UWC Atlantic opened in 1962 and paved the way for a world peace movement driven by young people. The United World Colleges soon expanded into a global network of 18 schools and colleges, including UWC-USA in New Mexico, which opened in 1982.
With 90 nationalities alone under one roof in St Donat’s, and over 20 of the 353 students hailing from the US, it’s an exciting place to be.
‘It’s basically the whole world in one castle, in the middle of the Welsh countryside!’
That’s how 16-year-old Bella Pincus describes her school. Bella grew up in Manhattan in New York City, so when her grandfather suggested UWC Atlantic as the place to complete her studies, she wasn’t sure at first.
‘I thought I’d rather be in a big city, because that’s what I’m used to. But I’ve definitely changed my mind because there’s a whole global community here and there’s so many different people you can meet. So in a way it’s similar to New York city because of its diversity’, Bella says.
While the rolling hills and rugged coastline surrounding St Donat’s can’t be compared to the skyscrapers of New York, the diversity that Bella feels within the walls of UWC Atlantic is a real and deliberate one, according to the college’s principal:
‘Our hope is that, if students from all over the world can learn how to live with one another, they learn that our similarities far outweigh what divides us in the world, and through that bring about a greater peace in the world,’ Naheed Bardai says.
A United World College, the first of its kind, UWC Atlantic was founded by visionary educationist Kurt Hahn. Hahn was a Jewish man who was exiled from his native country Germany after speaking out against the Nazis. The destruction of the World Wars gave him a belief in the need to work beyond conflict, and the potential of education as a force for good.
At the height of the Cold War, he collaborated with NATO allied countries to bring their youth together in St Donat’s. Lord Mountbatten – you may remember him from The Crown as a father figure to Prince Phillip and confidante to Queen Elizabeth II - was the college’s founding president. The movement started in Wales and soon extended to other countries across the world, with 18 colleges in countries including the US, Canada, South Africa, Netherlands, China and Thailand. Today, the boarding school is home to students from 90 nationalities and, thanks to financial support through sponsorships and scholarships, educates refugees as well as royalty.
The college counts several royals in its alumni including Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands. But it is also where “the Other Malalas”, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, the Pakistani schoolgirls who were with their friend Malala Yousafzai when she was shot, were educated.
‘I think it’s one of the most unique places in the world. It’s two years with people from all over the world who are passionate about wanting to make a change’, says 16-year-old Carmen Henick from Virginia in the US.
Principal Naheed Bardai says the college has become a beacon for international education and its outward looking approach means its alumni have gone on to become politicians, astronauts, activists, philanthropists, artists and high-flying executives.
Among its biggest achievements is helping to co-create- and continuing to shape the International Baccalaureate programme that’s now taught worldwide. Students of the college also harnessed the its coastal location to develop the rigid-hulled inflatable lifeboat, catching the eye of the RNLI rescue charity, to whom it sold the patent for £1 in the 1970s.
But Naheed says the college is also a beacon for Wales and sets great store on helping its local community. Student Bella regularly meets with some of the elderly residents in nearby Llantwit Major while the college has also been supporting Ukrainian refugees who have recently settled in neighbouring towns.
Engaging with local communities means a lot of the students have come to see Wales as home, so much so that the Wales football team may have some new supporters at this World Cup:
‘I think I might support both Wales and the US. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and this way I have two chances to win!’, says student Carmen.
‘I’m lucky that I have two different teams in red’, says principal Naheed Bardai, ‘Wales and Canada, where I’m born and from. So I’m looking forward to encouraging two underdogs!’
Links to more information:
- Study in Wales
- The vastness of the Vale of Glamorgan | Visit Wales
- Things to do in the Vale of Glamorgan | Visit Wales
- Family ancestry and researching your family tree | Visit Wales
- Links between Wales and the US - places to visit in Wales | Visit Wales
- 10 questions on the links between Wales and the US | Wales.com