San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica to Break New Ground with Renowned International School

(Part one in a three-part series on the United World College.)WHEN the concept of the United World Colleges (UWC) first emerged from the mind of visionary German educator Kurt Hahn in the 1950s as a long-term remedy to heal war-torn Europe, it is doubtful he imagined his schools would ever branch out across the Atlantic to Costa Rica.However, in less than a year, Costa Rica will become the first Latin American host of the prestigious international schools.The organization, presided over by Queen Noor of Jordan, was created in Wales in 1962 to educate students of different nationalities and avoid further world conflict.Today, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College, in the suburb of Santa Ana, west of San José, is scheduled to become the world’s eleventh UWC member school in August 2006 after undergoing a series of structural changes to adapt the school’s mission, student body and instructional methods to UWC style – a process that will require enormous funding efforts.According to Colin Jenkins, project director in charge of overseeing the transition from SOS School to United World College, the change “can only benefit the country.”“When the place opens it will draw visitors,” said Jenkins, from Wales. “It is a cheap way to get fantastic publicity, the ambassadorial way – through students going back to their own countries.”WITH more than 80 students from 14 Latin American countries, Costa Rica’s SOS (Save Our Souls) International College, which serves talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds, is already more international than many schools in the country.At the school’s sunny Santa Ana campus – which extends over five hectares and has a student residence complex – Panamanian, Guatemalan, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Bolivian, Chilean and Costa Rican accents are readily distinguishable, among others.However, as a United World College, the school will recruit 70 new students next year for a total representation of 40 countries, according to Jan Kozak, development director at the school. A pool of students will be selected from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America, he said.“(UWC) students are supposed to reflect the global population, with significant representation from the host country,” said Kozak, a native of the Czech Republic who graduated from the Red Cross Nordic School in Norway – a UWC member school – and took the initiative to transform the SOS school into a United World College to meet his personal goal of opening a new UWC school somewhere in the world. UWC Costa Rica could eventually host 192 students from 100 countries, depending on the amount of funding it receives, according to Kozak.UWC member schools, found in Italy, Canada, Norway, India, Wales, Hong Kong, Swaziland, the United States, Singapore, and Venezuela, offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma – a program the SOS school in Santa Ana has offered since 2003.The IB diploma program, offered in Costa Rica by private schools including Lincoln School in Moravia, east of San José, and the Blue Valley School in the western suburb of Escazú, is a highly recognized pre-university degree that “forms the basis of UWC education,” according to Kozak.The diploma, offered by the Geneva based International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in Switzerland, is a rigorous, two-year program for students ages 16-19 in their final years of high school.According to Kozak, UWC currently educates approximately 2,000 IB diploma students around the world.THE SOS school will have to undergo several changes to become a United World College, including structural adjustments and collecting scholarship money for its students.The SOS school now teaches grades 9-12, with some students choosing to undertake the IB diploma, which begins in grade 11; since the United World College focuses solely on IB education, the school will have to remove grade 9 starting next year, leaving grade 10 as an IB-prep year, Kozak explained.The school will also have to raise $2.3 million each year to offer scholarships to its UWC students.According to Kozak, each UWC scholarship amounts to $12,000 for full tuition and boarding expenses every year for three years. Every student receives a scholarship, regardless of his or her financial situation, he explained.BECAUSE each school is expected to raise its own funds, the SOS school is trying to identify donors, and has already secured enough funds to ensure its current students will be able to stay until graduation.“The essence of entry (to UWC) is that people are supported financially. A lack of resources is not a reason for people not to enter. Our job is to ensure we have enough scholarships,” said Jenkins, who spent the past year as head of the United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore and will remain in Costa Rica for one year to supervise the SOS school’s transition. To make donations or for more information on the school, call SOS International College at 282-5609 or visit the school’s Web site at The students and teachers of the SOS International College, an innovative institution in its own right, prepare for change.)

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