Good afternoon comrade IBers, comrade teachers, administrators, parents, Khang, and individuals who are really awesome but do not fall into any of the aforementioned categories:
In my young and reckless Grade 10 year, I remember Lord Kindrachuk telling us that “there was nothing wrong with 1/5!” on our first history essay. And as a freshman to the IB program, my first thought was “Oh gods, what have I gotten myself into?” To quote an anonymous IB student, “When you join IB, you have frequent urges to run away screaming, but the weight of your bookbag does not allow it.” However, over the course of pre-IB and two years in “real” IB, I’ve become a convert to the gospel of the International Baccalaureate. Going on this route was by no means easy, but in the end, the pros overwhelmingly outweigh the cons. Through this disorganized rant, I hope you too will begin to view this hallowed academic program in the same way.
Oh right, introductions. So just in case I’m not as infamous as I think I am, I’m Brian, an IB Diploma graduate from last year. I am currently reading biology/biochemistry at the University of Regina. I sell computers also, so don’t forget to purchase extended warranty. I like apple pie. I’m also fairly insane, but I assure you that this was the case before I registered in the IB.
A question that is probably on your mind is, why did I decide to take the IB? I had heard of the program from my parent’s friends, and I found the idea of an academic program to be quite appealing because it did seem challenging. After all, President John F. Kennedy once said, “We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” Instead of memorizing textbook sections like in regular classes, the IB was advertised as being intellectually stimulating and was taught in a different way than regular classes. It also followed an international curriculum that was recognized by schools all over the world, and strongly favoured by many universities. And most importantly to Asian parents—it was free.
Once I had entered the pre-IB program, I felt that it wasn’t really too bad. Granted, the workload was much heavier than in Grade 9, the teachers expected more from you, and it was a bit more competitive, but it wasn’t as hard in terms of workload as I had heard from people describing their Grade 10 pre-IB experiences. One of the most important distinctions I noticed in Grade 10 was that teachers did not always check homework, like Mr Slykhuis who taught pre-IB Maths. (Do watch out for his SLY quizzes though!) Since the teachers did not always check your homework, it was just expected that you would take some initiative and actually do it. That is where I learned Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, I mean, IB number 1: IB homework is not out to kill you — it is there to improve your understanding of the subject. In elementary school and in Grade 9, I was often assigned busywork that did not really help me understand the subject, but rather it just allowed for teachers to give you grades on assignments. In IB, it became apparent that the goal of assignments and projects and essays was to develop your understanding of the subject so that you could truly understand it, or at least understand it enough for the holy IB exams.
Even though certain subjects like IB English were fairly difficult, it was worth it just to see Mr Stevens take a misbehaving student’s quiz and light it on fire. But eventually, if you give it enough time, impossible challenges will seem possible.
When registration time rolled around for Grade 11 classes, I was faced with perhaps one of the greatest dilemmas of my life thus far: should I enrol in the supposedly scary, frightening, horrifying, torturous IB Diploma program, or drop some of my more mediocre classes and take the IB certificate program, or abandon IB entirely? Of course, I ended up choosing the Diploma route because quite simply, why not? Just like extended warranty from a retail store, like Best Buy, you have to sign up within a certain period of time, or you will be ineligible no matter how hard you try. In the case of the Diploma, if I decided to not register right away and later realized that I wanted it, I wouldn’t have had that option. Moreover, I had had pretty good experiences from my Grade 10 year, and I felt that it would’ve been a waste to go through all that trouble in Grade 10 just to take a couple of classes and not the full diploma. I decided to steer my ironclad towards the path of diploma, and prayed that I would not be sunk by icebergs or a Union torpedo. After all, how bad could Grade 11 be compared to Grade 10?
By the end of Grade 10, Comrade Coordinator Ransom gathered us diploma candidates to give us a top-secret briefing on CAS – creativity, action and service hours. This is of course the mandatory extracurricular component of the Diploma. Over the course of 2 years, one must complete a mere 50 hours in each category for a total of 150 hours. Many of us exceeded that by far—though Ms Ahmed over there completed several hundred just to make the rest of us feel bad. I found that it was quite cathartic; after a long stressful week of academics, why not just do something that you already enjoy and get credit for it? For some of you, it might be chess; for others, it might be music or sports tournaments. It’s also helped me consider doing things that I may not have done otherwise, like debate or various other service activities.
