Camp Rising Sun alumni at United World College: Q&A

By Cristian Mendoza, Sadie Cooley, Sonia Wargacka and Chiazo Agina

Cristian Mendoza, CRS '15,'16

Cristian Mendoza, CRS '15,'16

For many people, Camp Rising Sun is the first time they leave home for a long period of time, away from their friends, home, and family. When young teenagers are given this opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the world, make life long friendships, and start to discover themselves, they often find a sense of freedom and realize they are capable of more than they ever thought. For a young teenager this experience is truly remarkable valuable. I know this is what it was like for me. There's a saying that camp starts when it ends, and I find that to be very true - younger alumni give, it some time.

I wanted to pursue those values of a global world, a strong sense of community, and personal growth. When I heard about United World College, I was very interested, but my family didn't want me to leave home for that long. It was a hard choice to make but I decided that UWC was the place for me, and I have been admitted to the Class of 2019 at UWC-USA in Montezuma, New Mexico. I hope that for those seeking to continue with their Camp Rising Sun experience in a different way find these excerpts from current and past UWC students who are CRS alumni useful. If you're considering applying to UWC, best of luck!

What made you want to apply for UWC? Did CRS influence your decision?

Chiazo Agina, CRS ‘15,’16.  UWC-USA ‘18

Chiazo Agina, CRS ‘15,’16.  UWC-USA ‘18

Chiazo: I thought there was nothing to lose and I really missed the time I had at camp and the people I spent this time with, so CRS definitely influenced my decision.

Sadie: A friend that went there and my parents encouraged me to apply. CRS made me want to get in, there were also a group of girls in my session who all planned on applying and I had a lot of support from them.

Sonia Wargacka, CRS ‘10,’16. UWC Mahindra ‘14

Sonia Wargacka, CRS ‘10,’16. UWC Mahindra ‘14

Sonia: CRS only made me more convinced that I want to be a part of international community for longer than 7 weeks (length of CRS when I attended). I used to explain it to my Camp friends: “It’s like CRS, but for 2 years and with schools all around the world!”. Similarly, when I explain CRS to my UWC friends, I say “it’s like a UWC short course that you go to in a summer and make connections for a lifetime”.

How are/did you enjoy your experience?

Sadie Cooley, CRS ‘15. UWC Adriatic ‘18

Sadie Cooley, CRS ‘15. UWC Adriatic ‘18

Sonia:I was 17 and sent to India to live for 2 years without my parents - I thought that’s the best thing that can happen to me. Soon I realized that it’s also challenging as hell. Best and worst moments, intensity of the experience, IB pressure and high academic standards were balanced by life-long friendships, cultural evenings and most exciting travels and adventures. It’s been a wild ride: challenging, wonderful and intense.

Sadie: It’s really incredible, I feel myself growing more and more thankful for being selected everyday. I have the opportunity to see a lot of beautiful things and to travel. I recently spent some time in Montenegro and Albania for a project week. I also learn things pretty much constantly about other people’s countries and cultures.

Chiazo:  I have never gone to school with Nigerians, other Africans and Californians all at the same time. These are all parts of my identity that I strongly identify with and it has been amazing to see just how much of a difference it has made in my life. I feel more proud of my heritage, culture, and state. I feel more free, just like I was at Camp Rising Sun but maybe with more homework! It is amazing to have so much autonomy and feel the camp spirit all year round.

In what ways are UWC and CRS similar? How are they different?

Chiazo: UWC and CRS are similar in terms of improving the world and learning about different cultures. They both are interested in shaping the next generation of leaders and often dabble in the same types of activities: instructions, cultural meals, leadership tracks/days. They also both have to struggle with issues like funding. They are different in terms of environment. UWC mixes boys and girls and gives more freedom to their students. However both do often have to deal with promoting leadership while immersing those they wish to empower in bubbles.

