Working on an emergency lifeboat crew is not a typical high school extracurricular activity. But Henry Peck '11 did not attend a typical high school.
Peck is one of about 120 alums of the United World College who currently attend Brown. UWC is a group of 13 schools located on five continents.
Most UWC schools offer two-year programs for high school juniors and seniors that offer the International Baccalaureate, a two-year pre-university diploma. Three of the schools also accept students at a younger age. High school sophomores are placed in one of three requested locations including New Mexico and Costa Rica.
Applicants are not required to speak English fluently even though 11 of the 13 schools use English as the language of instruction, according to the UWC website.
Non-native English speakers quickly improved their fluency just from spending time with other students, said Peck, who is from England and attended UWC Atlantic College in Wales. "In three months, they were as loud as the rest of us," he said.
For Mike Ewart '11, UWC of the Adriatic in Italy presented an opportunity to experience life outside the small Canadian town where he grew up.
Students did not have a curfew and did some of their own cooking, he said, comparing it to university life.
Peck said the school gave him "a tremendous amount of responsibility."
Students live on campus and are paired with students not from their home country, said Rahel Dette '13, who also attended the UWC Atlantic College. Community service and extracurricular activities are valued highly at the UWC schools, Dette said. Students are required to either develop a community service project in lieu of spring break or partake in a weekly service activity, she added.
The schools also emphasize a close-knit environment among their students. "It was like a commune," said Sarah Yu '11, who studied in Hong Kong. "We addressed our teachers by their first names. We were seen on an equal level as the faculty."
The schools were founded during the Cold War to bring students together from across the globe, Peck said.
Peck trained for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as his service commitment. He learned chart reading and navigation, and built training boats by hand. "You have to become incredibly close to the rest of the crew to communicate in that high-stress situation," he said.
Peck and Ewart agreed that it was an easy transition from the UWC to Brown but noted that there is no campus group exclusively for UWC alums.
Such a group would be "against the UWC mission in a sense because it's almost exclusive," said Dette. "The point isn't to re-create the UWC experience."
All UWC schools are part of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, a scholarship foundation meant to help bring international students to American universities, said Panetha Ott, director of international relations. The program, founded in 2000, grants up to $20,000 in need-based financial aid for UWC students who qualify.
The University then awards additional aid to Davis scholars in need, Ott said. Applications from the UWC have increased in the years since the Davis program began, she said. In 2008, Brown won the Davis Cup, which is awarded to the American university with the highest number of UWC alums matriculating that year. Thirty-six UWC alums matriculated, according to Ott.
Ott said she believes the UWC schools and Brown share a similar educational philosophy.
"They have been taught to think globally, and they represent several different nationalities, some we don't always see," she said. "Particularly after President Simmons' mission to diversify the school, we have looked at globalizing our student body. The UWC is not the only way, but it is one way."
While a UWC education offers students an enriched education, it can also just be a normal high school experience. "You go expecting it to be life-changing every day," Dette said. "Some days I wanted to live more, but you have to do your homework sometimes."