“I would cherish opportunities to visit other UWCs and am convinced that if the movement truly wishes for the 17 schools and colleges to fulfill the mission and vision, they need to have many teachers undergoing such exchanges to help generate commonalities across the movement in meeting the mission and vision, while also understanding what can make the diversity of each school a further element of strength within the movement.”
– John Fitzgerald, English faculty member at UWC ISAK Japan
UWC (United World Colleges) is a movement consisting of 17 schools and colleges across 4 continents. Yet, to UWC-USA faculty member Parris Bushong, “at times, our distance from each other makes it challenging to feel part of a movement.” Thus, with the intention of bridging the gap, he put forth a proposal for a teacher exchange program to UWC-USA President, Victoria Mora.
“Parris had previously brought a movement-wide proposal forward to the heads, but it hadn’t come to fruition. I suggested we try a bi-lateral approach, as a pilot. As I was new to my role, I took the idea to the heads meeting looking for a partner. Rod Jemison at UWC ISAK Japan immediately stood out as someone who might want to make it happen with me. The fact that UWC-USA is a long-standing UWC [founded in 1982] and UWC ISAK is new to the movement made for an especially interesting opportunity,” shares Ms. Mora.
Both Ms. Mora and Mr. Jemison decided to start small, by first piloting a two-week exchange. Mr. Jemison explained, “We had to be intentional in how we got it off the ground, and it ended up being very organic. There are issues associated with longer exchanges, for example with visas or compensation, so for us to be able to do this immediately, we decided a short exchange would be best.”
With the wheels in motion, the exchange took place during the first two weeks of November. Mr. Bushong traveled to the lovely resort town of Karuizawa, while Mr. Fitzgerald traversed to the historic Montezuma castle, where both were warmly received by their respective host communities.
Mr. Fitz (as he is fondly known at UWC ISAK) found his host community strikingly familiar. “The two campuses were similar in that the spirit of the students guide the culture of the school and, while the faculty has definite input, it is largely the students who create the culture they want to live in.”
Similarly, Mr. Bushong immediately recognized his host students as UWC students. “I imagine this would be the case at every UWC. Of course, the surrounding culture at UWC ISAK is very different indeed. When one leaves the campus, the world is Japanese. That was a fascinating component of the exchange,” he added.
While at the schools, both Mr. Bushong and Mr. Fitz had the opportunity not just to take part in daily activities such as teaching classes and having meals with students, but also to participate in some interesting events! Mr. Bushong experienced the UWC ISAK Professional Learning carousels, where faculty volunteer to present 15-minute workshops from their own expertise to their fellow colleagues. However, it was the Mount Asama eruption drill that he found to be most memorable. “My favorite moment was participating in the inaugural government-mandated full-campus volcanic eruption evacuation drill — one of those things I never really thought I would experience.”
On the other side of the world, Mr. Fitz was learning about some of the practices at UWC-USA, and sharing some of UWC ISAK Japan’s. “The Friday Night Cafe was a great presentation on the Kurdish Nation question, and I hope the Cafe tradition is something the students at UWC ISAK take up themselves. Also, watching the students embrace the UWC ISAK tradition of beginning classes with mindful meditation was great and has inspired me to renew my commitment to doing it daily with my own students.”
Naturally, the exchange brought benefits to the entire community. Ms. Mora explained that having Mr. Fitzgerald at UWC-USA “was a great opportunity for our students to get a sense of UWC from the standpoint of a teacher from another campus”.
“Our faculty and staff benefited from hearing about different ways of doing things, and from hearing about all of the ways in which we are grappling with common challenges and finding different (and similar) ways to best live our shared mission and values. Planning this exchange has really solidified the collegial relationship between Rod and myself and we find ourselves checking in with each other as sounding boards for any number of things happening on our campuses. Rod’s experience with independent schools and mine with tertiary education means we each bring different viewpoints to our collaborations and consultations, benefiting both of our communities.”
– Victoria Mora, President of UWC-USA
The experience was so positive that there is strong momentum to expand the program. Currently, UWC-USA is looking into the possibility of extending the exchange opportunity to staff members over a three-year period and discussing the possibility of involving students in the exchange as well. This is a sentiment echoed by Mr. Jemison, who stressed that inspiration has to go beyond just faculty members because in a UWC, all members of the community are just as invested in the mission and vision.
“We have to expose ourselves to the greater UWC community. The spirit of exchange is beneficial to all of us,” concluded Mr. Jemison.