Returning to MUWCI

When I decided to return to MUWCI after six years of teaching elsewhere, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What had changed, and what would be the same as I left it? Like most international schools, MUWCI has a fairly high turnover of teachers, so I knew that I would be working with a mostly new set of colleagues. Would I be welcomed as a newcomer or as an old-timer? Would I be that teacher who constantly talks about how things used to be?

Happily, all of these questions have found positive answers. All of the best parts of MUWCI are still there or have been strengthened. At the same time, a lot of progress has been made in problem areas. I have never felt so happy to return somewhere, and I feel a greater sense of belonging here than in previous tenures at UWC.

The first thing that struck me on returning was the campus itself, especially the bio-reserve. The bio-reserve has transformed into a more mature forest and a flourishing ecosystem in the past six years. Trees I knew as saplings are now tall, and there are fewer and fewer places where the valley is visible behind the canopy. Wildlife is more abundant, and in my first weeks here I encountered countless species that I never or rarely used to be here. For instance, during the five years when I taught here the first time (2010 until 2015), I remember seeing a total of three or four monkeys on campus (they were always solitary, away from the clan). Now there is a whole family of them, happily living in the forest around the main drive, foraging regularly among the fruit trees and sometimes even venturing into the populated areas. I have seen evidence of porcupines, butterflies, wild-boards, and serpents in abundance, and the Malabar whistling thrush (a.k.a. “Whistling schoolboy”) regularly greets us at sunrise and sunset.

With life, though, comes decay: some of the gardens and beauty spots around campus that I used to enjoy are now languishing, and I was very sad to see the famous mango tree by the dam (once the only tree on campus) has expired. But in the words of Richard Powers, there is practically more life in a dead tree than a living one, and the campus as a whole feels like it is thriving.

Of course, there is much more to our school than its biodiversity. Things feel much more organized than they used to around campus. Our academic and Triveni programs for the most part run smoothly and efficiently. It used to be that we were in a constant state of re-inventing ourselves and that every year we would be questioning the very foundations of our community. But now the community seems to be a lot more stable and sure of itself. I am also thrilled to see the directions that the Akshara and outreach programs have taken, and I can honestly say that I have never worked with a more professional, committed, and interesting set of teachers.

The pandemic has taken its toll of course, and it is painful to see students sacrifice off-campus activities, project weeks, and many other opportunities that previous generations of students would have counted as among their most meaningful experiences here. But I am also impressed with how resilient our students have become in dealing with these setbacks. Online college meetings have become wonderful community events, and many parts of the campus have been transformed in novel ways to meet the needs of a population that is now mostly confined to the campus boundaries. Common outdoor areas have now become classrooms, stages for theater productions, and meeting spaces. (The Library Lawn, always central to the campus, has come to serve so many functions that we should perhaps rename it MPL: the Multi Purpose Lawn!)

Most of all, I see a real difference in the maturity and capabilities of our students. Never before have I worked with such enthusiastic, responsible, and interesting young people, and they give me a great sense of hope for the future (right when hope is needed the most). 

For a time I was worried that returning to MUWCI would feel like a step backward for me, but in fact, it has been quite the opposite. Re-adjusting to the environment here has been easy, and I have felt welcomed by those I already knew and those I did not. Of course, there are many old colleagues who I miss working and living with, but there are equally so many new and interesting people who I work with now. I look forward to many more years of living, learning and teaching in this wonderful and diverse community.