Awareness of international cultures, languages and experiences is a prominent aspect of an IB education. We asked Diploma Programme (DP) graduates to discuss the impact of language, words and actions on their lives and studies. This is the first in a short series of stories we’re calling Mindful matters. Learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.
by Ishanee Chanda
My first memory is of me writing a story. I was perched over our round kitchen table, chin resting atop the cold glass, as the wooden pencil in my hand scratched haphazard lines into coffee-stained paper I had just dug out the trash can. If you asked me today, I couldn’t tell you what I was writing about, or honestly if it made any sense, but I can tell you that I’ve always felt at home with a pencil in my hand and a story in my head.
The first time that my writing failed me was in 9th grade. I was in a pre-DP English class, one designed to prepare me for the expectations of the programme, and my assignment was to analyze a short story and write about it. I had cracked my knuckles, arrogance set into the crook of my neck, and grinned cockily. Writing? Piece of cake. Three days later, I had in my hands what could only be described as the worst grade I had ever received. Shock was painted all over my face as I read over the red scribbles dancing through each page, the same phrases jumping out at me.
“Be concise. You’re not writing a story.”
When you spend your life writing long-winded fairy tales about the magic that you’ve always wished to find in the world, you start believing that everything is deserving of that same enthusiasm. My family had always praised my writing, never critiquing what I now know to be the overactive imagination of a growing teenager. Taking that praise, I had believed myself to be infallible, never able to make a mistake, especially in the world of the written word. So that instance, that grade, that comment, shook me to my deepest foundation. I wasn’t writing a story? Then, what the heck was I writing?
I have always been a strong believer in the idea that every person in this world has a right to speak. They can be subject to criticism and negative responses as a result of the things they have to say, but they have the right to say it, nonetheless. It was much later that I realized that what you say will never have as much power as the way you say it. You can have the solution to world peace in your brain, but if you do not articulate it concisely and effectively, people will lose focus before you even make your first point.
I have been a storyteller for as long as I can remember, but it was the International Baccalaureate (IB) that taught me how to write. Every class raised the bar in terms of communication skills with both oral presentations and hundreds of writing assignments. In one of my classes, we would lose one point off our final grade every time we said “um.” There was constant pressure to do better, speak better, write better. In some ways, it was do or die. In others … it was the push that many of us needed.
Even to this day, I firmly believe my greatest strength is my ability to communicate. Whether I am writing a poem or giving a presentation to a group of important people, I have faith in my language skills and how to present the topic while firmly holding a room’s attention. I will always feel nervous before these big moments, like I did before turning in my Extended Essay or before I walked into my English Internal Assessment. But, this nervousness does not stem from the anxiety that I don’t know how to do it.
The IB not only teaches you to have opinions, but also how to talk about them. Essays, round table discussions, final presentations; I had been trained for them all. Even now, I have every intention of going into public policy and service to my country, a field where the things you say are much less important than how you say them. To be able to talk to people is an art, one that the IB has always cultivated well. After all, communication is what crosses borders, oceans, and even intangible things like prejudice. So, for anyone out there who is still struggling through the mountains of assignments: I promise it is worth it in more ways than one. And hopefully, there’ll come a day where you feel comfortable to talk about the reasons why.