I just finished attending the Mini UWC in Changshu, China, and felt the need to write down everything before I forget all of these amazing experiences and memories I made.
The Mini UWC was a summer camp I attended from August 1st to August 8th 2016 in Changshu at the UWC. Its topic was “The challenge of development” and during the programme we were set out to create our own project but more about that later.
The Pre-Day was on August 1st. Some participants and I were picked up at Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai. We met up with a facilitator and an adult supervisor. After waiting a bit for a small bus to arrive we finally made our way to Changshu. It took us two hours to get to the UWC in Changshu – most of us used this time for catching up on sleep. After we arrived we got to know about our tribes, rooms and we also got two really nice t-shirts. So what exactly is a tribe? All participants were mixed in different groups (“tribes”9 with two tribe leaders. Every day in the evening the tribes meet up separately and we talked about our highs, lows, problems and did many more things. I was in Tribe 4 – the coolest tribe ever!
Anyways, after registration we went to our rooms. After most participants arrived we meet up at the common room and introduced each other. Surprisingly 31 out of 34 participants were Chinese – there was only a Japanese girl, a Japanese-Croatian boy and I (from Germany, as you could have guessed). So after the introduction we were divided into groups and played some funny games like remembering all the names, getting into order of age without talking … I actually met a girl who spent a year in Germany too! Soon it was time for dinner and we had to sit with our tribes. It was really awkward at first because no one really knew what to say… But after dinner we had an opening ceremony which was really cool. The facilitators danced 小苹果 (Little Apple) for us and I totally love that song, it is so catchy! They also did a Dragon Dance and two girls sang a Cantonese song. Also, one facilitator showed us card tricks which were really cool. And then at 8pm we had our very first tribe time. At 9.30pm every evening there was a check with name calling and then we had free time until 11pm.
So finally the official Mini UWC started – and it was a great beginning. Before breakfast we started the day with some energizers which were basically stretching and running. And after the breakfast we started with a tribe competition. There were different games and tribes competed for points. It was really funny – there are too many funny games I have never heard of before like “Spicy Sushi”, “Giants, Wizards, Goblins”, “Magic Curtain” and many more. Sadly our tribe did not win but we had a lot of fun anyways. After lunch we had a case study about “Habitat for Humanity” which was really interesting. We got to know more about it and learned new things for our projects. Then we had an introduction about the UWC schools. In the evening we had a game night where we had different card games like UNO, Halli Galli … The group I was with first played Uno and after that we watched a facilitator do some card tricks. After the game night we had tribe time, then check and then we were free for the rest of the evening.
The second day also started with an energizer – we learned the dance to 小苹果 (Little apple) from the facilitators. Sadly I can only remember the dance to the chorus. After breakfast we were divided into our tribes and each tribe got to analyze a problem. Our mentor was acting as an old man whose house got always stickers put on the wall. After analyzing the problem we had to find solutions for it. Our solutions were 1) have people from the village guarding the village so that they can look out for the stickers or 2) get a dog to chase away the people putting on the advertisements. During this session we learnt how to analyze a project, its causes and consequences and also, how to find a solution based on different criteria. We had to present our problem and our solution for it to the other tribes after lunch then. And then it was time for another case study about “Click” which is a student-led programme and aims to teach students more in online sessions. We got to experience one of these sessions about India and then we discussed about it, gave our feedback, … In the evening we had a Global Issues forum where we talked about education. We divided into groups and had discussions about some points of education. It was definitely very interesting to hear more about other people’s experience with their educational system. And then we had tribe time again and we called it a day.
