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A tale of one city: Vienna, pre- and post- IB

We invited IB Diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. Alumnus Isaac Newton Acquah is one of this year’s cohort of alumni contributing authors.

By Isaac Newton Acquah

Isaac Newton Acquah

Isaac Newton Acquah received his IB Diploma in 2005 and lives in Vienna.

Vienna, Austria’s capital city, is known for its culture and music. The former centre of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire remains a gateway between the East and West of Europe, which naturally adds to the cultural diversity within the city. The Vienna International School (VIS) can trace its roots back to 1955. Initially formed for the families of embassy staff, it also served organizations such as the United Nations and OPEC as they moved to the city. I graduated from VIS in 2005. Ten years later I find myself in the same city, yet it leaves me with a totally different impression.

My school experience varies greatly from many. Firstly, I attended the same school from kindergarten all the way through to graduating from the IB Diploma Programme (DP). The largest difference between myself and some of my classmates was that many of them were discovering new and eye-opening experiences and a wide range of cultural exchanges due to joining an international school, whereas it was all that I knew. Vienna International School has over 100 different nationalities within it. While growing up, it felt like no two friends came from the same country. With so much diversity, there was no need to add “multicultural” before anything that happened at the school. Whether you were at a sports, music or a society event, every resulting group picture resembled a United Color of Benetton advert. Beyond the sheer number of nationalities, it was the cohesion and collective concept of community that made my time in VIS so enriching and unique.

Vienna Group

Part of the class of 2005 on their last day at Vienna International School.
Photo credit: Isaac Newton Acquah

I am now back in the same city ten years on and it is different. Vienna is still culturally diverse, yet these diverse groups seem to have separated. The sense of community that I used to know seems to be lacking, and people of different ethnicities are sticking together. I don’t feel the same level of cultural tolerance and acceptance that I used to know and associate with the city. As for the common struggle that many international school kids face with the subject of national identity coupled with answering the question “where is home?” the answer was simple yet abstract for us at VIS – we were home. The people made the place, and it was in each other that we made our home. Now, after the IB, my classmates are spread across the world, and Vienna is no longer the home it once was. Clearly, I was in a bubble, a utopia that will never be again. Maybe everyone’s school life is like that to some extent, but, with the world of today providing such a stark contrast, looking back only makes the memories of my time spent doing the IB programmes at VIS, even fonder.

After many years and various life experiences, I reminisce about the IB times and can truly cherish what it was and stood for. From my point of view, the IB did more than just provide a great education. It created a global mind set within everyone who went through it making us truly international citizens. It is that thinking that has me wondering if the city can be different. Vienna, apart from its music is also known as the city of dreams. A recurring dream that I have is that one day Vienna will more closely resemble the atmosphere of cultural acceptance that I felt while doing the IB.

Although my dream may never be realized, a challenge I have for all of us that have been through the IB is to hold onto its values and reflect them, whether at university, work or elsewhere. Let it be the case that when we leave the IB, the IB does not leave us.

Contributing author Isaac Newton Acquah graduated in 2005 from Vienna International School, Austria. He has gone on to work in multinationals, start ups and charities since completing his degree in computer science and business studies from the University of Warwick. He holds a masters from The University of Economics and Business in Vienna. Isaac Newton is currently co author of a spy novel, Love is For Tomorrow.