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You don’t know what you have until it’s gone

Joining our series featuring graduate voices, alumna Iva Martinac’s open letter to students explores her changing impressions of the IB diploma after beginning her first year at university in Roskilde, Denmark.

By Iva Martinac

(For all my IB students out there and those who are considering to become a part of the DP community)

Which subjects did you take in the IB?” asked Ringisai, a former Diploma Programme (DP) student from Australia, whom I met on the first day of introduction period at Roskilde University. Later that day, one of our tutors mentioned the keyword for every IB graduate “extended essay” and all of us who understand the full meaning hidden behind those two words exchanged glances. Bonding with former IB students seemed to require much less effort, even if the only thing we had in common was the IB diploma.

On the first day of university, we laughed while looking back on the “extended essay”, theory of knowledge (TOK) lessons, creativity, activity, service (CAS), and concluded that we wouldn’t recommend the IB Diploma Programme to anyone. I remember saying: “It was definitely not worth all the effort I put into it.”

Attending a small private international school with a DP class of no more than ten people did not provide me with that “High School Musical 3” experience and it definitely wasn’t an easy pass. My classmates and I did not spend Fridays and Saturdays dancing to Drake in one of the local nightclubs. Our high school experience was somewhat different, but it enriched us in various ways.

Being a part of a small class that counted six people, including myself, had its many advantages: teacher-student bonds were strong and that helped us, students, to share our opinions in front of others and share our experiences with one another. Our DP teachers felt freer to share their travel stories and experiences of working abroad. First-hand experiences of people who were not bound to any particular nation, but rather felt prepared to take a risk, be influenced, get out of their comfort zone and finally, to be themselves wherever they go, were the lessons that helped me the most when it was time to leave my comfort zone and move to Denmark.

“ … terms like ‘religion’ or ‘political orientation’ are no longer as straightforward as I used to think they were.”

Once the exam period was over and I had enough time to reflect, I realized that I was no longer the same person from when I first started the Diploma Programme. Yes, I’ve matured and become more open-minded. But what matters the most, is that I’ve finally come to the point where physical borders that separate different cultures and discrimination that individuals face upon crossing those borders, no longer exist in my mind. I’ve become a ‘global citizen’ in its fullest meaning.

Being surrounded by students who do not define ‘home’ as a place and do not put a label on their nationality, taught me not to look at individuals as members of something greater, such as race, nation, social group, terms like ‘religion’ or ‘political orientation’ are no longer as straightforward as I used to think they were. In every new place I visit, ‘public opinions’ and what is seen as ‘socially acceptable’ varies, but I came to the conclusion that one is not obliged to share public opinion(s), nor does he/she need to integrate into a new society as they teach us nowadays with all the ‘Integrationskurs’ propaganda that took a hold during the refugee crisis.

“If there is one thing that I’ve brought with me from my former high school, that is to have an opinion and to back it up with good reasoning.”

Another thing I realized in one of the first weeks of the university is that IB students have high expectations from their lecturers. I experienced that on my own skin; after the first Sociology lecture, I came up to my professor saying that his lecture was, to a great extent, satisfactory, but that the case studies about China were quite outdated (extremely thankful for having to take geography as a DP subject). The professor did not seem to appreciate my remarks like my IB teachers used to, but if there is one thing that I’ve brought with me from my former high school, it is to have an opinion and to back it up with good reasoning.

As a former IB student, I would like to emphasize the following: open your ears and eyes during the Diploma Programme, read the case studies from geographypods.com (might not get you the best grade in geography, but you’ll definitely need it if one day you want to have a discussion with your university professor)! Watch TED Talks! Talk to your teachers!

Iva Martinac completed the IB diploma at the International School Ruhr and continues her studies at Roskilde University, Denmark.

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.