Sadie: They both really focus on how important it is that young people from around the world are given the opportunity to interact with each other; it gives people a very global mindset and even teaching one person the importance of working conflict out through means other than violence can have more impact than you would think. They also are both very intense programs fit into a small time frame, which to me makes the experience all the more intense. The big difference is that the students at UWC are expected to be much more independent, we don’t really have things like evening programs,instructions, or projects unless we plan them ourselves. UWC is also more challenging for me, it feels less like a gentle teaching experience and more like a trial by fire. I think another big difference is the time and the combination of boys and girls, these two things provide a completely different experience.


They share the same values, but some UWC people are distracted by the academic aspect of it. I have never been too focused on academia, and it just seems that it puts a lot of stress on UWCers that CRS campers don’t have. CRS is a safe space from all the academic stress, while UWC is strongly related to it.

What is the UWC community at your school like?

Sonia: I made a film about Bald For a Cause, charity event that takes place in my school every year. It shows the community spirit more than words!

Sadie: It is a small community of 180 students in total, so you really do get to know everyone, which has it’s good and bad sides.  I think the community here really helps build up people’s sense of adventure. The people here are really independent for the most part. There’s also a lot of love that gets passed around, it’s not unusual to see people busy with hushed conversations or long hugs when someone needs a little support.

Chiazo: It is very diverse with students from more than 80 countries. There is strong sense of school spirit here. It is very normal to see everyone visiting each other or participating in class and sharing their personal experiences. When we get angry, we get passionate about any issues that affect us but only because we realize the potential of our school and community. It is very close knit and everyone knows each other. It does feel like home.

How is the education at a UWC different from your educational background prior?

Chiazo: I have never been the only American in any of my classes before. I have never had such a liberal schedule. The classes are very much like college with less busy work and less assessments that do weigh more for our overall grade. I feel less pressured in terms of grades but I know that some people feel more pressured here. I also have way more opportunities to involve myself in both my school and the local community. Everyone has a voice here, it’s just about finding it after so many years of not having it.

Sadie: My old school was very basic in its education and expectations compared to this school.  Teachers here really emphasize the importance of knowing the subject completely. I found it extremely challenging in the beginning and I still struggle sometimes. The teachers are really wonderful though, so they’ve helped me to get into the swing of things.

Sonia: The Polish education system is based on memorizing and very eurocentric. Not really thinking or processing. On history classes in MUWCI we first talked about Arab-Israeli conflict, then about Juan Perón in Argentina, and after that about Hitler’s rise to power. Having students from all over the world makes the experience so much richer. Never have I spoken about World War II with students from Germany, Israel and Jordan in the same class. What an experience!

What are some things that surprised you or didn’t expect once you were there?

Sonia: I lived on campus where 5 out of 5 most venomous snakes in India have been present. And we had cockroaches (during monsoon) and scorpions in our rooms if we forgot to close the door. The craziest thing is that… you get used to it!

Chiazo: I have gotten into confrontations here but have found myself really taking the time to work out my differences with people here because it is uncomfortable to hold these things in. It has helped me grow a lot. 

Are there any negatives that you’ve discovered once at UWC?

Sonia: Of course, but that’s highly year/school/batch dependent. There is no institution that would not have its flaws, so I’d like to emphasize here UWC is not a paradise where there’s no problems.

What advice would you have for recent CRS alumni considering applying to UWC?

Chiazo: Do it! UWC is very similar to camp in it’s mission statement but also a pleasant change. It’s a great place to grow among both boys and girls and an amazing environment to let your ideas be heard. Make sure to research the campus you want to attend!

Sadie: if you feel like stepping way out of your comfort zone and embracing a lot of independence, I highly recommend applying!

Sonia: Go for it! Be yourself,  there are so many people who try to be someone they are not on the selection: Disagree, think critically and make sure you ask THEM questions as well!
Also, don’t get upset if you don’t get in. There’s so many different opportunities out there for you, that’s certainly not the only one.

If UWC wasn’t an option, what other opportunities, possibly like UWC/CRS, would you have applied to?

Sadie: Most likely a study abroad year, I really wanted to test my limits and leave my comfort zone.

Sonia: EMIS - Great initiative in Israel (originally was supposed to be a UWC school) And has plenty of opportunities too.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors.