The range of nationalities at the school was amazing, but it was not a rich kids school. Wearing the right clothes and doing the right things were not important, the friendships and relationships were what shaped the College.
Luke Harding (AC 84-86) is currently The Guardian's Moscow bureau chief. Luke moved to Russia from Berlin where he was The Guardian's Berlin correspondent for four years.
He began his journalistic career at Oxford where he read English and edited the student newspaper Cherwell. After graduating, Luke joined the Sunday Correspondent - which folded soon afterwards - and worked for the Evening Argus in Brighton and then the Daily Mail. He joined The Guardian in 1996. Luke covered Jonathan Aitken's infamous libel trial for the paper and wrote - with the Guardian's David Leigh - The Liar: The Fall of Jonathan Aitken, published by Penguin and Fourth Estate. In 2000 he became The Guardian's South Asia correspondent based in Delhi. In 2001 he spent three months in Pakistan and Afghanistan covering the war against the Taliban, and won Foreign Story of the Year from the Foreign Press Association in 2002 for his reporting of the siege in Mazar-i-Sharif. He spent much of 2003 and 2004 in Iraq.
“The seeds for my future career as a Foreign Correspondent were sown at UWC, where the world becomes a smaller place” explains Luke. “You develop an affinity with these places because you have friends who come from or live there. It is impossible to leave UWC without developing a liberal approach; you just become more comfortable with other people and other cultures. UWC turns teenagers into global citizens. At the time I was there, this concept was quite unusual, but I am now not surprised that I roam around the world and write about it.
“Following my time at UWC I had a burning desire to live abroad. My own children have not lived in Britain. My son was born in India, my daughter speaks German, and we are now all living in Russia and this feels normal. The only reason it feels normal is because of my time at UWC. It made me realise that there are many interesting places that you can work, and as UWC really focuses on languages, working abroad becomes a real option. When I arrived at UWC, my German was ok, but it improved considerably whilst I was there, and then twenty years later I was working in Berlin. Life turns out strangely sometimes.
“I first heard about UWC through some family friends, who were researching the International Baccalaureate and international schools. In the end they went to a private school, but it really got me thinking. I was in the position of being a student in a traditional boys grammar school in Birmingham and the whole concept of UWC just seemed so different, exotic even. And it was co-ed, so I applied for a scholarship.
“On arrival it was quite easy to be overwhelmed – both by the sheer diversity of the student body and also the terrific setting of the college itself. In my second year, I was sharing a room with lads from Greece, Portugal, and Germany. The range of nationalities at the school was amazing, but it was not a rich kids school. Wearing the right clothes and doing the right things were not important, the friendships and relationships were what shaped the College. And this is what I understand is totally different to other British boarding schools
“Following UWC, I went to Oxford which taught me intellectual scepticism, probably a little too much, but it provided a different view. UWC was all about tolerance, the students were proud of their countries, but not nationalist, no one thought their’s was better than anyone else’s. There was a great deal of information sharing; everyone was keen to learn more about these different countries.
“I enjoyed the Extramural Service, a much under-acknowledged element of Atlantic College. Community Service is an important part of UWC, each student has to select one project to support and I chose teaching young kids to canoe and swim. For me it was not just about personal satisfaction but about giving something to kids without the same advantages that I had had.
“As Foreign Correspondent I keep coming up against Totalitarian Impulses and have witnessed governments and states wanting to take control and to control people. I saw this in India in the Ahmedabad riots and am seeing it now in Russia – there seems to be a squeeze on democracy. But I have the courage to stand against this and write articles that usually go down very badly with the local authorities but I the story get told. I want to impress upon people not to take democracy for granted and to keep fighting for it, I thank UWC for this.
“Looking back at my time at UWC, I rather regret that the pressure and requirements of University entrance scores meant that we didn’t spend more time just socialising”.