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Vulnerability is brave and beautiful: A tale of secret journals and poetry

Aditi Babel reflects on balancing academics with her creative interests for our series featuring graduate voices. She is a medical student and author of the book Unsettled.

By Aditi Babel

I cannot remember a time that creative writing was not a part of my routine. From elementary school years through to my days at university, chronicling personal ideas and concepts in the form of poems and stories in secret journals has kept me creatively stimulated, and though I yearned to share my writing with a wider community, I worried about judgment from my peers and educators about the personal nature of these works.

This way, I accumulated a large number of diverse poems: from haiku collections to longer melodic prose. Many of these detailed my experiences moving from being educated across multiple Asian countries in international schooling systems into a more monocultural Western society to study Medicine. Looking back at these poems after four years at college, I realized how profoundly my collection of creative musings narrated the evolution of my settling. I felt deeply saddened that these had not been shared.

“Thriving in the IB diploma meant balancing it all: science, language, mathematics, the arts…”

I recalled my initial feelings of isolation at university as I sought to explain my global upbringing to a group of peers who had experienced extremely different childhoods. I recognized that my poems could perhaps articulate feelings that my peers from international school would relate to, provide my current peers an insight into the life of a third-culture-kid, and present an interesting and unique reading experience. This realization drove my decision to share these poems on a public platform.

Although publishing a poetry book as a medical student has been perceived as unconventional, throwing myself whole-heartedly into both Medicine and the Arts has never felt unnatural. In retrospect, the IB programme has always served to affirm the value and importance of engaging in multi-disciplinary education and activity. Thriving in the IB diploma meant balancing it all: science, language, mathematics, the arts, epistemology, research, and extensive extra-curricular activity.

Aditi Babel is a graduate of the Shanghai American School, Pudong. She is now a medical student and author of the book Unsettled. (Photo courtesy of Aditi Babel).

“In our era of proactive personal branding, it is easy to cater to stereotype to fulfill an idea … in the IB programme, liking the academic study of poetry did not mean you had to give up being a scientist.”

Wanting to study chemistry, physics, and math did not excuse students from studying language and literature. Learning objectives and internal writing assessments across our classes further emphasized the implications of each learned concept, and reinforced the significance of drawing connections between different disciplines. In this environment, I felt challenged, stimulated, and motivated: relishing in the realization that the more I learned, the more aware I became about how much more there was to learn. The IB program pushed me to maintain an active and consistent engagement with academic, creative, and community activities.

I was heavily cautioned by peers and educators about publishing a book of poetry, in the rare case that it might hurt my future medical career. I was told that poems exploring my personal emotional experiences and perhaps exposing my vulnerabilities could be perceived as melodramatic, used to question my credibility as a rational doctor, or lead me to be taken less seriously in the world of science and academia. In our era of proactive personal branding, it is easy to cater to stereotype to fulfill an idea; however, drawing on my IB experience has taught me the merit and value of involvement in diverse professional fields. The IB programme exposed each of us to a vast amount of knowledge across disciplines: unlike education systems with restrictions on subject selection, in the IB programme, liking the academic study of poetry did not mean you had to give up being a scientist.

“For any young writers, artists, or musicians reading this: be unafraid to embrace all the facets of your skills and interests.”

I am so grateful for the unprecedented amount of support I have received from my peers across the world since sharing my book, both about the quality of my writing and my expression of feelings of rootlessness that they did not previously know how to articulate. I am equally indebted to the IB programme for bringing me to embrace my diverse interests. For any young writers, artists, or musicians reading this: be unafraid to embrace all the facets of your skills and interests. We are all multi-dimensional humans, and vulnerability is brave and beautiful! Whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, or a business executive: you do not have to choose. Life is too short not to share your art.

Aditi Babel completed the IB Diploma Programme at the Shanghai American School (Pudong Campus) and is currently a medical student at the University of Sheffield, UK. Learn more about her at her website.

To learn about the IB alumni network, visit ibo.org/alumni and read about our 50th anniversary featured graduates to see where other students have taken their studies and careers.