November/December Feature Story
“Today, making an impact as a young,
change-making globalist is challenging,”
~Hon. Anne McLellan, Chair of the Board of Directors.
In 1974, Pearson College UWC (United World Colleges) was founded as the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific and United World Colleges (Canada). Its beautiful campus along the shores of the Pacific Ocean at Pedder Bay on the southern tip of Vancouver Island is located on the unceded territory of the Scia’new (Beecher Bay) First Nation. Today, the College is one of 18 UWC schools worldwide.
Like all UWCs, Pearson College is committed to a mission that was far ahead of its time, and yet is more pertinent today than ever—an educational force designed “to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”
Perhaps due to its slightly, off-the-main road location in Metchosin, there is a misconception that Pearson College UWC is an elite private school for international students. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, according to Brian Geary, Director of Communications at the College, many students are from regions of conflict, refugee backgrounds, and frequently from challenging socio- economic backgrounds. It is through the generous individual and organizational donors that the vast majority of Pearson students – more than 80% this year – attend on full or partial scholarships for a two-year, pre-university International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma.
World Class Education
An IB Diploma is the most recognized and respected high- school diploma in the world and Pearson was one of the first schools in North America to offer this program. Pearson has developed curricula, such as a Marine Sciences course, that has been adopted by the IB organization for use around the world. Together with a demanding academic program, Pearson emphasizes a values-based approach to experiential education that sees students live, study, and grow together as a community.
“Our program renewal equips students with the skills and values to be effective, positive change makers now and long after they become alumni,” says Désirée McGraw, President and Head of College. She adds that the College is in the midst of an initiative to “renew and re-found” Pearson to ensure that it continues to be a sought-after, relevant institution for students and change makers from around the world and strengthens its ties with the West Shore and Greater Victoria communities.
“Today, making an impact as a young, change-making globalist is challenging,” says Hon. Anne McLellan, Chair of the Board of Directors. “Right here on the West Shore, our school is training, supporting and inspiring resilient young people who will make a difference locally and in their home communities—around the world—for decades to come.”
Becoming a Global Citizen
Nearly 4,200 students have graduated from Pearson College UWC over its 45-year history. Today, many work in a variety of professions in every corner of the world. To date, 14 Pearson alumni have gone on to become Rhodes Scholars.
I asked a few current students about any unexpected shifts in perspective they’ve experienced during their time at the College. Here are three of their remarkable considered responses:
“Coming from Bogotá (Colombia), a city with roughly 9 million people, I always underestimated the power of nature to heal and enrich the mind and the spirit. Before coming to the College, I had never been on a hike, never been on the waterfront, and certainly never star-gazed.
Needless to say, I was a city boy. I was used to traffic jams—the worst in South America—noise, buildings and large crowds everywhere I went. And then, I came to Pedder Bay. I changed my sweaters for a waterproof jacket and my sneakers for hiking boots. Unlike my biology classes back home, which took place in a lab, I started going on excursions on a monthly-basis. Sandy beaches, mudflats, Race Rocks, and other natural parks in this part of Vancouver Island became my new classroom. Indeed, the College has taught me to appreciate the natural beauty of B.C. and value the importance of experiential education. After a year of living and learning at this wonderful place, I now go on hikes to manage my stress levels, paddle a canoe to liberate anxiety, and sit on the grass to ‘photosynthesize’ the good energy that this part of the world has to offer.” Daniel Corredor Llorente (YR 45/2020, Colombia)
“One of the biggest lessons Pearson College UWC has taught me is about my identity. Living in Estonia, I rarely noticed the effect of my heritage on the way I interacted with everything around me. Here, living in a completely different country and a multiculturally- minded space, my differences, my Estonianism, became apparent to me.
Additionally, the College has taught me to be a better communicator across cultural barriers to understand my words and the words or actions of others. Before, intercultural understanding was just a far-off word I barely understood; but, living here truly taught me what it is and why I should and will continue to engage in it. I’m thankful to Pearson College for teaching me what being Estonian truly means and what communicating that looks like.” Elis Soord (YR 45/2020, Estonia)
“Before coming to Pearson College UWC, high school cafeterias frustrated me. Lunch tables were always segregated by race,gender, class or athletic ability. I can distinctly remember the anxious whispers of individuals trying to determine their sitting arrangements: Do I sit with the jocks or the intellects?
I believe the dynamics of high school cafeterias hold foundational properties of larger conflicts [found in our society today], specifically, as a reflection of the many global crises related to race, class, gender and ability inequality. The commonality between them is people are afraid of differences, leading to assumptions, stereotypes and therefore the belief that one group is superior to another. This attitude fosters a hostile environment; a perfect incubator for violence.
I came to this realization while observing the alternative dynamics in my Pearson College community. The College is the type of place where you can sit down at a table with ten different countries represented. We aren’t divided by the shade of our skin, the money in our bank account or our math capability. Rather, we are bonded because of those differences. So, when I think about the world atrocities, I wonder who is sitting at the table? Does everyone [have to] look, talk and act the same? Pearson has taught me to be conscious of this and to be inquisitive and vocal about who is being heard and who is not.
So, no matter if it is a cafeteria table or the House of Commons, I encourage all of us to start thinking about how systems are constructed and whether they truly reflect all voices.” Sarah Lewis (YR 45/2020, Canada-NL)