Alumni Spotlight: Chantal Tønnessen Smeland


Chantal is from Norway and is currently taking what she defines as a more holistic approach to Pre-Med by studying her self-designed major Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic. She is an United World College alumni, and was the first generation to partake in the launch of the Global Citizen Year - UWC partnership, as well as the first Global Citizen Year India program.

Why did you choose this program?

Before Global Citizen Year I finished off high school at an United World College because I believed in the values and lifestyle the movement stands for. UWC helped me by removing me from the elements I needed to distance myself from, placed me in a beautifully intricate bubble, and proved to me how people across borders, cultures, and belief systems can live together and work for change.

UWC is unequivocally an essential part of my being, but the experience left me in elusive pieces. I recognized that I needed a year to study those pieces and put them back together; that I needed a selfish year. I needed a year to learn the importance of taking time to re-discover myself, and allow myself to take care of my own being and let it heal first.

I applied to Global Citizen Year because I believe in my potential of becoming a skilled resource to the world one day, and the program offered a highly intentional structure to not only develop me as a leader and person, but also to challenge the perception of that notion. How can you be a sustainable, impactful, and altruistic resource?

It was continuously putting you into the stretch-zone, showing you your true reality, as well as the realities of the contexts you operate in. Global Citizen Year proved to me how essential it is to take time to understand and care for oneself, before stretching out a helping hand to communities and the world.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Global Citizen Year has a set model for each country, complimented with an intentional curriculum to facilitate the foundation for growth and development as a leader, but overall it is a highly independent program.

You are given an apprenticeship, a homestay, a language course, a complimenting curriculum and training, and eight months - they give you the foundation and framework, but your experience is ultimately in your hands to define.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Allow yourself to appreciate and genuinely embrace a selfish year. You will realize your limitations, but that realization gives you a great opportunity to take time to grow and hence become a skilled, appropriate, sustainable, impactful, and altruistic resource.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Each country (Brazil, Ecuador, Senegal, and India) provide different opportunities in terms of homestay and apprenticeship. Given that I was in India for the program launch, the structure is still in development.

I would wake up at 5am to take a rickshaw to my English Medium High School in another area of the city. I would work as an English teacher assistant and help with the extra-curricular activities like football and Model United Nations. After a 6-hour work day, I would either stay back for the extra-curriculars, tutoring, or visit my students' homes.

The rest of my day consisted of being with my family, meeting friends, studying Hindi, and doing other activities like learning Bollywood dance or exploring the complexities of the city I lived in.

Don't be afraid to say YES and invest in a future you believe in by building experiential knowledge.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was to accept, embrace, and share my vulnerability. When you start a new life by immersing yourself and living with a family, you have to slowly let your guard down. You need to allow yourself to trust the people around you, as well as yourself. And if I really wanted to work on myself, I needed to be vulnerable.

It was a challenging year in India, but by being vulnerable and by putting myself in ultimate stretch-zones to share my personal stories with the cohort and the family, I allowed myself the potential to create deeper bonds with the people around me.

Through my vulnerability I got to meet so many amazing people that became a part of my life, all representing inspirational grittiness and stories that I was lucky to hear and appreciate, and together we all created a support system for one-another.

What is your favorite story from your time abroad?

My favorite story is from the other day, actually. While in India I had this one student who loved football, and we had finally managed to establish the first female team for her to join. As they relentlessly worked their way up to the finals of the very first football tournament the team participated in, her confidence started to bottom as she was put on the bench.

She hadn't been performing well enough to be on the field, but she wasn't ready to give up the hope of playing with her friends. Before the finals, I took her to the side as she seemed upset. She told me that a member of a competing team had publicly bullied her for being a reserve, and that she didn't think she was good enough to be a part of the team anymore.

We sat there for a while, essentially agreeing that we would work together in supporting each other and building up her confidence. Now, over half a year later I woke up to a message saying the following: 'I'm now really good with football I got that confidence in me thanks a lot. I miss you sooooooooooo much!'

That made my day and my year in India, knowing that I had had some positive impact on my students - a question of impact and usefulness that defined my biggest regret. I hope to return soon and celebrate them for the amazing human beings they are.