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What to bring to a desert island—#1. The learner profile

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Vienna Tran reflects on deriving important life skills from her IB education. This is her second story in our graduate voices series.


By Vienna Tran 

“If school has any purpose at all, it is to equip you with some of the tools that you will need in order to lead a fulfilling life.”

The notion that the IB is ‘academically rigorous’ is a given. It is probably one of the first things that your school told you when they introduced the Diploma Programme (DP). It may well have been the first thing that attracted you to the DP. Whenever you mention that you are completing (or have completed) the IB, you already know what the other person’s reaction will probably be: “you’re one of those smart kids, aren’t you?”

I want to illustrate something that I believe cannot be learned at school, and to some extent, cannot be directly taught by anybody at all. It is a concept that your mother might have incessantly tried to drill into your adolescent brain, without knowing that it was mostly beyond her control.

Life skills

Life skills can be defined as a set of metaphorical tools which are gained by experiential, practical learning. They can be utilised to overcome intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges while enhancing quality of life. To obtain a life skill requires reflection, resilience and a willingness to grow.

Our society is built around rewarding objective success, which is measured in terms of things like productivity, grades and performance. It is how our modern civilisation has been able to flourish. Unfortunately, this system of reward means that things like character, virtue and life skills are not rewarded quite so handsomely.

This is why many young graduates from secondary or tertiary educational institutions feel so overwhelmed as soon as they begin a new chapter in their professional lives. You will likely feel the same way when you embark on your first exchange, meet your highly credentialed research team, or start your first job. The extent of your feelings of being overwhelmed, and how much you grow from these experiences, is completely mutually exclusive of your grades.

How the IB can go beyond

“To obtain a life skill requires reflection, resilience and a willingness to grow.”

Having said all this, the IB does reflect some of these values. If I asked you to think of how the IB delivers a holistic education, you may first think of the IB learner profile. 

However, I would argue that the aspects of the IB which have the greatest effect on us are those which you will not find on the posters, diagrams and brochures that your school has plastered all over the campus.

Think of the time you had three assignments due on the same day, all of which you successfully completed because you had become better at planning and stress management.

Think of the CAS activity in which you were interacted with somebody in the community who may have been from a different upbringing, culture or generation.

Think of the time you were placed in a group project with someone whose personality clashed with yours where you made a conscious decision to be professional, cooperative and conscientious with the task at hand.

Think of the time you contributed to a discussion by critically analysing the learning content and expressing an unorthodox idea that nobody else had thought of.

None of this was taught to you. You may have been told about these traits and that you should demonstrate them. But, just as TOK tells us that ‘knowledge cannot be taught’, these skills did not become skills until you executed the action and reflected on the outcome.

The above scenarios were from my personal experience. Five years after matriculating, I can assure you that these lessons still apply to my life inside and outside of university.

Life is a desert island. What will you take with you?

So, I encourage you to continue developing yourself as a person and to develop a conscious thirst for those life skills. If school has any purpose at all, it is to equip you with some of the tools that you will need in order to lead a fulfilling life. It becomes your job to hone, perfect and share these tools, which will always be relevant, whether you’re in university, at work or on a desert island.

Because, at the end of the day, if a student can achieve top grades, speak four languages or skip a year level, but cannot manage their emotions, practice conflict resolution or care for others, none of that other stuff is really going to matter.

vienna square

Vienna Tran is a graduate of St Peters Girls School in Adelaide, Australia. She currently studies medicine at the University of Adelaide. Outside of her studies, she enjoys long-distance running, advocating for climate change action, and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. Her LinkedIn can be found here, and her very active Twitter account is @vistronaut.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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