Thursday, August 2, 2012

An Ending

In a moment of nostalgia, I found this blog again and wanted to put up the letter I wrote to Shelby Davis- the man who made UWC possible for me. It seemed like a good way to close this blog, though I will note that my UWC experience continues.

Dear Shelby Davis,

 The year starts with painting faces, banging pots and pans, blowing the conch, and shyly greeting the next year group. What is to be said in an introduction? Eventually we tire of “Hello, my name is ___ and I am from __”. The question morphs into “What house are you in?” followed by “What service are you doing?” It is already a year of questions, and while the small talk gets stale we all know it is the roots of something special. The only thing we have in common is a renewed sense of optimism in the form of Moroccan sweets, Latino hugs, and the singing of the World Cup song. It’s hard to accurately translate a single emotion.

It’s even harder when the mind is flooded with not a single emotion, but a cacophony of whirling contradiction, oxymoron, and confusion. The beauty of emotional confusion is that of a Pollack painting in constant motion, shapes solidifying and disappearing, colors mixing, perspective skewed, and chaos. Hence, my attempts to pin my inner emotional self to this word document are bound to failure. The beauty of how I feel is the very fact that I cannot label it. It doesn’t fit into a neat little box. It can’t be wrapped in words and thrown succinctly down on paper. I have spent the majority of my conscious life putting things in boxes, from my emotional experiences to the people around me. I have been incapable of just accepting that some things do not belong in boxes, that when confined certain things die.

I realized this year, suspended across the Atlantic Ocean, that I am lost. For the first time, I am glad. I can already feel the effects of my UWC experience echoing around me. Hope reverberating off the castle walls and penetrating my skull. Values of education snug in my pocket, a familiar friend. Passion alights in eyes of my peers. Fear firmly lodged between our lungs. With deeps breaths we exhale change, as vital to us as the air we breathe. Clasped hands signify family. All our smiles are the same, acting as mirrors because we care, contagious in their very nature. Laughing, because we laugh to survive. I am lost, but never alone.

 A lot has changed since I wrote to you last year. I lost faith in the United World College mission and movement and looked at our world through a pessimistic lens. My faith was restored and it was stronger than ever after volunteering at a United World College reunion. I saw people who were living my dream, our dream, the UWC dream. It is possible for one person to make the difference-just like you have made the difference in my life. I realized that optimism, a dream for the future, a hope is not something na├»ve or childish. Optimism for change is not an involuntary state of mind; optimism is a choice. This year has shown me that I must choose to be hopeful for the future and to strive to make my difference. I choose to look at the problems with a positive outlook. There is no purpose in throwing up our hands at the impossibility of peace, instead we must work with our own two hands, make the world a better place. Whether we help in community gardens, work on urban planning or negotiate treaties with foreign nations, we all will do something to help our home.

 At Atlantic College I was provided with a unique perspective on how America is viewed by the world’s upcoming generation. I believe we have an obligation, a role, and the ability to engage more equitably on the global stage. With each new challenge I go in with the mindset that if it doesn’t say I can’t, I can. It's surprising how often that “no” can transform into a “yes” with the right approach. And while my time here will end in a short two months, my UWC experience will live on. When the disaster hit Japan this past week, the support the college showed towards the Japanese students was uniting in its fervor. No one here stands alone; we stand together. Next year, I will return to United States and start over again. Service will be a necessity for me next year, as will the atmosphere of my international peers.

Yet I am still lost, I do not know what my future contains. There is comfort in this uncertainty. Maybe I will become a teacher and inspire those around me. Maybe I will join the Foreign Service and represent America as we strive for a sustainable future. Maybe I will work for an NGO, throwing myself into the joy of helping others. But no matter what I do, I will carry the elements of the United World College movement with me. This is not a duty, but a choice. A choice I am happy to make. I wish I could make you understand the enormity of the gift you’ve given me.

By giving me this opportunity, you’ve touched not only my life, but also the life of everyone I know and the lives of the people I will touch in the future. You provided the kinetic energy to get my journey started, and now that I’ve started, I won’t stop. United World Colleges have shaped my view of the world, and the view is different this end of the kaleidoscope. These words come to mind,

 Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth
‘You owe me’
 Look what happens with a love like that
 It lights up the sky.

 The year will end with goodbye hands, salty faces, and big dreams. My story will continue in search of where the imagination and action intersect. I want to tell the stories of people who think differently and see how their reality is reflected. The smaller voices in society will use me as a medium to be heard, and with the chorus of so many voices I can make the difference. The challenge is now this, to take an idea that starts in the sky and stretch it down to the ground. I see no limits, and the smile the envelopes my face speaks volumes.

 Thank you for everything,

 Valerie Cleland
United World College of the Atlantic 2011

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gwynedd Heroes

Here is a fantastic video made by my co-years at AC:

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Here is the speech I gave to the Crown Prince of the Netherlands and his company:
(This one is for you, Mom!)

