Sofia Vargas Aguayo
Human rights and political discussions took a prominent role in Sofia’s life from a very young age through her family. Her mother’s birthday falls on the same day as Protest day (September 11th), a day where the people of Chile remember all those who disappeared during the dictatorship of Pinochet. With this serendipitous connection always being present in her family, in combination with a growing passion for human rights activism and education, Sofia paved her way forward.
In 2011, the student revolutions were revived in Chile, and it was a time when more and more young people were choosing to speak up and discuss local issues. This sparked a fire in Sofia, and she spoke to everyone she could about it, to find out more, and see how she could become involved. She ultimately ended up leaving the formal education system when several establishments rejected her as being “communist and revolutionary”. Sofia, as a result, ended up having to taking charge of her own education, choosing which schools to apply to, and wanting to be in schools where she could share her thoughts and have meaningful discussions. With time though, she came to realise that in order to be as active as she wanted to be in the student protests and impact social change, she needed to leave the formal education system. Sofia then started to do home schooling, and joined the leadership of the student protests, where she became a representative of the movement, bringing their issues forward to the municipality.
In 2015, Amnesty International contacted her and invited her to join a 3 day workshop focused on student movements. On the final day of the workshop, she and her friends decided to speak up and take control of the discussion as they wanted to share their experiences on the ground rather than only discussing it from an outsider’s perspective. This left an impression, and after the workshop she was invited to work with Amnesty where she became the coordinator of a number of different projects with them. In this time, Sofia travelled a lot with Amnesty International. She was also a representative in the Ministry of Justice’s project “Education in Peaceful Resolution of Conflict”. Together with the Education Commission of the Supreme Court, they demonstrated that young people can also share formal spaces and voice their opinions and concerns about education. Sofia then also met with the President of Chile to discuss the importance of youth participation in planning the country's education system.
This time in her life was full of momentous occasions, but at the same time it was a very difficult time for Sofia as she, at such a young age, was speaking up in very important forums and had to carry a lot of responsibility. She was often in problems with the police, and there was a lot of violence during the protests. She shared that during this time, some of her friends who she protested with even went missing and she hasn’t seen them since.
“Speaking out for me is not a conscious decision that I think about, it is something that I have to do. If I don’t talk, no one will. It’s the only option I have.”
She found that when she came here to UWC, she was able to see how much fear she had at the time of being alone on the streets, and from always speaking out as she did. It was dangerous, and a lot of the time you did not know what would happen to you as a result. When she came here, she also became aware of how much she feared the police. In comparison, it is quite shocking to be here in the Netherlands where the police is viewed as a support system and it is safe to be outside in many different spaces.
Applying to UWC
Sofia heard about UWC during a summer programme she attended in Santiago. The coordinator of the program was a UWC alumnus from Red Cross Nordic. He told her all about UWC, and she was inspired by his story and his initiative to try and bring the UWC experience back home to Chile through summer programmes and workshops. Sofia was 15 years old when she first applied for UWC, and initially she didn’t receive the needed scholarship. However, for Sofia, UWC was her chance to finish her education as she was not going to be able to do so in Chile anymore. She eventually decided to apply again, with the support and encouragement of her friends and family, and got accepted to UWC Maastricht.
Life at UWC Maastricht
Sofia has now started her first year here at UWC Maastricht in the IB Diploma Program. It has been a bit of a tough transition for her as she had promised herself never to go back to a traditional schooling system, and yet the IB is quite traditional in its academic rigour. The combination with the UWC approach though convinced her to apply and re-join the two worlds.
“UWC is not perfect. But I also don’t want to live in a perfect place. UWC is like the world, with many different beliefs, socio-economic statuses, religions… it is chaotic. And that’s the real experience of UWC; having a discussion with floor mates who think completely differently from you, and then also being surprised to find that some people from completely different places can actually think very similarly to you. I wanted to come to UWC because it’s a total mess – and that’s the world. Here you have no idea what to expect from people, and that is the adventure.”