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15 July 2021

and the quest for originality

Most of our UWC kiddos are basically adults trapped in the body of teenagers. Ivana is no exception, but something else has caught my eye more. When Ivana talks to me, she doesn’t seem to perceive me as an adult. As we walk through the city park on a June afternoon, I feel like I’m talking to a peer. But more importantly, I feel like I’m being talked to as a peer.

This means (among other things) that I’m getting interrupted every 10 seconds, but in a good way. For Ivana, a conversation is just that: a two-way street. How are you feeling, Ivana? – Great, how are *you* feeling? (…) Are you excited about moving to India? – Yeah sure, are *you* excited about going back to the UK? And what was your PhD about again? And so, half an hour through our walk, I find myself blabbering about the demographic transition in Eastern Europe, and not an inch closer to finding out who Ivana Stojanova really is. 

Except this is who she is. And it’s not just good manners: that unflinching spark of curiosity in her eyes about anything and everything is impossible to fake. Which also explains why she is such a person of action. The reason why she replied so briefly to my visa question was because she never let there be much of a story: her parents trusted her to take care of the application process by herself, and she did. A month earlier, when her parents were faced with the awkward dilemma of whether to send their 17-year-old daughter to another continent, they once again trusted her to decide for herself. Oh, if all parents could be like that. But they would need to have Ivana for a daughter.

And yet, even though she makes everything she does look so easy and ordinary, ordinary is exactly what she despises and seeks to avoid in life. A couple of times during our chat, she starts her sentence by saying: “I know this is a cliché, but…”. When asked during our selections what she liked best in some of the other applicants, she talked about how different they were from most people in Macedonia, who “whine all the time”. Yet, she also had a point of criticism for the other applicants: apparently they were “too dramatic at the end of the online mini-camp, and I didn’t get that… I mean, we’ll surely see each other again!”. 

When put like this, Ivana’s avoidance of the dramatic and her commitment to originality and self-reliance verge on the pretentious. But I for one buy it 100%. At one point during our selections, we asked the applicants if they had any opinions that are unpopular even among their (presumably liberal) friends. Most applicants didn’t get the second part of the question and talked about their pro-LGBT or pro-green attitudes (which like, yeah, it’s 2021). Instead, Ivana spoke about the genocide in Myanmar, and how she first sympathized with their chancellor’s inability to take action before learning more about the chancellor’s role and changing her mind. If we ever needed proof of her originality, her decision to go with an answer that puts her in a bad light just to make sure it’s something we won’t hear from anyone else surely does the job.

But Ivana is an insanely original thinker also on more casual topics. As she was reflecting on how she felt when she wasn’t sure if she was going to UWC, while one of her friends among the applicants had already accepted her nomination, I thought to myself: aha, here comes the first cliché! Now she’s gonna start yapping about how good of a person she is for wishing her friend the best even when her own future was uncertain. But, as usual, Ivana proved the wiser. Why would I be jealous if my friend went and I didn’t, she wondered out loud. I mean, having a friend who goes to UWC can only be good news for me, as it means I choose my friends wisely, right?

On UWC Mahindra, Ivana says it’s the “most UWC college out there”. Whaaat, screams the Adriatic alumnus in me. “Well, it’s the most UWC college for me. It’s one of the most faraway colleges from here, so it will push me the hardest, and that’s what UWC is all about, right?”. It looks like Ivana has already figured out this UWC thing. Now it’s time for her to live it.  

Kristijan Fidanovski, july 2021