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A remedy for homesickness and inspiration to find what you love

We invite IB Diploma Programme (DP) graduates to reflect on their lives and studies. Sofia Parunova received her diploma from Kolding Gymnasium, Denmark. Learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.

By Sofia Parunova

I moved to Denmark with my family and had no idea what anyone around me was saying. I was feeling a familiar sense of dread before facing yet another class of students who I was expecting to try to kindly speak to me, and yet, I would only be able to smile. Nevertheless, meeting the IB Coordinator and his then Vice at Kolding Gymnasium, it felt refreshingly different – it was okay not to speak Danish and even better to speak English (and ein bisschen Deutsch). From the very beginning, the IB Diploma Program (DP) helped me face who I was and take control of my surroundings relying on what I know.

After her IB programme, Sofia continued her studies at the University of Essex and King’s College London.

The DP encouraged me to find what I was passionate about and be great at it – not only when choosing my subjects then, but also later in life when I have had to make important decisions. I did make a mistake in the process back then, however – academic subjects have always been forced on me as compulsory and the IB choice took me by surprise. The freedom to select whichever standard and high level subjects I wished blinded me, which was reflected in a strategy to prepare for whatever career I might want to pursue later in life. What if I want to be an architect? Choose physics. What if I follow the family tradition and become a doctor? Take mathematics at a higher level. In hindsight, I should have known I couldn’t be everything.  I didn’t take into account what I was a natural at, like language, writing, creativity, building arguments, and fighting with myself was even more difficult than obtaining the highest grade in physics.

DP history and the extended essay I wrote in this subject, taught me the power of analytical discussions and ignited my interest in human rights

The International Baccalaureate makes you a learner and an achiever, strengths which you do not leave behind after graduation. Even as I faced daily challenges in some of my subjects, I did not want just to understand what was unclear, I was eager to get grips of the bigger picture as well as the details I found difficult. I was lucky to have inspiring teachers, who could interest me in their areas of specialization irrespective of what my favourite subjects before the DP were. I learnt to find meaning in the simplest of expressions and enjoy language; combine logic with what I know; use initiative to achieve my goal; learn Danish and improve my German by learning from German grammar books explained in Danish. Most significantly, DP History and the extended essay I wrote in it taught me the power of analytical discussions and ignited my interest in human rights, which lead me to the University of Essex in the UK, famous for its Human Rights Centre. My university experience defined my future path and many of my personal motivators – research, communication, academic writing, and analytical thinking.

If you are embarking on the DP soon, my advice would be to follow your interests. Choose subjects you are keen on at higher level, and the rest on standard. Unless of course a university requires you to have something specific at a higher level – and if you can’t face doing the extra work for that, then it might be time to reconsider your further education choices. I learnt this the hard way but am glad I did. Today I am comfortable accepting what I am not the best at, and embrace all academic and work challenges that come my way – because not even my 15,000-word Master’s dissertation in law scared me as much as the three portfolios I had to complete in IB Maths Higher Level.


Sofia completed the IB Diploma Programme at Kolding Gymnasium, Denmark in 2011, which took her to the University of Essex in the UK to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Law. She also did a Master’s in Intellectual Property and Information Law at King’s College London. Sofia is passionate about data protection, information law, the relationship between technology and business, and is also interested in journalism, content production, and world affairs.

Have a great story to tell? Write to alumni.relations@ibo.org and learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.