“We are better learners, thinkers and doers when we surround ourselves with individuals that will push us to think differently and challenge our ways of perceiving the world.”
I remember the moment when I finally received my IB medal, my fingers tracing the silver and blue logo of the International Baccalaureate program. It felt like I had won the Olympics, after completing the marathon of finishing my final HL history exam just hours earlier. Unfortunately, I do not remember exactly what I wrote on that HL test, other than one essay about Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. But five years down the road, I can recall the fundamental lessons that the Diploma Programme (DP) program taught me.
More than any specific fact or figure, the IB program taught me how to ask good questions, make a compelling argument and learn from others. Learning how to ask good questions started in Theory of Knowledge, when we would break into small groups and argue over frustrating prompts like “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails” (Abraham Maslow). How might this apply to ways of knowing, as tools, in the pursuit of knowledge?” Our teacher, Mr. Thomas, would prompt our class to ask ourselves how we know what we know and how we might ask better questions to arrive at a conclusion. Asking good questions, or even bad ones to start, taught us how to acquire information and then how to make decisions based on this information. We learned that those who ask questions have the power to construct knowledge, a tool which would be valuable in college and beyond.
Over and over again during my IB coursework, I learned how to make an argument clearly, concisely and under pressure. From writing timed essays to giving oral presentations on Hamlet, the IB program challenged us to think critically and often in a stress-inducing environment. At times, it could seem like these exercises were pointless. But when I entered college, I felt well prepared to respond to tough questions in class, and at internships I was undeterred when asked to deliver a thirty-page report in a month. I learned how to digest large amounts of diverse information and synthesize this knowledge into a clear deliverable in a fixed amount of time. This skill is increasingly important in an era of big data and complex technological systems, where we need to be able to translate technical language in a way that is palatable to everyday consumers.
“We learned that those who ask questions have the power to construct knowledge, a tool which would be valuable in college and beyond.”
Above all, though, the best lesson I learned from IB is that knowledge production never happens in isolation. Instead, we are better learners, thinkers and doers when we surround ourselves with individuals that will push us to think differently and challenge our ways of perceiving the world. What I enjoyed most about my IB experience was the feeling of being surrounded by incredibly intelligent people who value your opinion and respect your voice. Together, we struggled over the toughest IB practice questions and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning writing lab reports. To this day, many of my IB peers are friends whom I stay in touch with to talk about the way our world is changing and the meaning of life.
IB prepares students to think globally and IB alumni truly become citizens of the world. In fact, two students who attended the same IB program I did are now also Fulbright scholars in Europe, one researching social entrepreneurship in Hungary and the other government policy in Estonia. The two researchers I live with in Lisbon, Portugal also attended IB programs, one in Massachusetts and one in India. For all of us, our IB experience had a significant influence on how we continued to ask questions and seek perspectives unlike our own, well after we graduated.
To conclude, I want to take a moment to thank my instructors, administrators, and peers that were a part of my IB experience. If not for some of my favorite teachers of all time, I would not have learned to love Russian history, read Don Quixote in its original form, or even literally learn some rocket science. To you, and my fellow IB alumni, I want to say thank you for some of the most transformative years of my life and the lessons that keep on giving.
Leilani Stacy is a graduate of Wellesley College, with a B.A. degree in Economics and Political Science. She currently lives in Lisbon, Portugal as a Fulbright Scholar conducting research on women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurship in the country. When she’s not having conversations with people, you can find her cooking, going for a run, or reading a good book.
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