by Linjie Zhou
Welcome Simone, Raffaela, and Filippo to UWC Thailand! !
Simone is currently the Director of Residential Life at UWC Thailand, having joined the UWC movement 20 years ago as an English teacher, CAS Service Learning and Community Engagement Coordinator, and house parent. For the past six years prior to joining UWCT Thailand, he served as the English Department Head and Houseparent at UWC ISAK Japan.
Raffaela is currently the Boarding Wellbeing Lead for boarding Students at UWC Thailand and has worked with charities and non-profit organizations in Italy, Israel, Palestine, Mexico, and the Balkans. After collaborating with UWC Adriatic on some educational projects, in 2015 she joined UWC ISAK Japan, where she worked as a social-emotional counselor, and as the advisory and interfaith program coordinator, as well as houseparent.
Their son Filippo has also joined the UWCT community and is in Kindergarten.
We had the opportunity to interview this family to learn more about their UWC journey and their vision for UWC Thailand.
Q1: Welcome to UWC Thailand! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
Simone (“S”): I come from Italy. I started teaching while collaborating with a charity in Rwanda. I have been involved with the UWC movement for over twenty years. I led short courses in Montenegro and Russia and I took part in many UWC selections around Europe. I collaborated on the creation of the Armenian National Committee and I ran the first UWC selections in that country. Between 2006 and 2015, I worked at UWC Adriatic, where I taught English and I was the CAS and community engagement Coordinator as well as a House Parent. Before joining UWCT, I spent six years at UWC ISAK Japan as a teacher, as the Head of the English Department, and as a House Parent.
Raffaela (“R”): Before joining the International School circuit, I worked with charities and Not-for-profits on projects in Italy, Israel, and Palestine, Mexico, and the Balkans. I focused on conflict transformation, interfaith dialogue, and community building. These experiences continue to shape my contribution to the UWC community and my practice as a counselor.
After collaborating with UWC Adriatic on some educational projects, in 2015 I joined UWC ISAK Japan, where I worked as a social-emotional counselor, and as the advisory and interfaith program coordinator, as well as a House Parent.
Q2: So you have been involved with the UWC movement for over twenty years, could you tell us how you started your UWC journey?
S: My participation as a 17-year-old in the 1995 UWC Lithuania Short Course, changed my life for good. That short course taught me what community service and compassionate leadership mean.
Q3: What is the reason you and your family chose UWC Thailand?
R&S: We were attracted by the unique way in which UWC Thailand connects the sense of responsibility for bringing positive change into the world which comes from UWC values, with a focus on the importance of promoting positive change in one’s ‘heart, mind, and body’.
Q4: After being involved in the UWC movement for so long, what is it about the UWC that still surprises you?
R&S: It’s the people, with their immensely diverse backgrounds and inspiring stories.
Also how each UWC school expresses the UWC values based on the uniqueness of the host countries, community, and culture.
Q5: What is the most impressive experience you have had with UWCso far?
S: Those powerful experiences are often linked to students.
I am thinking for example about a young woman from Western Sahara I met at one of the UWC schools I worked at. She used to be the best student at her previous school. Passionate about drama and creative writing – both in Spanish and Arabic – she had been awarded prizes and a scholarship to support her studies. Upon her arrival at UWC, it became clear that the academic side of her experience would be very challenging. She had no background in English, and she went from being a top student to being the one whose case was invariably discussed in ‘students in difficulty’ meetings. In the course of her studies, this young woman displayed impressive determination and resilience. She was advised to take on certificates, instead of pursuing the full IB Diploma. She refused and continued with her diploma.
With the constant support of her educators and her friends, she succeeded in the end and went on to obtain her full IB diploma. She even wrote a powerful EE on the role and leadership of Saharawi women in Western Sahara. Meanwhile, she remained committed and active in the community: I remember in particular the friendship she developed with a local elderly lady she visited on a regular basis in the context of the school volunteering program.
This student taught me a lesson about the meaning of Kurt Hahn’s motto “There is more in you than you think”.
Q6: After spending a few weeks at UWC Thailand, how do you feel and what is your vision?
S: There is so much to learn and to explore. Being new is a great exercise in empathy. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of our new students who are also experiencing all this for the first time.
R: I feel curious about what I am going to learn and what I am going to contribute to the school community. My vision is that we as a movement keep nurturing our core values, while cultivating a readiness to respond to the new challenges and needs, without being fearful of change.
Q7: What are the similarities and differences that you have noticed across the UWC colleges?
S: All UWC schools share and promote the same ideals. The settings are extremely different and the local culture also shapes the school culture. For example, we noticed that kindness, which is important to Thai culture, permeates the interactions at UWCT. In Italy, the college facilities including the student residences are scattered around a small village: this promotes conviviality which is an important feature of Mediterranean culture.
R: At UWC ISAK Japan, the contemplation of nature, which is connected to the Shinto tradition, can be experienced thanks to the beauty of the campus setting and through a variety of activities.
Q8: Is there anything you want to share more about you or your family?
S: In a boarding environment, I think the presence of a family can be reassuring for the students. It can give them a sense of home away from home.
R: I’m very excited to be here and experience this as a family. Because the two of us are working here and our son Filippo is in Kindergarten, we have the chance to live the school values at different ages, from different perspectives, but still as one unit.