At home in the world

by Vinutha Mallya

Endlich! (Ausgabe I/2020)

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Students plant vegetables in the garden of the UWC Mahindra College. Photo: Grit Schwerdtfeger


Forty kilometres from Pune city in west India, the sprawling campus of Mahindra United World College of India, or ‘MUWCI’, sits on a misty mountain plateau. It is nestled in the Western Ghats, the mountain range hosting India’s vast tropical rainforest, which is also a biodiversity hotspot and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tucked away from the chaotic bustle of the city, 240 students from 80 nations are studying at the international boarding school for their International Baccalaureate Diploma.

The ecological importance of MUWCI’s location inspired the college to launch a biodiversity park and reserve on its campus in 2006. The prospect of studying in a biodiversity reserve had appealed to Seemole Moloto, a student from South Africa. “I had never lived in Asia before, and I also wanted to do something new. The idea of being here, in a consciously sustainable way, was exciting,” she says. Founded in 1997, MUWCI is one of 18 UWCs that make up the “global movement” of United World Colleges launched in 1962 by German educator Kurt Hahn.

The spectacular views of the Mulshi and Kolwan river valleys surrounding the 170-acre campus create an idyllic setting for MUWCI’s students, who are aged between 16 and 17 years. The students tend to the gardens and explore the outdoors, for treks, hikes, cycling and sports.

The villages in the valleys also offer them opportunities to work on community-based projects and interact with villagers. “We organize, motivate and drive a project in the community, but it’s not us making change, it’s them,” emphasises Jenna Stallard from New Zealand, who has been working to inform village women about menstrual hygiene.

Managing diversity and thinking critically are important aspects of student life at the college

Life-lessons are also learnt in the rooms of the ‘wada’, which is the local word for residence. Faculty members, representing eight countries, guide the students as student advisors and ‘wada parents’. “In their room, students are intentionally placed with three others from different countries or cultures. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires,” says Aparna Ramchandran, teacher of psychology and the head of student life at MUWCI. The residences are learning spaces, where students are encouraged to interact, cook together and create moments of cultural exchange. It forms a part of the education of the youngsters, especially in managing conflict resolution, adds Ramchandran.

There is space for student feedback to the teachers, allowing the issues to be addressed, says Indian student Uditi Chandrashekhar, who was at first overwhelmed by the diversity she encountered on campus. Managing diversity and thinking critically are important aspects of student life at the college. Race, privilege, class, global affairs, politics, elitism, gender, and also topics such as differences in cultural values, languages, are freely discussed and debated. Uditi adds “you get to understand that the arguments and disagreements are not personal.”

However, as an international school that selects its students on the basis of specific criteria, the campus is not as diverse economically. The education they receive is not elitist, says Shayiq, an Indian student. “But we are privileged,” he accepts. Lena agrees: “We have to acknowledge that we are very privileged to be here. I reflect on that, and on how to use the privileges I have.” Many would say that such reflections are the bedrock of good education.



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