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May 25 2017
by Kasia Hope

The IB Program: A Survivor's Perspective

By Kasia Hope - May 25 2017

Hundreds of thousands of students choose to enroll in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Over the course of two years, their time becomes fully consumed by demanding courses, extracurricular activities and numerous internal assessments (IAs). It definitely isn’t the easiest path to take, yet inevitably, IB students are pushed to reach their potential.

We’ve reached that time of year where seniors in the IB program are done with exams, simultaneously crying with relief, anxiously looking forward to seeing their scores in July and looking for ways to fill up their suddenly empty schedules. Being one of those students, I can vouch for the sense of joy that everyone feels as they take that last exam — the last thing standing between them and freedom. Many are tempted to burn the incredible amounts of notes that accumulated over the last two years in a large bonfire (but don’t tell your teachers or parents I said that).

There are a surprising amount of similarities between the IB program and being stranded on a desert island. Each student feels isolated amongst the vast seas of deadlines, all-nighters and stress. We all try to survive as best as we can.

Yet despite the struggles of memorizing more than 200 pages of notes for HL biology, having to write CAS reflection after CAS reflection and tons of stress, the IB program still has certain redeeming qualities. Like anything, it has both positives and negatives, some of which are listed below.

Pro: You bonded with your fellow sufferers.

With over 800,000 students worldwide, encountering a fellow IB student is very probable. Even if you both came from completely different countries and cultural backgrounds, you can always talk smack about mathematics or CAS requirements together or share your experiences of taking the final exams. There is an instant connection between you two thanks to the one thing that completely dominated your life for the last two years of high school (or longer if you were in the Middle Years Program). You also had a special connection with your friends who were part of the diploma program.

Con: That won’t mean you have a social life.

Don’t get me wrong, there is potential for a social life. It’s hard to truthfully say, however, that this social life is particularly developed. In fact, depending on the month, you could have either no time to go out anywhere (the prime example being the three weeks of final exams) or a suspiciously large amount of free time (limited to a free weekend, probably as a junior).

Pro: You are the master of multitasking and balancing.

At the peaks of senior year in terms of the amount of work, it is likely that there was a steady stream of work coming your way. For myself, an especially trying time were the two weeks in January where I had around nine college applications, my TOK essay draft, IOC and an incredible amount of CAS reflections due. Needless to say, it very easily could’ve been overwhelming, but I feel that one of the secret purposes of the IB is to create people that are able to balance (or at least valiantly try to) at least five important things at the same time.

Con: Do I even have to mention the stress?

Stress was your best friend. Even if you micromanaged your schedule and finished assignments with ease, it was always by your side. It didn’t care whether you are working, spending time with friends or sleeping — stress loyally followed you around.

Pro: All-nighter? That’s no problem for you.

Don’t lie to yourself, you know you pulled an all-nighter at least once. No matter how organized you were, there was always that one assignment, be it an IA, unit test or essay, that just couldn’t fit in the schedule until the last minute. I know I’ve worked through the night a fair share of times. Sometimes having friends with you for a last minute sleepover helps, especially when your energy drops at 4 a.m.

Con: Chronic fatigue.

Long gone are the days of a well-rested you. After the all-nighters needed to study for exams or work on the EE or IAs, your body now feels that fatigue must be its natural state. Even when you did sleep, it was in a stressed state. Your subconscious knew you had to finish that written assignment or work on your biology IA. In fact, until the last few days, we as seniors didn’t really have an opportunity for rest amidst the havoc of deadlines and finals. Now that we’re done, none of us know what to do with all of the free time we now have.

Pro: You are able to look back at the past with pride.

Yes, you did it all! Even if it wasn’t perfect, we can say that we survived the demands of the IB. After two years of your sanity slowly deteriorating, it may seem like choosing to be an IB student was the biggest mistake of your life so far. At the same time, however, the memories you share with your friends of last-minute cramming for an exam or of sitting together in library bring back a smile.

Perhaps the most important question soon-to-be graduating seniors are asking themselves is, "Was it worth it?" Now that we are able to reflect on the past two years, can we validate the extreme amounts of effort and stress? While it’s true that perhaps most of the information crammed throughout the past two years won’t necessarily be applicable ever again, it can’t be denied that every IB student has grown, both in and out of the classroom. We’ve all developed our work ethic and organization skills, whether we wanted to or not. We learned how to manage stress (to some extent). Despite all the cons, in retrospect, I am glad I chose to be an IB student because I know I can apply the experiences, both the good and the bad, to university and to life.

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Kasia Hope - Rhode Island School of Design

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