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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureJose Pablo Rojas-Brewer & Paola Protti


Students of the United World College Costa Rica

NOTE from Eileen: As we start back this school season, I believe United World College Costa Rica has lessons for each of us about resilience. Just read what they have learned in handling a pandemic and having students who could not return home because their country has closed down. Love these guys!

PS: If you feel so inclined, here’s how you can donate. These students give me global hope!

A lot has been written about the lessons learned of individual resilience from our shared pandemic experience— usually, what not to do. But what about the reflections and good lessons for resilience we have gained as communities and as organizations? Let us share some reflections of collective resilience at UWC Costa Rica.

First, here is a quick overview of who we are. United World Colleges (UWC) is an international movement of 18 schools and colleges—including UWC Costa Rica, the only one in Latin America and the Caribbean— that brings together teenagers (16-19 years old) from 70+ countries and thousands of alumni and educators across the world. We are joined by a shared mission: “to make education a force to unite for peace and a sustainable future.” At the core of UWC is the conviction that we can change the world if we get to know each other beyond prejudices and instead, connect through our shared humanity to address local and global challenges. In fewer words: empathy.

In less than a week in March 2020 UWC Costa Rica made the difficult decision to end the year early and support 200+ students in their journey back to their families. At the same time, dozens of countries closed their borders making some of the journeys a true odyssey.

In an instant, daily priorities shifted drastically. We went from prioritizing logistics around exams, meetings, and educational programs to pausing to support each other. Strengthening our community relationships amidst chaos was a haven and a true priority.

Lesson number one: empathy strengthens community.

Every minute brought a new challenge but with it, in unison, we frequently heard “How can I help?”

In less than 48 hours, students and educators came together and orchestrated the most meaningful graduation ceremony we have ever had. Keep in mind, this event usually takes months to plan! It was powerful to see the willingness and involvement of the community coming together to celebrate what was the last massive event at UWC Costa Rica.

Lesson number two: we are stronger together.

Amidst all the chaos that comes with any last-minute decision (not to mention the inherited unknown challenges of an evolving global pandemic), resource allocation became key. We centered our decision-making process based on equity and access while keeping in mind that every decision had impact. We made decisions based on people, not budgets. This statement was rewarded by tremendous support from dozens of donors who appreciated that we put our students first.

Lesson number three: put your values first and let them guide you through a crisis.

As the only UWC in Latin America and the Caribbean, we “tropicalized” who we were in everything we did. We built upon Costa Rica’s reputation for warm hospitality, compassion, and honest communication. We stayed focused on providing our community with an educational experience grounded on a holistic wellness model that cares for the mind and the heart of every individual.

This translated into lively virtual events such as bonding times, radio shows and wellness check-ins. We made sure we used a warm tone in formal messages. This allowed a demonstration of empathy and compassion while acknowledging feelings and being transparent even when it was bad news.

Lesson number four: find and own your authentic tropicalized self.

Lesson five: remember there is power in vulnerability.

Which brings us to today!

We are starting a new school year, excited to see our campus bursting with life and laughter from our 194 students from 62 countries. The pandemic continues, and life goes on. At UWC Costa Rica we will continue to adapt to current circumstances, rely on our collective resilience, and continue to grow and learn because we trust that we are better together—as a community. We are also excited to continue adding more positive lessons to our toolbox! To learn more about us visit

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