For CAS, there is also a secondary component — the CAS project, which is a long-term project that integrates two or more components of CAS. Some of my more, shall we say liberal colleagues decided that a trip to Guatemala to help with a housing project would help us accomplish this goal, but due to unforeseen difficulties, we were forced to abandon it. Instead, Comrade VH stumbled upon an excellent opportunity for us — the citizenship project. Because of our status as dedicated IB students, we were selected to compose a document to promote civics education in Saskatchewan for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Although many of us gave up our weekends for months on end to do this project, it was something that allowed us to change our society, one small step at a time. Also, the banquet at the end was worth it.
IRREGARDLESS, I digress. In regards to the two real Diploma years — Grade 11 and Grade 12 — I’ll be honest with you— it will be fairly difficult for most students. To quote Mr Ceholski: “Grade 10 is like drinking from a garden hose, Grade 11 is like drinking from a fire hose, and Grade 12 is like drinking the ocean”. You’ll have to deal with complicated internal assessments, projects, Group 4 projects with reliable team members and IB final exams. You’ll have to grasp university-level concepts like Dr Sarkis’s Sarkesian geometry, intense literary analysis of cheerful stories like The Handmaid’s Tale and the famous TOK quote “how do you know that you know?”. At times, like IB March Madness in Grade 12, you will probably be tempted to drop the Diploma. You may be tempted to turn into a hermit and start reading history books instead of doing homework, like a certain unnamed individual in Grade 12. But during these pivotal years, you will learn Fundamental Theorem of IB, number 2: it’s all worth it for the IB family.
I’ve had the fortune of meeting with teachers and comrades and interacting with them like family. Once you see everyone in IB every single day in almost every single class, then the seeds of a community are planted. This is perhaps one of the reasons why I decided to continue on with the diploma. To quote another famous quote from anonymous IB students:
Student 1: I HATE IB! IT’S KILLING ME! I SWEAR TO GOD, I AM GOING TO TALK TO OUR COORDINATOR TOMORROW AND DROP OUT!
Fellow IB Diplomaers: No you won’t.
Student 1: You’re right, I won’t.
With the support net from fellow IBers, IB teachers and parents, we were able to, as a family, survive this route. It really is something that is almost impossible to describe until you actually experience it. Personally, I’ve had a somewhat difficult time transitioning to university because I had gotten so used to the IB family—instead of small classrooms where everyone participates in discussions and you basically know everyone, there are now large, ominous, nearly silent lecture theatres where several hundred people are focused on listening to one person. Realistically, the IB family is something you can turn to for whining. Let’s be honest here, fellow IBers. On every night before a major assignment is due—say Maths portfolios—Facebook newsfeeds are undoubtedly filled with statuses of IB students complaining about the injustice and torture that is the assignment, followed by numerous likes and comments on said statuses from the IB family.
Although the community is super important, it will not be able to save you from everything. Fundamental theorem of IB #3: don’t procrastinate. For example, do not attempt to write most of your Maths portfolio on the night before it’s due… or start it on the night before it’s due. After your first all-nighter, you will make an oath to yourself to never never never do that again. With the IB, one must learn to navigate through often daunting mountains of homework… and unless your homework is a function of x, no, optimization through calculus will not help you. What I found to be helpful was just to mentally make a plan of what to do each evening and week in terms of major assignments and projects, and figure out what has to be done and what must absolutely be done such that Lord Kindrachuk won’t throw a chair at you. This allowed me to plan my limited time accordingly so I didn’t waste time doing something that wasn’t absolutely crucial.
