Teaching Mutual Understanding and Peace: The United World Colleges

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Teaching Mutual Understanding and Peace: The United World Colleges

Graciela Briceno, Education Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development; Founder, Boston Music Project


UWC Day, 2019. Photo: UWC Waterford Kamhlaba.

Where do our students go once they’ve completed their formative studies, played their final notes with our ensembles, and ventured out into the world to set their own paths? Many will continue on to high school and university, but in some countries and contexts that is not possible, due to financial hardships or family expectations to join the workforce. Some youth might find their path instantly, while others may struggle to bridge the gap between the sense of community and artistic passion they developed through years in music for social impact programs and the often very different circumstances of the “real world.”

Which raises the question: What if there were an option for students—even those who could not afford additional years of school—to continue their “social development through music” journey? As it happens, there is one: United World Colleges (UWC), a consortium of higher education institutions that prioritizes—as does our field—peace, collaboration, and mutual understanding. In the words of its website: “UWC is a global movement that makes education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future, and inspires young people to put their talents and energy into social change.”

This educational consortium is made up of 18 campuses on four continents, including schools in Tanzania, Costa Rica, India, Armenia, Thailand, Eswatini, and Japan. Each school has a unique location and character, and all are dedicated to nurturing young people’s energy and idealism toward empathy, responsibility, and lifelong activism. (For example, the Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa was the first multiracial school in the region, founded in 1963 as a direct response to South Africa’s apartheid system.) UWC follows the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, providing students with the knowledge and skills necessary to attend university while also encouraging them to consider how they can support their communities, and incorporating leadership, teamwork, creativity, and self-confidence into the learning journey.

A distinctive aspect of UWC is their belief in the power of music and the arts. Their recent Impact Story on alumnus Juan Sebastian Delgado describes how he was driven by a passion to share the power of music with others, to create initiatives with leading composers, and to travel to remote communities to teach music to disadvantaged youth. Originally from Argentina, Juan finished his last two years of high school at UWC Adriatic in Italy, where he grasped the full implications of mutual respect, international cooperation, and social responsibility. He states, “In a world that is rapidly changing, where social and cultural values are constantly being challenged by a hyper-materialistic and individualistic society, UWC Adriatic provided me with a deep sense of community. I forged long-lasting relationships based on mutual understanding and empathy, regardless of social beliefs and cultural barriers.” Juan is now pursuing a Doctoral degree in music performance at McGill University in Canada.

UWC operates national committees in over 150 countries and territories that recruit young people from varying backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. The majority of students are ages 16-19, although some schools cater to younger or older individuals. UWC seeks compassionate, idealistic students who are driven to make the world better. Best of all, the organization aims to ensure that money is not a barrier to a quality education, which is why over 80% of students selected by UWC national committees receive full or partial financial assistance. UWC also has a Refugee Initiative that provides full scholarships to displaced young people from conflict areas, including additional spaces for Afghan youth. Some UWC campuses are able to offer their graduates scholarships for college, university, or conservatory study. Finally, UWC offers shorter educational programs on subjects such as leadership, equality, and sustainability.

There are many similarities between the music for social impact movement and United World Colleges, the foremost being our mutual belief that education should not be just about personal advancement, but should inspire students to discover what connects us all as humans, just as music ensembles deepen connections between us. Here’s hoping that some of our students will find ways to connect with UWC, to help them pursue their journeys and become changemakers for peace and understanding.


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