Alara and Liana – Class of 2023

June 25, 2024

Please introduce yourself. Tell us what you have been up to since graduating from UWCM.

L: My name is Liana Ioannides and I graduated in May 2023 from UWC Maastricht. I decided to take a gap year and get involved in the peace-building efforts in my home country Cyprus as my UWC education taught me to see that I can play a role in making a difference in my community. After graduating from UWC I began getting involved in the peace-building process in divided Cyprus. Getting involved I realised the extent to which youth have been historically and systematically excluded from the highest levels of decision-making, and my goal has been to create peacebuilding spaces where youth can be more widely included both in Cyprus and in the wider region. I get to do this, for example, in my role as the Youth Delegate of Cyprus to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to the Council of Europe, where I voice the perspectives of Cypriot youth. What I also like about the gap year is that I have been able to stay in contact with UWC and in particular with UWC Cyprus. It has been really exciting to be a part of the selection process for the new generation of Cypriots coming to UWC.

A: I am Alara İlteralp and I graduated at the same time as Liana, in May 2023.  I also took the opportunity to take a gap year after my graduation. My gap year is focused on self-development and peace work in Cyprus. I am finally taking the time to focus on issues that are close to me and my personal growth. I also got involved in some organisations in the north of Cyprus and together with my friends we are putting work into regenerating our NGO that focuses on raising educational and social issues students from both sides of the island face. I also returned to my old school here in Cyprus to talk about my UWC experience and present it to the prospective students there. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to attend events both abroad and within Cyprus, roundtable discussions & panels as a panellist to bring the perspective of a Cypriot UWC graduate and visit the EU quarters to learn the legal system behind our scholarship and peace building.  Overall, the gap year has been great and I am looking forward to the new projects we are working on.

You were able to study at UWC Maastricht thanks to a special scholarship designed for students from Cyprus with the long-term aim of re-uniting the beautiful Mediterranean island. Can you tell us more about the scholarship programme?

A: Let me give a perspective of someone without a legal identification of Cyprus, a UWC scholarship is one of the biggest opportunities that we get as children of mixed marriages. Many people still don’t know that the scholarship is open to students without a Cypriot ID.  It might be surprising for some, but for me, UWC was the first opportunity to learn about the peacemaking process because we were not taught anything about it at school in Cyprus.

L: The scholarship programme is an incredible opportunity to go abroad and then come back and be able to contribute, not only right away but also in the long term It is a part of the larger scheme of things that the EU does for Cyprus and the settlement support. The aim is to equip youth with the tools to empower fellow youth. We benefit from the scholarship as an individual but we are also able to give back to our communities, and our cities, and bring together youth from both sides of Cyprus.

During your two years at UWCM and the time that followed your graduation, how has the aim of the scholarship fund come to reality in your lives?

A: This may not be about uniting the Greek and Turkish-speaking Cypriots but while at UWC I really used every opportunity I had to raise awareness about Cyprus. For example, all of my friends knew and could sing one of the national songs. I tend to think back to the culture week when we got to design a new flag for Cyprus. That was a really powerful activity that allowed us to talk about the symbols that are significant for Cyprus. We then together designed the flag for united Cyprus.

L: For me it is also a lot about small actions, these built up over time and tend to be more sustainable. One of the best memories from my gap year is the visits to local schools to promote UWC. This year we got to reach schools also in some of the more rural areas, for example in the Troodos mountains. I remember that when I started presenting the students were noisy and loud but as I went on sharing my experience at UWC they became all focused and listened carefully. It was really powerful to see how much they wanted to be a part of the UWC, be it the two-year experience or a short course, workshop or conference. I was also involved in a panel discussion at the Delphi Forum  where I was able to ensure that the view of the Cypriot youth is included in the peace-building initiatives and talks. Similarly, the current UWC students from UWC Maastricht and UWC RBC and some of the recent alumni were able to meet officials from the European Commission and handed over a letter written on behalf of all the UWCers from Cyprus to once again bring into the conversation the views and needs of the Cypriot youth. This letter was well received by the officials we met. I also had a chance to give a keynote speech at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Strasbourg about the environment and peacebuilding through environmental actions in Cyprus. My aim there was to show that the challenges as well as the lessons learned in Cyprus could serve as an example to other countries.

Similarly, I would like to ask how the UWC values come up in your daily life and the youth efforts in bringing the people of Cyprus together.

L: After graduating, I realised that UWC really is a utopia in terms of how much diversity there is or how people are free to talk about everything. This is far from our reality. It made me see that UWC as a group and the UWC values, everyone or nearly everyone, was incorporating these values in their lives but now I see that it is sometimes difficult to do this when you are dealing with other life issues. For me, as a UWC graduate, it is important for me not only to stay within the UWC network but also to understand how we can reach beyond the UWC network and share the values and mission with people who have not had the same opportunities.

A: I think that subconsciously we were merged, as we were growing up in Maastricht, with the UWC values. We do not choose to “celebrate difference” on a particular day, we just do it automatically. I really see a huge difference in me when I am, for example debating current affairs with my friends or even when just chatting about our days.

In what ways have you remained connected to the Scholarship Programme and to UWC and in what ways have you been able to give back thus far?

A: As I mentioned, I went a number of times to schools to speak about my UWC experience and to encourage students and their parents to think about this opportunity. I especially like to focus on the students from mixed marriages because as I said there are a lot fewer opportunities and the process is much more complicated for students from mixed marriages.

L: I was involved in the selection process. As alumni, we were able to share our stories with the prospective students. It was really interesting for me to see how much time and effort goes into preparing the selections and I am grateful that I was able to contribute to the process. We were pleased to learn that 56% of the applications came based on school visits and in this coming year we are sending students to UWC coming from all parts of Cyprus.