A Journey from Studying at UWC Red Cross Nordic to Teaching Global Politics and History at UWC Mahindra College
UWC Red Cross Nordic alumna Noa Epstein (1999-2001) from Israel, a teacher of Global Politics and History at UWC Mahindra College, began seeing the world politically when she was fourteen years old: “My interest in politics originates from meeting Palestinian peers for the first at the Seeds of Peace summer camp in Maine, USA when I was 14 years old. Despite growing up in Jerusalem, 10 minutes drive away from Palestinians my age, I had only ever known the ‘other side’ through the distorting and biased lens of the media. During my UWC experience I lived and studied, not only with Palestinians, but with amazing young people from the wider Arab world. I gained more experience of having international and intercultural friendships. In fact, my Palestinian co-year, Haifa, and Jordanian second year, Saed, were both friends of mine from Seeds of Peace. It bothered me that the friendships and human ties we forged so easily in these programmes were so fragile and seemed impossible to maintain in the ‘real world’ which is wrought by political conflict.”
Showing herself as an activist from a young age, Noa set her mind to learning a new skill which would allow her to overcome political differences in favour of compassion and respect: “I decided to study spoken Arabic as I was eager to converse with the families of the Arab friends I had gained and liked to visit, and realized what a powerful tool language is to reach people's hearts.”
Arabic became a useful tool in any other way - professionally, and a political career began. “My Arabic really took off during my first job after graduating with an International Relations BA (Summa Cum Laude) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: I became a parliamentary assistant to Ahmad Tibi, one of Israel's Arab members of parliament. In this role, which was quite an irregular position for a young, Jewish woman like me, I learned a lot about the discrimination and lack of opportunities that the 20% Arab population in Israel faces, and also about the fragile nature of Israeli democracy. I experienced the powerful nature of formal politics but after a year I became dissatisfied with sitting in air conditioned, comfortable offices and wanted to take to the streets and create political change through activism. I became a program manager at Peace Now, Israel's largest and longest standing peace movement, advocating a 2 state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I recruited activists, planned and executed demonstrations against the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, led an informative course open to the Israeli public about the costs of the settlements and brought young Israelis and Palestinians together through dialogue seminars. The devoted people I worked with, the adrenaline and the small political wins we had made it all very worthwhile, but ultimately in the absence of a top-down framework for peace or a foreseeable resolution to the conflict I felt like we were running full gas in neutral.
My next professional steps were also centered around Israeli-Palestinian peace building but from a more educational and programmatic approach - less activism. I worked as a Department Director at the Peres Center for Peace, designing projects that engage the wider Mediterranean region in people-to-people activities that break down stereotypes and build mutual trust and professional cooperation, and eventually as CEO of Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET). At MEET I worked with an incredible team from MIT university and from Israel and Palestine to empower Palestinian and Israeli emerging entrepreneurs to become change-makers, together, through the use of technology and the ambition of each of the entrepreneurs. Through this work with MIT university I became a strong believer in education as a force for peace and political change. I decided to go back to my roots and become a teacher of Global Politics at UWC and have been working at the Mahindra United World College of India for the last two years. It has been thrilling and rewarding in so many ways, but primarily it has allowed me to make a political impact through teaching and discussing major topics with outstanding international students, such as sex trafficking, the war in Syria, the refugee crisis, human development and international power dynamics.”
Noa has developed a firm definition of what politics is and her place within it through her time with different organisations and education facilities: “Politics is about decision making and the allocation of resources in an environment which is externally shaped by power. I see it as more than the politics we usually think of, a formal kind, or the government alone. I have enjoyed wearing different political hats depending on the type of organisation I worked with. Each such organisation is a piece of the puzzle of change making. What makes me passionate to engage in politics, under these different hats, is the knowledge that I am able to influence the world around me and hopefully make a positive change to the status quo. I very much believe that if one is not part of the solution then he/she is part of the problem.”
Her UWC education has a huge impact on Noa, one which is “extremely hard to measure”. UWC “empowered me to think of myself as a change maker - through things like project week, where I initiated a fundraising street campaign for East Timor (1999) in collaboration with a Norwegian NGO in Oslo and enhanced my conviction in the power of people-to-people grassroots educational activities to transform lives, put a human face on the ‘other’ and build lasting bridges that remind us humans how similar we really are. My UWC experience also gave me a unique perspective and ability to listen and to think critically and creatively, which I think are essential for any political pursuit.
I always feel upon waking that I have yet another day of opportunity to learn and grow as a human being and hopefully to make a positive mark on my environment. Today this takes the shape of being on time for my Global Politics class and challenging my students. I learn from them in the process and we collaborate. Every day I try to make a positive mark on my children’s environment and their future, my desire as a mother means that I want every day to count.”