Day 3 was the first day for us to work on our projects. We got divided into different groups with about four to five people, my group included five people in total. First we started with thinking about problems we identified in our communities and which we wanted to solve. My group members (who were all Chinese) had ideas about pollution in China … but I had the idea of talking about the refugee crisis and the problems we are facing right now because of it. We took a vote on the topic we wanted to choose and I am quite happy that we all decided on the refugee crisis / migration / integration topic. We discussed a lot about how we could try to solve this project or how we could link it to China and whom we would like to target. At first I somehow had the thought that my team members were not as motivated as me about the topic or too shy to say something or that they did not really seem to understand what I wanted to do. But do not worry! We did not really have a fall out but we talked about what problems we had with our team communication and I learned a lot from that! After we talked about our projects we had another case study about the organization “Roots & Shoots”. After every case study we were divided into smaller group where we talked about it and got some questions to discuss about. And then we worked on our projects again, settled on our final idea and we decided on founding an organization that targets young people and students and where local people can interact with refugees, immigrants and people from different backgrounds. Our evening activity was “Trivia” – and that was one of my favorite activities we had there! We were grouped in our tribes and each tribe got a small whiteboard. Then we were asked questions and we had to write down our answer on the board and raise it to get points. The first category was logos like Coca Cola, IKEA … here everyone who got the right answer got points. The second category was capital cities and the fastest tribe got a point for the right answer. There was one person in one tribe who knew every capital – even the one of Fiji! As the countries got more complicated they still did know every capital. For the final question the tribe got five points for the right capital and they asked for the capital of Pakistan which I luckily did know – Islamabad! The third category was to guess the songs name and we got some points there too as we knew the song titles Get lucky, Sorry … And the last category was to guess the Pokémon! And luckily we had one boy in my tribe who knew almost every Pokémon so we got lots of points there and we won Trivia! My tribe always really liked to put our hands together in our mid and then raise them to the sky while shouting “Tribe 4” but when we did that everyone copied us! L Trivia was really funny and I definitely liked it!
Time seemed to pass by really fast and it was already Day 4! Everyone seemed to be really nervous and stressed about the projects since we had to present our projects on Day 6. We started the day with a “workshop” about Resource Management which was really interesting. We also got to play a “game” where we were divided into groups and had to build a stable bridge (which was placed between two tables and had to carry as many water bottles as possible). Each group got some starting money and could then buy some materials for the bridge and also get money from Crowdfunding and Angel Investors where we got different benefits like faster Crowdfunding … Luckily my group managed to build a stable bridge and every leftover money also gave us some points we won the game! I feel like I took away a lot from that game since I learned how to manage the resources, how to prioritize them but I also learned how important communication and team work is. Then we had a Publicity workshop and another case study about HIV. Unfortunately the case study was in Chinese and it had to be translated to me (thanks a lot to the facilitators for translating it to me). I felt that I could not really “participate” in the case study but it was still a really interesting topic. After that we had time to work on our projects and there were two optional workshops but we chose not to go as we had a very limited amount of time to work on our project. At that time we were not really making any huge process since we did not really know what to really do. But then we met again after dinner and tribe time and we talked about our issues and we made a huge step forward. We worked on our project until almost 12am (curfew time was actually at 11pm) and everyone put in a lot of effort.
On Day 5 we went out for the “Changshu Challenge” which meant climbing a mountain. They told us that it was not very exhausting and that we should wear long pants so that we would not be bitten by mosquitos and I should not have believed them. I wore long black trousers and I almost died climbing with them because it was too hot. And the mountain was very steep – even though it was a really short climb (maybe 20-30 minutes), it was very exhausting and difficult to climb it. I felt like collapsing after arriving on the top. But in exchange we got to see the beautiful view over Changshu which was really amazing. Located at the top was a temple and we got some questions and tasks we had to solve. With every task we solved we had to take a picture of it with our whole group (our tribe). We did some Tai Qi on the mountain top and I got to teach my tribe some Kungfu, which I picked up in Wuhan. Then we began to walk down and while doing that we had to do some tasks as well. And as lunch we got to go to a Chinese restaurant and we ate lots of delicious things. We ended up playing some games after we finished eating. We got back to the school, had a little break (which I used to look over our project) and then we worked again on our project. I felt much stressed out at that time because we already had to present our project on the next day and we had very little time left to prepare. After our schedule almost every project group still worked on their project – my group worked until around 1am, then we were almost finished and we decided to get some rest. Well, I did not really feel like getting sleep so I checked everything again and thought about the presentation. I think most people actually stayed awake until 2-3am to work on their projects.
