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What the IB taught me about international-mindedness

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Maja Johansson Hedstroem of Katedralskolan discusses how the DP and her experiences travelling taught her to seek understanding of others. She reminds us of the importance of recognizing both differences and similarities when solving global problems. This is her second story in our graduate voices series.

*Author’s note: Please act responsibly and follow the local guidelines regarding travelling during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.*

What the IB taught me about international-mindedness

By Maja Johansson Hedstroem

“Rather than just acknowledge foreign concepts, I wanted to make an active effort to try to understand them.”

One of the main takeaways from my experiences with the IB Diploma Programme (DP) was that I learned to see myself as a global citizen. Exploring the world and learning more about it became central to my education and whom I wanted to become.

International-mindedness lies at the core of the IB. It is a dynamic concept, which takes a lot of effort to unravel. Nonetheless, it can be summarized as an ability to put things into an international perspective. It is an awareness that other peoples’ opinions and experiences can be different from your own. This does not necessarily make you abandon what you already believe in. Rather, it makes you realize that there are more worldviews than your own.

International-mindedness in the classroom

The appreciation for diverse ways of thinking inside and outside of my DP classes helped cultivate a curiosity for unexplored perspectives. Following graduation, with a newly acquired, more internationally-minded way of looking at the world, every inch of my body cried out to go in search of all these perspectives to be found in distant places. This time, however, I did so with a new objective. Rather than just acknowledge foreign concepts, I wanted to make an active effort to try to understand them.

“The reality is often far more complex than can ever be described by letters comingling on a page in a textbook.”

Instead of going the typical way of immediately pursuing a university degree to galvanize change and correct all the injustices I learned about, I reasoned that if you want to do something about the world, you must know what you are trying to save first. In order to know the world, simply, you must see it.

So, that’s what I did. In fact, my journeys abroad perfected the international-mindedness that I had already started to grasp during the DP.

I believe that international-mindedness eventually becomes ingrained into most IB students through its curricula. For example, my higher level (HL) biology course examined the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, while later discussing malaria and sickle cell anemia in parts of Africa. Just by incorporating material that covers different regions of the world, the DP is able to expand and further the awareness one has for one’s surroundings.

Learning to understand

The reality is often far more complex than can ever be described by letters comingling on a blank page in a textbook. They can take you on ventures beyond your imagination: having you sip tea with Mr. Darcy in Victorian England, pursue the American Dream in Long Island or deliriously discuss crime and punishment in St. Petersburg. With a little bit of eagerness at your hands, you can learn much about the world without ever leaving your bedroom. However, this alone can only take you so far.

“My journeys abroad perfected the international-mindedness that I had already started to grasp during the DP.”

All lessons taught by the commingling letters are often better understood when applied in their actual setting. Diving in the Great Barrier Reef revealed the decalcification of corals that all textbooks have warned me about, visiting a Māori village capitalized on the right to your own culture and witnessing the slums of Delhi shattered my own bubble to a whole new extent.

When travelling, you encounter many things that have never crossed your mind before and may even seem strange. One of the greatest lessons travelling taught me was that these things typically can be better understood by changing your perspective. What has become crucial to my way of understanding the world is to actively try to shift my mindset and place myself in someone else’s shoes. From that point, I am able to see more of the factors behind a decision. It is a simple act, yet it brings about so much understanding for both yourself and others.

Applying international-mindedness in disruptive times

The current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic made an abrupt halt to my globetrotting. Luckily, what my travels have taught me so far were enough for me to see the situation in another light. International-mindedness teaches us to seek mutual ground. It should lead to understanding from all parties and problem-solving that is viable in the long term.

The first response to any international crisis, such as the pandemic, often demands drastic measures. Instinctively, you cut away all potentially dangerous input when facing a threat. The lockdowns witnessed in many countries are examples of this. However, after the immediate challenges have been dealt with, larger, more strategic schemes should be pursued. Local solutions are needed to immediately tackle local problems, but they rarely solve the root cause, nor do they prevent future crises erupting. More often than not, long-term solutions lie in global cooperation. This is where international-mindedness comes in.

International-mindedness is a crucial stepping-stone to achieve sustainable change. Regardless if it is to prevent melting ice caps or safely revamp the economy, by first understanding how the situation looks from someone else’s perspective and the way this differs from yours, you will have more insight into all the variables at play and can more easily consider them. Only then can you find more lasting solutions. I believe that this is one of the most important outcomes from an international mindset.

Why international-mindedness is so important

“The IB encourages us to be open-minded and caring beings.”

The IB encourages us to be open-minded and caring beings. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, one person’s health has come to the forefront of another one’s attention. The rocky road of 2020 has given rise to solidarity on a scale unheard of before in the modern age. In a way, we have all probably become more internationally minded.

Seeing things from a global perspective, without losing track of one’s local sympathies and own values, can make you feel insanely small and incredibly big at the same time. International-mindedness reminds us that we are all minuscule parts of an expanding global web and that the same part also contributes to something so many times larger than ourselves.

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Maja Johansson Hedstroem is an IB graduate of Katedralskolan in Uppsala, Sweden. After achieving her 44-point diploma, she decided to take a gap year to explore several countries before pursuing a degree in law at Uppsala University. Besides learning more about new cultures, Maja also has a keen interest in history as well as writing and loves being on court for a good game of tennis.

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 [email protected]We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter Instagram and YouTube!

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