Atlantic College celebrates 50th anniversary in Vale

Atlantic College Atlantic College has students from 90 countries around the world

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A unique school, set up to promote international peace by bringing together teenagers from around the world, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Atlantic College in the Vale of Glamorgan opened at St Donat's castle, former home of American newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, in 1962.

The college's president Queen Noor of Jordan said its students became "ambassadors for Wales".

The queen sat in on lessons on Wednesday and was helping students from 90 countries bury a time capsule containing stories of what the college has meant to them.

She told BBC Wales: "One of my daughters graduated from Atlantic College so there's a family link as well as that connection that every one of us... feels about the pioneering role of this founding college of such an important international education movement.

"Wales is a very special country: open, welcoming and with very rich culture and history.

"Students feel delighted to be here to meet some of the people they do in the course of community service and to cheer on the Welsh rubgy team when it's doing as well as it's doing.

College's glamorous past

William Randolph Hearst

St Donat's Castle. which dates back to the 12th century, became home to the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, in 1925 after he saw a feature on it in the magazine Country Life.

He spent a small fortune renovating the castle and hooking not just the castle but the surrounding area to the electricity grid.

His lavish parties at the 60-hectare estate were legendary, with guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, future president John F Kennedy and playwright George Bernard Shaw attending.

After Hearst, the building passed into the hands of businessman Antonin Besse, who gifted it to the Atlantic College movement.

Since Atlantic College begun, another 11 colleges have opened internationally under the United World Colleges banner.

"It's very much a school that is in many ways an ambassador for Wales internationally.

"These young people take Wales home with them and bring home to here. There's a wonderful exchange that takes place."

The college, situated right on the south Wales coast, has welcomed famous visitors in the past, ranging from The Queen, Prince Charles, the Emperor of Japan to Rhys Ifans and Dr Who actor Matt Smith.

Over half a century, 7,500 students have been educated there, including the crown prince of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, and the BBC TV presenter and conservationist Saba Douglas-Hamilton.

John Walmsley, college principal, said the ethos in exposing young people to different cultures was as relevant today as it was in 1962.

Although fee-paying, the school aimed to admit pupils from a wide variety of backgrounds through its bursary scheme.

"There are wealthy students here but there are lots of students who aren't wealthy and in fact some have nothing at all," he said.

"There was one girl last year who was living as an orphan on a tip in Cambodia and was found by a filmmaker.

Open day at Atlantic College The college held its first open day in 1965

"He got her into an orphanage and then she came here on a scholarship paid for by a donor and now she's in an American university."

The college was the first UK school to swap A-levels for the international baccalaureate, which it helped devise.

Students are also required to carry out community service in different forms, from working with the elderly and disadvantaged to crewing the college's own inshore lifeboat.

Old students include the former MEP Eluned Morgan, 45, now Baroness Morgan of Ely.

She first came across Atlantic College after being on the receiving end of one such student outreach project.

"I was brought up in Ely [west Cardiff] where my father was a vicar and they used to run play schemes in the church hall," Baroness Morgan explained.

"As part of that scheme people from Atlantic College used to come and entertain children from there.

"It was an area where a lot of people wouldn't have a holiday, so some children were taken to the college for days out, and I was one of them.

"I saw the place and I was inspired by it."

'Solve conflicts by talking'

Former student Eveline Debruijn from the Netherlands, 29, agrees that learning to listen to differing viewpoints was a central tenet of the college's education which she took into her career with her.

Following stints in Rwanda, Colombia and South Sudan, she now works on armed violence prevention and small arms control for the United Nations Development Programme.

She said: "Atlantic College has taught me that you can solve conflicts by talking with each other; by trying to be sympathetic to other person's view.

"That we're all the same in the end, and it's important to not 'box' or 'categorize' others and yourself according to particular identities, but to constantly remind ourselves that we're all human.

"It has also made me passionate to try to work in the area of peace building."

As a result, Baroness Morgan applied to the college. When she arrived in 1983, alongside her academic studies she found herself doing the same kind of community service work the students had done with her.

"We used to take people who were perhaps on probation, teenagers who were only a few years younger than us.

"They used to stay in the college and we'd do some activities with them to build their confidence and engage with them. The re-offending rates were very, very low. They were trusted, and that's what they had never experienced before."

She says the wide mix of backgrounds of fellow students taught her tolerance and understanding that "everybody has a point of view that should be respected even if you don't agree with it".

"The college just broadened my whole view of the world from being very Wales-centred to understanding our place in the world. Our way of looking at at things was only one way."

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