mom went to UWC Atlantic, and sometime after that, she was the executive director for the foundation of the UWC school that was located in Venezuela. So, I grew up hosting UWC students at home, but I really only discovered more of myself when at UWC Maastricht, away from the comfort of my home. My time at UWCM made me peel off many layers and grow up in many different aspects. To be honest, I made more sense of the experience and realised the changes I had gone through after I left Maastricht rather than while it was all happening. A lot of growth came from the experience and also because of it. And the growth continues in the back of my mind with all the stuff that I do now, and it’s very much palpable in that sense. The sense of community and belonging is what drives me now to give back to UWC. There is one Dutch word that would summarize well my feelings and thoughts about UWC  – gezellig!

Now, 10 years after your graduation, what is your most treasured UWC memory?

One of the memories that stuck with me is very relevant to what’s happening today. I had a Palestinian friend, Hadil, my co-year, who passed away in 2016. I remember the moment so well– we were in the boarding house, which was back then located just off Market Square, and it must have been the first semester when Hadil stopped by my door and said: “Dani, you know what just happened? Palestine just became recognized as a non-member observational state.” I don’t remember the exact context, but this was one of the moments when it became clear to me that countries are no longer just places on the map. All the places now have faces, and all that is happening in the world is now personal. Looking back,  it was such a privilege to have been there and hear that from her; I hope she’s okay wherever she is now.

Another precious memory that gets me all nostalgic is hopping on a bike and going to Belgium to swim in the river whenever the weather was nice. We were young and just felt like going and biking there, losing all conceptions of borders, and it was all just about going swimming in the river. It was so joyful. It feels very simple, but it symbolizes so much of my UWC experience.

In what ways have you been involved with UWC since your graduation?

After graduating from UWCM, I returned to Venezuela for 6 months and got involved with the national committee (NC) right away. I helped in various capacities, for example, by doing in-person exams in cities around the country as a part of the selection process (which, back then, used to be in-person). After I went to college, it was more difficult to be involved because there was not much I could do remotely. However, COVID hit, and combined with some changes in the board of the NC, there was a real crisis. The national committee called an emergency meeting because the entire selection process and practically all aspects of the NC had to be moved to the online space. This was followed by many weeks and months of collaborative work towards creating a new, fully online selection process. It was a lot of hard work, but it was also really beautiful to be part of a community of dedicated UWCers who were determined to make it happen and ensure that the next generations of students from Venezuela got a chance to apply and go to UWC schools and colleges. This strong sense of purpose and togetherness reignited my passion for the UWC community. Then, an opportunity arose for me to step in as a co-chair of the NC, and now it’s been 3 years that I have had this role, which is how I ended up attending the UWC Congress in Thailand.

What was the UWC Congress like?

It was my first time in Asia, so that was a great experience in itself. The Congress was about bringing together all the different UWC pieces to have productive conversations and cover the different key topics of the movement. I was there as an NC representative, and thanks to my professional expertise and interest, I was part of the group that discussed mental health. I believe there is a need to focus on mental health in the UWC movement as a whole and not only in the schools and colleges, which I would like to think was one of my main contributions to the Congress discussions.

My takeaway from the Congress is that there is a lot of work to be done in a good way if we want to keep providing a meaningful and innovative education experience. As UWCers, we are often good at pointing out flaws, for better or worse, and Congress helped capture which directions we want to go as a movement, what we want to implement, and how it could be done. To me, Congress embodied what the movement is about, bringing together different people from different kinds of paths of life, and having meaningful conversations, to catalyze change. And, of course, about feeling a sense of community again.