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Serj Koshian

27 March 2019

UWC Alumni Ambassadeur | UWC Maastricht, the Netherlands 2016-2018

"You've changed my entire life"

Boom! Boom! BOOM!
These were sounds I used to hear when in I was in Syria. I never knew that I would live at a time of war – let alone become a refugee in the Netherlands, and then a UWC alumnus. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how that happened!


It all began from a small city in the Northeast of Syria called Al Hasaka. When the war spread through the country, this city changed in every possible way. We lived through times with no water, no electricity, and no education. We managed to handle these circumstances, but as the danger of an ISIS attack and a violent conflict within the city was looming, we decided to leave.

It wasn’t a pleasant journey; I didn’t travel comfortably in an airplane or a boat. Rather, I took the dangerous journey through the Aegean sea to get to Greece. Thankfully, I made it and carried on successfully to the Netherlands.

The future for a refugee residing in a refugee camp is quite blurry. There is a lot of waiting for the paperwork to be done, asylum to be granted, and language classes to start. Unexpectedly, the future became much brighter after something very unusual happened to me.

I was in a big, beautiful park in The Hague with my family. I met there a language coach and tried to talk to her in Dutch, using the few sentences and words I picked up in my first three months in the Netherlands. She was very kind to me and wanted to provide support. So she told me about an organization called United World Colleges which has schools all over the world. Her daughter was a UWC Maastricht alumna.

I knew nothing about UWC, but I admired its mission and values, which the coach told me about. So I decided to apply and fortunately, I did get in with a full scholarship. Looking back, being at UWC was the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had. The lessons I learned there made my future very different. As an example, UWC teaches its students to have the courage to take on the world’s problems and work hard to solve them. This had a deep impact on me. I kept wondering which problems to tackle and what to contribute. After much reading and reflection, something became obvious to me, and that is biology experiments are very slow. It takes hours and sometimes even days to get the results. However, if we could create computer models and carry out simulations (the experiments) on the computer, the process would become much faster. This way we can accelerate scientific research and generate findings faster. Also, we will be able to speed up drug discovery – a process that now takes a about 12 years and 1 billion dollars to succeed.

If I hadn’t attended UWC, I would have never believed that I could take on the world’s biggest problems and solve them. Looking back I would like to thank the language coach and all the sponsors of UWC the Netherlands. You’ve changed my entire life!