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Looking back: Friendship and personal growth defined my IB experience

We invited IB diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life. Alex Whitney completed the IB Diploma and Middle Years Programmes at the International School of Beaverton, USA, before continuing his undergraduate studies at the Minerva Schools at KGI.

by Alex Whitney

About a month ago, my dad and I were sitting in our living room talking about this past school year. It was my first year at Minerva Schools at KGI, a new undergraduate program, where my classmates and I live in seven different cities around the world as we earn our degrees. He mentioned how happy he was that everything seemed to be going well for me.

The adjustment from living at home was fine, I made new friends with relative ease (or at least I like to think so), I was adapting to being around people from different cultures, and my grades didn’t plummet as I had feared. All was indeed well.Over the course of our conversation, I began thinking of times that were a bit more challenging, when things didn’t seem as calm as they are currently. “What was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done?” I asked myself. It didn’t take long before I flashed back to my last two years of high school, and I knew exactly what the answer was: getting my IB diploma.

Alex Whitney completed the IB Diploma Programme at the International School of Beaverton, US.

Over the course of our conversation, I began thinking of times that were a bit more challenging, when things didn’t seem as calm as they are currently. “What was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done?” I asked myself. It didn’t take long before I flashed back to my last two years of high school, and I knew exactly what the answer was: getting my IB diploma.

IB was rigorous — I can’t describe another experience quite like it. There were countless late nights studying for math tests and higher level bio quizzes, and countless more, writing literature analyses for my English class. From tests to IAs to IOPs to EEs (internal assessments, individual oral presentations, and the extended essay, respectively), in addition to college applications, extracurriculars and the like, I could feel my body start to slow down. I was tired and worn out, and in the midst of it all, I often questioned why I was putting myself through it in the first place.

I first heard about IB programmes back in fifth grade. I was applying for alternative middle schools, and the school I eventually selected contained students in grades six through twelve, with the last two years being the IB diploma. I remember what initially drew me to the program was learning I could get college credit by passing the exams, and once I discovered the focus on critical thinking and international mindedness — which aligned closely with my view of where curricula should focus — I couldn’t help but be excited.

However, when I was in the middle of it all, it was hard to maintain that excitement. A lot of the selective colleges I applied to didn’t take IB credit, or if they did, it was only for higher-level courses. The benefits that initially caught my eye were starting to lose their gleam, making me further question my course of action. Burnout plagued many of my fellow classmates as well, and it was tempting to just quit so I could rebalance my mental health. Now, being a year removed from IB and stirred by my conversation with my father, I had to ask myself if what I went through was really worth it.

Without hesitating, I knew the answer was yes.

Although I was often stressed, I realize now that other externalities during high school added to that feeling. University applications and a load of extracurricular activities multiplied the pressure. Looking back, I can see all the opportunities and friendships IB afforded me. Three developments in particular come to mind as being especially significant, and I hope they can serve as motivation and guidance during your time with IB.

The first was my personal development. This was less apparent while I was going through the program, but in hindsight I see the effects of multiple projects, clubs, and activities on my behavior. From barely noticeable changes, such as the development of interpersonal skills through charity drives, to larger leadership roles in event planning through my school’s honor societies, together with consistent reflections on those activities through creativity, actvitiy, service (CAS), IB helped me internalize the practices that worked well and determine areas for improvement.

In addition to personal development, IB thoroughly prepared me for a rigorous university program. The work at Minerva is not only intellectually stimulating, but also intense, and the multiple assignments and requirements for obtaining an IB diploma, which all had to be juggled throughout my junior and senior years, helped prepare me immensely. Although it took a few attempts to get into a proper work mindset, the multitude of assignments ultimately taught me how to manage my time more efficiently and problem solve through challenging exercises.

The most valuable thing I got out of IB, however, was my friendships. In many ways, the program builds camaraderie — everyone is a shoulder for others to lean on when they need it most. Between IAs, EEs, CAS, and exams, each person will get worn out at a different time, and being able to empathize and understand what others are going through, engenders a support group like no other.

During my time as a diploma candidate, my friends and I would recognize when we’d need a break, and schedule time for rest and relaxation accordingly. We’d all nerd out in a friend’s basement for a whole day, playing video games and watching TV. It was a consistent respite, and it helped tremendously over the course of the program. I’ve tried to implement some of this at Minerva as well, and it’s been wonderful getting to know my fellow classmates through our decompression activities.

Although it was difficult, the IB diploma gave me the opportunity to grow in more ways than one. From my personal life to academics, a lot changed for the better over those two years. It’s easy to get caught up in the work and only focus on what’s hard. But, with a slight change in perspective, you might see what the program has to offer with new eyes, ultimately making it a more fulfilling experience.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Alex Whitney received his IB diploma from the International School of Beaverton in 2015. He has recently completed his first year of studies at the Minerva Schools at KGI, an innovative, global undergraduate program, in San Francisco. Now a second-year, he will live and study in Berlin in this fall before experiencing Buenos Aires in the spring. Alex will double major in Business and the Social Sciences and is passionate about developing digital content for new, innovative businesses. To learn about the IB alumni network, visit and read about our 50th anniversary featured graduates to see where other students have taken their studies and careers.