How not to end up being a “Batman without a bat”: Jeppe Strands (Denmark, UWCD’18) about his post-UWC journey
  • Stories of Alumni

One random evening in 2016 in Denmark, I scrolled Facebook and saw an ad that said: “Do you want to study abroad?” Now, five and a half  years later, I still live in Armenia.

I came as a self-centered know-it-all Danish kid, or as we say in Denmark, a “pineapple swimming in his own juice” thinking I was going to take over the world with my passion. Any time I had a chance to tell my friends how cool I was or what grand ideas I possessed, I preached to them without hesitation. I was a revolutionary, a forward-thinker, the potato-peeler in a world full of potatoes.

And oh, was I wrong.

UWC is a dangerously amazing place. We are selected as “the leaders of tomorrow” but we often substitute ourselves as the present when we are actually just the packaging.

When I graduated from UWC, I moved to Dilijan to change the world but it quickly fell flat when I got ripped off by my landlord and then threatened to be taken to court. Then, I moved six UWC alumni to a house to make a hippie volunteering project and all was great, but we didn’t have warm water for six month and our six puppies died from frostbite.

One day in my hippie volunteering collective while chilling and playing cards, we got a text from the weird neighbor: “Georgian wine is tasty. I want to extinguish you”.

I could go on forever. A lot of crazy things happened in Armenia after I graduated. I found out really quickly that if I keep presenting myself with amazing packaging but don’t have the integrity to be a good person, I will end up being a soggy piece of coloured wrapping paper ripped apart by the rain. I would be a banana peel without the banana. Batman without a bat.

So the major thing I misunderstood is that I thought that UWC selected me because I will be a future president and leader of tomorrow and, because I was selected, upon my arrival to Armenia I would officially be a thought-leader and a power-thinker. But all UWC gave me was a chance to understand the power of ideals and what-if-the-world-was-like-this conversations. It equipped me with virtually no tools to go out in the real world and be the person I thought I was going to be.

I categorically rejected going to university because I wanted to take a gap-year (forgive me, I am Danish) to see what I can create by myself. I found out really fast that I was completely useless in so many aspects of life. Pretty much all the skills I needed to build the social development projects I wanted to - I didn’t have. But at least, for some reason, the ideal that UWC gave me made me continue doing things I believed in.

My post-UWC journey started when I moved to a house in Dilijan and opened a Collective for gap-year-takers to go and work on personal projects in their gap year. This grew into a social and rural development NGO doing activities in 3 Armenian villages creating 4 educational projects with over 13 volunteers and collaboration with over 12 stakeholders.

Then I was hired as the project manager of a village restaurant redefining what rural Armenian cuisine looks like. Recently we had Mads Refslund (the co-founder of Noma, top #1 restaurant in the world) build our menu with us for a month. We want to empower and educate locals to create unique experiences with what they already have.

Now I’m a product manager in an innovation ecosystem in Yerevan. I’m managing a newly-started tech media which we already scaled to now have over 10 million impressions, 87k subscribers, and a total audience of 2.93 million. I also consult NGO projects bridging knowledge gaps and strengthening the world's youth through collaborative projects - partly on my own and partly through the Global Shapers - Dilijan Hub, an initiative by The World Economic Forum.

The opportunities I’ve been given in Armenia have been amazing and, to be honest, it is hard to create one central point with this story. All I can say is that, if you want to do something, try it (except illegal things, they are often not worth it). And if you did something that you didn’t actually want to do, don’t do it again. And if you’re avoiding to do something because you don't want to do it then keep avoiding it. It is often the times we say “no” that defines our character the most - and not the opposite.

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Jeremy Chan is our third generation alumnus from Hong Kong. After UWCD, Jeremy first took a gap year with Global Citizen Year in order to take a break and reflect on his two years in Armenia. Currently he is at Davidson College in North Carolina. For his third year of university, Jeremy is studying abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science as an Economics major and Latin American Studies minor.