Molly Fassbender, Communications Manager, College Advancement, Dover Campus
In August 2019, Mikael Mörn ‘92, Trustee of the UWCSEA Foundation Leadership Council, and Luuk ‘20, current scholar from the Netherlands, braved sub-zero temperatures and pushed themselves to the absolute ends of their mental and physical limits to climb mighty Pik Lenin (7,134 m) on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Their ascent story is the stuff of true explorers: falling into a 100m deep crevasse to be saved only by your backpack catching on the edge, first degree frostbite in six fingers, water in the lungs, boiling snow for hours to make water, running out of cooking fuel, climbing 50 degree cliff faces in wind storms, maddeningly slow progress - one step backwards for every three steps forward because of the ice, rising at 2am and climbing snowy mountains in the dark, roped together but unable to hear or see your partner; tests of incredible mental and physical fitness that are truly impossible to imagine and for most people to even contemplate. After long days of treacherous climbing, from the top of the mountain, they issued a rallying call to the UWCSEA community to come together and raise funds to bring a student scholar from the region to UWCSEA.
When asked about his motivation for the climb, Mikael (pictured above) says, “I was extraordinarily fortunate to attend UWCSEA for seven years and my experience was and remains central to my world view, ambition, values and continuing happiness."
"One of the advantages of a UWCSEA education is an improved ability to understand and move among people and cultures different from one’s own. Through this fundraising initiative, I hope a scholar can benefit in similar ways.”
“I was really excited when I heard about Mikael’s Pik Lenin climb and I wanted to do my part to help bring another scholar to the College.” says Luuk (pictured left). “My parents taught me that if you can sacrifice something to make another person happy, you should do it.” Luuk only started climbing three years ago, but says that as soon as he stepped foot in the mountains on a family trip, he “was smitten”.
With Mikael living in Europe and Luuk studying in Singapore, in the months leading up to the climb, both climbers worked hard separately to adequately prepare themselves. Luuk worked with kettlebells, climbed stairs to build his endurance and also developed his meditation skills. Mikael took an avalanche training course in France, and visited the Alps for several short climbs, pitching his tent and testing his fitness at high altitudes.
For Mikael this was not his first advanced expedition, as in 2018 he completed his Three Peak Challenge and climbed three of the world’s most remote peaks in just two weeks to raise funds for a scholar to attend UWCSEA. And as a result of his successful campaign and the generosity of the UWCSEA community, in August 2019, Internally Displaced Person, Yelyzaveta “Liza” Radionova from Ukraine walked through the doors of UWCSEA Dover, her new home and school for the next two years. The Pik Lenin summit however, offered a new and exciting challenge for Mikael.
Beyond physical fitness, Luuk also faced significant financial challenges to fund his climb (as all funds donated to the campaign go directly to the scholarship). His climb would cost approximately S$4500, the absolute minimum needed for this type of expedition. To reach this amount, he pooled his savings from his summer job working as a garbage man in the Netherlands and all the birthday money that he had saved in the bank since he was seven years old.
On a tight budget, Luuk couldn’t afford many of the ‘luxuries’ that would have made the climb easier - such as using more technical equipment that would make the extreme conditions easier to endure. For Luuk, none of that mattered.
“Bringing another scholar to UWCSEA will not only change the scholar’s life but the lives of their family members and their communities, how could I not do it?”
But for Mikael and Luuk, this ambitious test of endurance and personal sacrifice was driven by a tremendous passion and belief in the UWC mission. To make sure that more students from all corners of the world can come together; making global issues real and relevant, giving an appreciation of differences and commonalities, and a deeper understanding of specific cultures and nations. Uniting people, nations and cultures to make the world a better place.
Exhaustion, illness, and extreme weather would not hold Mikael and Luuk back from reaching their goal of summiting Pik Lenin. Their campaign has not yet reached its goal to raise the necessary funds for a scholarship - we still need your help!
Please join these passionate change makers and help ensure their incredible efforts do indeed manifest into the truly life changing opportunity of a UWC education for a young person in 2020. Donate here.