Miguel López Rivera – Class of 2020

June 24, 2024

Can you please introduce yourself to those who do not know you?

Of course! My name is Miguel López Rivera, and I’m from Úbeda, a town surrounded by olive trees in southern Spain. I lived there my whole life until I came to UWC Maastricht as a residential student in 2018. After graduating from UWC, I moved to the US to study biology and pursue a certificate in education studies. For the last four years, I have also been a volunteer for the selection process of the Spanish UWC National Committee. In my free time, I love practicing martial arts, creative writing, and bachata!

What have you been up to since graduation? And what are your future plans?

After graduating from UWC in 2020, I moved to the US to pursue a bachelor’s and a master’s in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale University. I have always been interested in infectious diseases, so in my first year, I decided to join a research laboratory investigating the cell biology of bacteria. I specifically worked on projects trying to elucidate the mechanisms that allow bacteria to form biofilms, which are surface-associated bacterial communities. Bacteria in biofilms tend to be much more resistant to antibiotic treatments, so figuring out the ways in which bacteria form biofilms may help us develop new ways to treat infections. At the same time, I’ve been pursuing a certificate in education studies. The education I received at UWC was truly transformative, and it made me really interested in better understanding the science of learning.

As for the future, in August I will move to Boston to start my next chapter: a PhD in biological and biomedical sciences at Harvard University. The PhD program is very flexible in terms of the curriculum, and for the first year, I will be rotating with different professors and laboratories until I find a mentor and field that I match with. Still, I am very much interested in microbiology and immunology, so I think I will end up studying something related to the biology of infections for my PhD work!

Aside from my career and studies, after “normal life” resumed following the pandemic, I’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit around the Americas, which has been truly amazing (and on every trip, I’ve actually met someone from UWC!). I have also kept up practicing martial arts on my own, like I did here in Maastricht, sending videos to my teacher back home to get corrections. Last year, the world championships of my martial art style, American Kenpo, happened just within a three-hour drive from where I lived, so I got to participate and I won the bronze medal in the weapon kata category! Also, after leaving UWC, I started doing creative writing—motivated in great part by Olaya and Elena Escudero, who read some of the things I began to write when I was at the school. Something I’ve been wanting to do for a while has been to pick up bachata again (I used to dance a lot in the school with Valentina, my co-year from Venezuela!) and go to classes, but where I lived, there were no opportunities to do so. It is something I’m looking forward to doing now when I move to Boston!

Now, you are back at UWC Maastricht. What brought you here?

Since graduating in 2020, I have been involved with UWC in various ways, from being a year representative for my class with two of my co-years to volunteering with the Spanish National Committee. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit UWC Maastricht for a couple of days, and it felt way too short. I didn’t have enough time to reconnect with those I already knew, and I had even less time to properly interact with the new students and staff. I then heard about the Alumni in Residence Program and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to come back to the school and connect with everyone while providing some help to students transitioning from year 12 to year 13. Since I had just graduated from college and had this summer pretty free, I thought it was the right time to do it, so I applied to the program, and now I’m here!

What was it like to be back on campus? What was the highlight of your stay?

It really felt like home. In the beginning, I was perhaps a little bit worried about feeling like a stranger since my peers and many of the staff who worked here when I was a student wouldn’t be around. But as soon as I arrived on the island and started having the first conversations, I realized that, at its core, it was still home. The first person I saw when I came in was Zakiya, the school nurse—she was by the cage when she saw me entering through the gate, and I was surprised that she recognized me from so far away! Catching up with people was definitely one of the highlights. Seeing Iva in person after so much online communication throughout these four years, or getting to go for dinner with Ajay and Olaya—who were my residential mentors and some of the people who supported me the most while I was a student here—has really meant so much to me. I would say another highlight has been really getting to know the students in the everyday life of the school, just grabbing meals in the mensa. While it’s a cohort of students in a very different time and context from when I was here, it is possible to see the core similarities between the interests, concerns, learning, and conversations of the students now and those of my co-years. Perceiving that the UWC essence is still here has been really refreshing.

What has changed since your time and what is still the same?

One of the most noticeable changes is the mensa: the all-white look from when I was a student was fine, but its new appearance is just awesome. It is a really cool, versatile space with many uses—it is no longer just a place to eat your meals, but also to hang out. I must say that the mensa food has improved as well! Something in this regard that is still the same—and I couldn’t be any happier that it is this way—is the mensa staff: there are still a few familiar faces from my time here, and the new people who joined the team are just as amazing! There is also much more greenery around the school; it doesn’t feel as gray anymore. The playground for the kids is very different and quite nice as well!

Regarding non-physical things on campus, I think the IB curriculum for many subjects seems to have gotten larger and scarier. Many of the biology topics that were optional during my time, for example, are now part of the compulsory curriculum. Perhaps this has shifted the student atmosphere to be slightly more academically centered. Nevertheless, like I said before, the UWC essence is very much still present and noticeable when you talk with the students, and it is that UWC core component that really makes this place still feel like home. Pretty much every day in the mensa, I’ve learned something new, from history to politics, education, or math, just by talking with people. That hasn’t changed, and it feels so great to experience it again.

Would you recommend other UWCM alumni to apply for the “alumni in residence programme”?

One hundred percent yes. The Alumni In Residence Program is basically an opportunity to come to the school and offer any skills and perspectives that can aid year 12 students in their transition to year 13 (i.e. from DP1/CP1 to DP2/CP2), supporting the already existing resources that they have in the school.

Of course, we are all different people with different interests, and this program is not for all alumni: if you wouldn’t enjoy being around teenagers or sharing what you’ve been up to since you graduated, this is not for you. But if you are doubting whether you should apply in some way and have had the thought, “Oh, maybe it would be nice,” then I assure you won’t regret doing it. It is a very flexible program, and you can bring in whatever you feel comfortable sharing with the students. From academic advice to more community-based assistance, there are so many ways in which you can help the community by sharing the perspectives that you have gained after graduating from UWC. And not only that, but I have felt like it is really a bidirectional experience: you get as much as you put into it. I’m coming out of the program very recharged, with so much positive energy from meeting new people and reconnecting with those I already knew and who are basically family.

You know the feeling of doing something and feeling like life is good because of moments like that? I mean, like moments that make you feel alive. Being back on campus, for me, has been full of moments like that, so I couldn’t recommend it more.

Have you been giving back to the UWC movement in any other way since your graduation? How do you plan to be involved in the future?

Yes! With my national committee, I’ve been a volunteer for the selection processes for the last four years, reading applications online. For UWCM, I’ve been a year rep together with my co-years Lia and Mariana, and have also participated online in a few of the outroduction programs, sharing my experiences as an international student in the US. I have also gotten the chance to visit UWC USA for a student-led conference and share a bit of my perspective as an alum.

In the future, I would love to be in a place that allows me to participate in more in-person activities with my national committee, like the final rounds of the selection process. Since I love the field of education, I believe at some point it would be great to join the teaching team of a UWC as well. Finally, the Alumni in Residence program has been so great that I hope maybe in about five years—when I’m done with the PhD (fingers crossed) and have new perspectives to bring in—I can come and do it again!