And finally the day of our presentations arrived – you could see how worried and stressed out everyone was. We had some time left to prepare before our presentations so we talked about some details and then worked on what we wanted to actually say in our presentation. Then it was time for our first presentation – we were a bit nervous, sometimes forgot what to say but I was and still am very proud of my group because we gave it our best. The judge of our first presentation gave us some very helpful critique but I was really nervous as he did not say it was bad but neither did he say it was very good. After we finished with our first presentation we moved to another room and our next judges were the principal and headmaster of UWC Changshu. That made me become very nervous but this presentation went very smooth and I personally thought it was better than the first one. While we got the feedback from our judges they seemed to like our project and I felt very happy about that. They told us that they would like to know more about our project when it is starting. And then we had a public exhibition where we presented our projects to the other judges, invited people, the facilitators and the other participants. Everyone could vote on the “most feasible”, “most sustainable”, “most impact”, “most creative” and the “best overall” project. The other projects were very interesting but I felt little connection to them since they were all based in China – Of course I heard of problems before like air pollution, … So after everyone voted we had a farewell dinner and then a farewell party! They showed us a video with photos of the camp and at that time I almost felt like crying. Some people also performed like one participant showed us her Tai Qi skills, another one played the guitar, a project group danced and a girl showed us some traditional dance. Then the winner tribe of the Changshu challenge was announced and my tribe won! We got some sweets as a prize. And then the outcome of the voting was announced. After not winning any of the categories I felt quite sad because my project group put in a lot of effort but then when the winner group of “Best project overall” was announced with an “Is 1 a prime number?” (My group was group number 1) I felt so surprised because I did not expect it anymore and I was very happy about it as well as my group members were. They gave me the certificate for it and I put it into a frame so that I can always be remembered of it J And then the real party finally began and we danced to songs like Macarena, Watch me, Harlem Shake, … As we were feeling really thankful towards all the facilitators Kate (a participant) and I decided to give a thank you speech (without actually preparing it). So first of all Kate accidentally rammed the microphone to my teeth in front of everyone (embarrassing, right?) and then we got all the facilitators to the front, thanked them (I talked a bit too much so that Kate ran out of words – sorry about that L I tend to talk too much when I am too excited) and gave them a big applause. After the party I was feeling a bit dizzy from everything… but we still stayed up almost all night, talked and then got some sleep in the early morning hours.
Day 7 was the day to say goodbye. I only slept about two hours and then I woke up. We had breakfast and then at around 12 o’clock we left for Shanghai in a shuttle bus. We first stopped at Suzhou Train Station, then at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport and then at Shanghai Pudong Airport. I had to get off at Shanghai Pudong Airport and then I had to wait for a very long time since my flight left at 23:35. Luckily I got some company until around 7 o’clock but then everyone else left and I had to wait alone. I used that time to look at the pictures we got on an USB and I already felt like crying then. Mini-UWC was such an amazing experience I will never forget.
When I arrived back home the next time I only got changed, showered and then already did go to another summer camp. I did not really have any time to catch up on any sleep during that camp too and neither did I have a lot of free time but finally I have some free time now to actually write about my experience.
I can just say that going to Mini-UWC was the most amazing experience I have ever had. Yes, I felt stressed during the camp, a bit hopeless and I felt like sleeping was overrated during the camp but for that I got a lot of amazing memories, made some new friends, and learned a lot more and now I have a project that I want to implement in my city. What did I learn? I learned about teamwork, resources, communication and one very helpful thing – that you can be the change you want to see in the world. Now I know if I actually want to change something, I can do that. I know how to implement my ideas and I hope to implement the project we were working on soon. I made friends that I hope to see again very soon and I feel like attending Mini-UWC and fighting for it were the best choice I have ever made.
At this point I want to say thank you – to a lot of people. Thank you to all the people who supported me on my way to China, the people who donated, shared my story or simply told me that I could do it. Thank you to the facilitators who helped me before I came to China and during the camp. You all put in a lot of effort and I am really happy that you all were there. I learned a lot from the camp and without you all it would have not been the same. A thank you to my tribe and tribe leaders where we shared our high and lows, talked about our day and had a lot fun. At first I thought the tribe time was a bit boring but you proved me otherwise. I had a lot of fun with you. Thank you to my project group for working with me and for putting in a lot of effort. I am very happy with our outcome and I am very happy that we are still working on YCB. Especially a huge thank you to our project mentor Miffy: without you we would not have been able to get this far with our project. Thanks a lot for helping us with everything – even during the night when you could have slept but you helped us! And another huge thank you to all the participants: you made the camp amazing and I was happy to have spent time with all of you. You all were very kind, nice and had amazing visions and thoughts. I really hope to see you all again – maybe at the next Mini-UWC? There are too many people who I would like to mention one by one but this post is already far too long so please do not feel offended if I did not mention all of you by your name. I feel thankful to every person and just once again: thank you!
PS: I am sorry for my English here – I just really felt the need to write everything down very quickly before I will forget everything!