For something like the Extended Essay, this is pretty essential. The EE is another central component of the Diploma programme, where candidates must write a 4000 word research paper on a topic of their choosing in an IB subject. For example, I chose to do mine on the struggle of the valiant CSS Virginia in the only war worth knowing, the American Civil War. Special thanks to the greatest EE supervisor of all time, Lord Kindrachuk, who was kind enough to NOT draw a picture of a stick man shooting himself in the foot. With so much to write, it is critical that you follow the deadlines listed by Comrade Ransom and interpret them to be deadlines, literally. My fellow candidates, thanks to their non-procrastinating nature, handed in their EEs early as any academically responsible student would. Unless you write, it is hard to imagine the magnitude of research that has to be done to produce an adequate research paper. By taking the Diploma route, I was able to understand the general layout and structure of research papers through the Extended Essay, which allowed me to write an A+ political science essay in university in a day or two. Some of my colleagues from the University of Calgary, thanks to the EE, were able to write several essays in the course of one night. Not to gloat or anything like that.
The third essential component of the IB Diploma is of course Theory of Knowledge, or TOK. IB 2010 was fortunate enough to have been taught by our left-wing comrade, VH. Perhaps one of the thought-provoking classes I have ever taken, TOK is where students discuss and contemplate interdisciplinary issues that transcend national boundaries. It is indeed as epic as it sounds. Despite the early, quiet mornings in TOK, it is something that makes IB truly IB. In what other class can you write an essay where you get marked on how personal your response is? Take TOK. You won’t regret it.
Now that you know why I took the Diploma, it might be useful to look at how it has benefited me and my diploma comrades. All of us are currently at university, and most if not all of us feel that the diploma program has benefited us to at least some extent. For instance, many of us received IB Diploma scholarships upon applying to university which helped relieve the financial burden during first year quite significantly. Comrades who decided to go to the University of Calgary received second year standing immediately because they took the Diploma route, and are having a pretty easy time financially… Another specific example would be class registration — due to my transfer credits from my Higher Level classes which I took because of the Diploma, I didn’t have to take classes like English 100 and 110. Not only did that allow me to save money, but also it allowed me to register much earlier than my friends in the regular program for much coveted classes like Organic Chemistry with a certain professor or specific laboratory sections.
In university, many of us have also found that the first semester, at least, was quite a relief from the Diploma. The workload in university so far is much less than in the Diploma, but that may be due to some of the superior time management and prioritization skills that we have learned.
Undoubtedly, one of the reasons why the IB is a great success here at Campbell is the contribution of teachers to our success. During my first semester of university, I found that the lessons and inspirational quotes from the teachers here helped me avert epic failure. For instance, Mr Prakhya—our beloved Chemistry teacher— often told us to not just read, but READ. Thanks for your wonderful, invigorating comments during IB March Madness, and for organizing monthly IB chemistry parties. Most of us can also attest to the ability of Ms Wood’s teaching ability—many of us avoided failure in the first semester of university maths because of her calculus teaching ability. And her attempts to sound like Mr Ransom. “Do listen up.” Comrade Commissar Van Hesteren (aka VH) also helped us develop some critical analysis skills in TOK, and also declared that TOK students shall no longer be known as “tokers”, but as “TOK-ers”. Mrs Gullacher (or as the phone companies said, gool-la-che) converted many of us to the Gospel of Biology, and helped many of us on our most stressful weeks/months, including March Madness, by not rigorously enforcing homework deadlines. Although many of us did the homework… right? Lord Kindrachuk—aka sultan of the world—helped us navigate through the treacherous terrain of History, and often gave us motivation to try hard in History by making us realize our own youth and naivete. Last, but not least, Mr Ransom, much thanks from IB 2010 for recounting your stories about scrumptious cats, and providing us with chocolate on those dark assignment days.
PS: Thanks to Mr Lloyd for preventing me from failing Physics 109.
Looking back, I don’t regret my decision to take IB, or the Diploma programme, at all. Thanks to the IB, I’ve developed an affinity for arts classes, had the fortune of meeting wonderful comrades and teachers, developed useful practical skills, and felt much more prepared for university than I would have otherwise. Just keep my fundamental theorems of IB in mind. And take Diploma.
To paraphrase former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown:
And [the IB] has shown us something even bigger. That a community is more than its buildings. More than its institutions. More than its fabric. A community is thousands of acts of friendship and service and compassion to each other. And it’s shown us that communities are built not just by things that we can do on our own, but rather things that we choose to do together, and that’s what a good society is about.
Mazel tov class of 2010.
Ask not what the IB can do for you — ask what you can do for the IB.