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The pursuit of global-mindedness and critical-thinking

We invited IB diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life. Lishu Gang completed the IB diploma at United World College (UWC) Costa Rica, before continuing undergraduate studies at the Minerva Schools at KGI.

by Lishu Gang

“What? Mao was a dictator?!” Three years later, I can still remember the shock when I saw Mao’s name on the list of dictators we could study in IB History. Other students could only be surprised at my obliviousness, “Yeah, and he killed millions of people, man.” Growing up in China, I’d never known Mao as anything but a “great leader”, so it was a moment of realization for me that history was actually made up of narratives as much as facts, and it opened up my mind to a whole new perspective.

Looking back at my two years at United World College (UWC) Costa Rica, I cherish deeply the enriching experience of learning the subjects of my choice and participating in a diverse range of extracurricular activities in a multicultural environment.

What’s more, I gained an openness to experiences, a global perspective, and critical-thinking skills that have helped me thrive through my IB days and now at Minerva, an innovative university program with an international student body that values critical thinking and creativity.

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Lishu Gang completed the IB diploma at United World College (UWC) Costa Rica

A change in mindset

In China, I attended traditional public schools in my city. At the age of 13, I went to a closed-off boarding school that made me completely unaware of anything outside the classrooms. Even if I had the wish to go out and see the world, my family’s unfavorable situation constricted any travel. In retrospect, I knew so little and I couldn’t even imagine what else could possibly be out there, so I didn’t know where to look in order to learn more about the world.

I left China after graduating from high school at 18. Going abroad really broadened my perspective and changed my way of thinking. I will never regret doing two years of IB after completing my high school education in China. Because the International Baccalaureate curriculum focuses on topics that cross countries and regions — especially the subjects I chose: English Literature, History, and Spanish B — I was able to approach learning on a larger scale and in a more holistic way. In class, I read great works, ranging from Greek plays to Maya Angelou. Outside the classroom, I learned about Latin culture by talking to my Latin American friends and to local Costa Ricans in Spanish. My History classes reinforced the importance of intercultural understanding. Because history is often more subjective than it’s assumed to be and many issues are understood differently by different cultures, UWC’s extremely diverse student body fostered numerous heated discussions in these classes. I found I was forced to not only analyze other people’s opinions, but to closely examine my own perceptions and viewpoints as well. In the end, many of us realized that most issues in the world are so complex that the discussions are not about who’s “right” and who’s “wrong”. That is why it is crucial to have the ability to understand other cultures, to recognize the reasons for others’ opinions, to embrace our differences, and, ultimately appreciate our sameness.

In fact, open-mindedness was only the start of the change of my mindset. IB didn’t only let me learn to respect others’ cultures and opinions and know that history comprises multiple narratives, but also guided me to evaluate the reliability of sources and validity of claims. I wrote so many papers where the teacher’s comments asked me to “ANALYZE.” I was befuddled, because I thought that I did the analyzing: I dumped tons of evidence, like what I always did in history exams in China, and I was good at “dumping” historical “facts.” But IB challenged me to analyze how the evidence supports the arguments. Such an analytical approach benefits learning, not only in the humanities, but also in the sciences and engineering, which is why it is currently so helpful in all my courses at Minerva.

Fostering thoughtfulness and a sense of responsibility

Both the IB and Minerva curricula aim to foster an environment for academic freedom and rigor by challenging students to think critically, creatively, and to speak and act thoughtfully, instead of caring about how much content we can absorb.

Reflection, for example, is a part of IB that benefitted me greatly. Its focus was not only reflection on what I did and how that helped me achieve my goals and ideals, but also on why and how I arrived at certain thoughts, and why and how those thoughts, in the end, triggered certain actions. Reflection was essentially what helped me develop my metacognition and made me aware of the limitations of my own thinking. It’s valuable to think outside the box, but we need to first have an idea of what the box is — since it is often our own mind.

It is also reflection that made me more aware of what factors were contributing to my growth, and now I’m increasingly grateful for Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and Extended Essay (EE). When I was doing IB, everybody struggled to some extent to see the immediate value of TOK and EE, because TOK confused us, EE exhausted us, and they were only worth three points. However, sometimes we can’t see the benefits, or even the point, of what we are learning until we look back on it. As I found at Minerva, my learning had so much overlap with TOK and EE, and it made me realize that TOK and EE are the foundations of further educational pursuits. With TOK, I had a better understanding of the Epistemology unit instead of struggling through yet another round of philosophical vortex of “what do we know” and “how do we know what we know.” With EE, I was less stressed by the academic papers due every week. In fact, IB sciences subjects covered scientific research methods and the reliability and validity of them, which are also the foundations for deeper pursuit in the sciences.

Another step in reflection speaks to future growth, which in my experience is translated into social awareness, responsibility, and action: what are current social issues that need tackling? What am I capable of doing? How can I take action to make things better? It’s the same for many of my peers that we now want to channel what we’ve learned into the impact we can have. We’re driven to be active contributors in our communities and in the society.

A passion for complexity and sustainability

When it comes to the social causes I’d like to contribute to, my passion lies in issues of great complexity and actions that can make the economy, society, and environment more sustainable. IB’s multi-disciplinary curriculum gave me insight into how intricate human social systems are and how multifaceted many real world problems are. Now at Minerva, with its interdisciplinary approach to learning and a course on Complexity Science, I’m more and more

interested in studying societies, cultures, and the international environment (be it economy or diplomacy) to resolve and transform conflicts into a more peaceful and sustainable state of coexistence. I don’t think of my university experience as a drastically different phase in life that I transitioned into from UWC or IB, but a continuation of my personal growth and improvement.  Minerva’s similar emphasis on global citizenship and critical-thinking drive me to further understand cultures, solve world problems, and make lasting social changes.

Lishu Gang is currently a student at the Minerva Schools at KGI, an innovative, global undergraduate program that includes nearly 20% of IB alumni in its student body.

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