Conversations with Alumni — Vol. 2

Back from Hong Kong 

A conversation with Mia Brönnimann


Mia Brönnimann was born in Bern, she went to the Gymnasium in Biel prior to arriving at Li Po Chun UWC in Hong Kong, in August 2019. She graduated in May 2021 and is currently studying law at the University of Berne.


Marie: Hong Kong has been on and off the news since you arrived there in 2019. How present is it in your life today? What does it mean to you?


Mia: It has been almost half a year since I returned, and it seems to me as if I’m caught in between the feeling of having just returned while slowly forgetting the physical sensation of actually being in Hong Kong. I’m starting to forget how busy Hong Kong can get. If I enter the bus to my university at the commuting time, I think it’s insanely crowded. I’m no longer used to the normality of bumping into strangers like in Mongkok. Despite losing the feeling of what it was like to stroll around the busy piers of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong is still a part of my everyday life. I notice the changes in my mindset quite frequently. Especially during discussions on the COVID-19 Regulations referendum, I have recognized how my experience in a politically unstable government has changed my perception of governmental affairs. It has admittedly been strange as I have had to adapt anew to my home, where the concept of freedom is handled quite differently; while in Hong Kong this might be the criminalization of individuality, the primary villain in Switzerland’s story might be hygiene masks. I see Hong Kong as a place that functions as a window to the world. A lens through which I could grasp foreign cultures, another mindset and the eagerness to explore “more”. Here, my view might come to a halt at the physical horizon of the Bernese Alps.




Marie: Is your interest in law, your current university subject, related to this experience of another way of thinking about what “state” or “individual” may mean? Are you critical of some of the attitudes you’ve re-discovered since coming back to Switzerland?


Mia: I have been introduced to two contrasting systems; one that very much limits and patronizes people and one that is very sensitive to individual freedom. A decisive factor in choosing my further education has definitely been the question of “what is right”. So returning to Switzerland has intrigued me as I gazed upon the differences in handling the pandemic. On the one hand, I see a system that protects people well in an exceptional situation such as COVID through restrictive measures — and our system, where the fundamental rights of individual freedom are considered as one of the highest legal goods. At the moment I do not have an answer to what is right or wrong for me, it is precisely the reason why I feel at home in this subject. I want to be able to understand in this discussion what the state could do to balance these interests, avoiding to dive into either extreme.


Marie: Within the UWC the notion of educating future change makers is very present in curricular and non curricular activities. Do you see yourself as a change maker? In what way?


Mia: UWC’s focus on educating future change makers has definitely impacted our experience within and outside the classroom! Studying the history of fascist states in Europe, Asia and Oceania in a classroom setting with case studies such as the Third Reich’s Enabling Act have accentuated the importance of recognizing when states could legitimize the abuse of power. Also, I had encountered Chimamanda Adichie’s short stories and realized that every single piece of literature we have ever covered in our native German literature class was written by men. Outside the classroom, it has allowed us to pursue our individual interests, where I could gain insight into the legal aspects of Hong Kong’s asylum seeker process in our service activity “Refugee Relief”. Studying at LPC remains a cornerstone in the decision to study law, as it dared me to lunge for ambition and allowed us to delve deeper into a transnational education set to give us the possibility to become a change maker — things that wouldn’t come to my mind in Switzerland. Just by looking at the word “future”, I find that it has the connotation of potential. And although the realization of this is now up to us, I think that solely through the constant push out of my comfort zone, I could explore the potential of a change maker. And I think this is my biggest take-away to date.


Marie: How was the political situation spoken about, if at all, whilst you were at Li Po Chun UWC?


Mia: Even at its most volatile state of the protests in November 2019, it wasn’t talked about much within the framework of our school, but you could tell it put pressure on our community. Discussion forums were not supported by the administration and some of the teaching faculty, so that the few attempts to express and process opinions were hidden under a student-led “hot chocolate evening” and thus somehow acquired a clandestine and illicit aftertaste. I think the otherwise very UWC-typical opportunity to discuss political situations was somewhat restricted through the school’s geopolitical setting.



Marie: Where are your UWC friends now? Which are the themes which most preoccupy and interest your co-graduates and yourself?


Mia: My co-years and my own thoughts mostly center around the question of what to do with this “change maker” potential. Most of us are somewhat stuck in between the “big” decisions of how to continue our education, planning out our future, even though it now seems much more unstable as we have to navigate the stream of “COVID” and “Climate Change” and “Equality” — concerns that all of us freshly-graduated around the world face. Nonetheless, I’m proud as I see my co-years taking the matter into their own hands and pursuing some of the projects that will last well outside the borders of LPC during their gap year. The Swiss Association gave me amazing opportunities to promote the concept of UWC in local schools. Last but not least, most of us have to adjust to places much more “conservative” than our college’s atmosphere was, and the feeling of what UWC-graduates call the “post-UWC syndrome” — learning to re-adapt to a world that has a much minimised sense of idealism.


Marie: Thank you for your thoughts and this conversation!


December 2021


*Marie Caffari graduated from UWC Atlantic in the summer of 1986! She has chaired the UWC Swiss Association since 2017.