The year starts with painting faces, banging pots and pans, blowing the conch, and shyly greeting the next year group. What is to be said in an introduction? Eventually we tire of “Hello, my name is ___ and I am from __”. The question morphs into “What house are you in?” followed by “What service are you doing?” It is already a year of questions, and while the small talk gets stale we all know it is the roots of something special. The only thing we have in common is a renewed sense of optimism in the form of Moroccan sweets, Latino hugs, and the singing of the World Cup song.

Then we start the IB, the bane of our existence here at AC. And while the IB is the only tangible we can walk away with, it doesn’t even begin to define the experience. Most of my learning has occurred outside the classroom, and it hasn’t been all been easy. For the first time in my life, I can be proud of my own nationality. What started out as a simple defense of the United States in politics class had turned into a deep and true national pride. And with that national pride I’ve discovered so much more about myself. And with that has come incredible frustration.

Frustration at wanting to do so much more than can be done in a small castle by the sea. But it is this frustration that feeds me, this pure desire to make a difference-no matter how small-that keeps me moving. Constantly moving.

Moving towards a lifetime full of service. Whether we are training as lifeguards, caring for the castle grounds, helping the elderly, manning lifeboats, or in my case-cleaning up beaches we all seek to impact our community. I am a member of the Marine Environmental Monitoring Service-MEMS. Between educating local children on marine sustainability, getting our scuba diving qualifications, or caring for lobsters-we stay involved. Our service helps define us and gives us a medium to give back.

Yet the most incredible thing about Atlantic College (UWC) is way beyond the two years. The most inspiring AC experience was volunteering at reunions over the summer. I met alumni who came back for their 40th reunion and they were living our dream-they were making a difference. They were still passionate and they didn’t stop caring. Euphoric. That’s only word to describe how we felt after reunions. All that I dreamed-all that we dreamed- of doing as future leaders was really possible. We will make education a force. I won't let the little things get me down, we will continue moving. AC provides the kinetic energy to get us started, and once we start we don't stop.

The year will end with goodbye hands, salty faces, and big dreams. But we won’t stop. We won’t stop loving and living and laughing and learning and changing the world around us. There is still so much I don’t know, and so much more for me to learn. But know this: We could, We can, We will.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Between having an incredible Thanksgiving (my friends and I made over 10 pies!), giving a speech to the Crown Prince of the Netherlands (will post that soon), it snowed at AC making it all a bit more magical.
It was really was the frosting on the cake, and now with only 10 days left until I return home, I know it's going to be something to remember.

Me, Olorato (Botswana), Adrian (Hong Kong)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10th

Here is a short update on my life at the moment:

-I make homemade granola every sunday that lasts for the week
-I got chosen to give a speech to the Crown Price of Holland-wish me luck!
-Operation Smile ran "Cinderfella" (a male beauty paegent) this weekend and raised over £600
-College essays are consuming all my free time
-I finally watched the movie "Kill Bill" (yes-I will become a giraffe, and yes-I do plan on wearing my kigu on the flight home)
-In my service-MEMS-I am partway through completely my PADI Rescue scuba diver course. Good fun
-Saturday we will be simulating a refugee camp on campus.. brrr

I come home in about one month now.. and I have a strong feeling that the month will fly by

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Alghero, Italy

Four days in Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) hardly seems like enough.

We started with an overnight stay in the London Stansted Airport (not something I highly recommend..) and taking an early flight to Italy. Much to our delight, it was sunny and beautiful when we arrived. We got upgraded to a nice apartment with a balcony that viewed the seafront. I really cannot complain.
We made incredible meals, walked everywhere, ate more pizza than was probably necessary-but we had to pack it all into four days! I feel in love with new type of fruit and got my feet wet in the mediterranean. Little did we know, but Alghero has a period of time called a 'ciesta' where everything closes between 1pm-4pm. Once we figured this out, we had very relaxed days.
It was exactly what my sanity needed.
I am currently in Norway staying with my good friend Diana, but I'll save that for another post.

Here is for the pictures, which can say much more than my words:

The view from our Balcony

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's been a full weekend to say the least.

Earlier today I participated in Amnesty International Street Theatre. About 70 Atlatnic College students took the streets of Cardiff in order to raise awareness about human rights. While nice in theory, people were a bit disorganized and shouted a lot and scared some of the passer-bys. This was when I developed my own rule about protests: If, at any point, you feel even slightly uncomfortable with the situation immediately leave. It seems like a very reasonable rule to me

Tonight was the North American Bonfire. I'm not sure I've had this good of a night in a while. We gathered anyone and everyone who had a slight relation to the US or Canada and we assembled around a big bonfire (thank you girl scouts for fire-building skills!) and talked, make s'mores, cooked bacon, played guitar. Just an all around feel good sort of night.

Tomorrow I will be making pizza from scratch, watching a South East Asian national evening, working in the coffee lounge, and catching up on work.

Never let it be said that AC is a boring place to be