by Rajesh Kumar
The road has been rather long — not to mention somewhat winding.
Over the past year, it has been my good fortune to have been enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Programme. Today, I sit back cooly, relaxing myself on my cozy rocking chair, sipping orange juice off my favorite tumbler, and breathing the pleasant air off this lovely Vancouver summer afternoon. Everything seems so calm and serene. I happened to have gotten involved with IB by accident, but I have now come to realize what a grand windfall it has been. This tremendously enriching programme doesn't quite receive half the laurels and hand-clapping that it should. Each summer, I find myself asking the same questions over and over again: What have I achieved in the last academic year? How am I different from the guy I knew 10 months ago? At this time of the year, I'm asking myself these very same questions. This year, however, the answers come to me with a twist. The results have been startlingly different. The reason? IBO.
It's hard to believe that three letters can change the course of one's life so dramatically, but it has happened nevertheless. I began to ponder on how and why this might have happened, and soon enough, I came up with a few answers which then translated themselves into an essay that you are now viewing. Some questions have had me puzzled for a longer period, and my attempt to find an answer led me to look at my own history. Peeking into the past was scary business, but I somehow managed to surface.
I was driving along the relatively linear highway, maintaining my speed well below the limit, and keeping a sharp eye out for obstacles from either side. I was on cruise-control, and so my foot was off the pedal. And then, all of a sudden, something strange happened, and my car magically turned into a classic BMW, radiating its magnificent indigo luster in all directions. I slammed on the accelerator and my speed zoomed up to a mind-blowing 100 mi/h. The highway had become my playground. I immediately changed lanes, took a quick left turn to deviate from my routine, found myself at a round-a-bout that encircled elegant fountains dancing to an orchestra, climbed up a steep ramp, went flying past a meagre Mazda that trembled at my energy that was as boundless as the Pacific, cut a sharp corner as professionally as would Schumacher, mercilessly overtook the slow coaches who dared to drive on the express track, weaved my way in and out through the slow-moving traffic, waved hi and then bye to the roadside windmills whose rotating blades were giving me directions, climbed up a tall bridge, jumped across a gleaming river and finally came to a screeching stop at my destination. I looked back at my Mazda friends who choked and spluttered all along, barely able to make it through. My Beamer was an intrepid among them all.
Looking at the programme from within has its own advantages. Nothing can be said more realistically than when a student, who has himself gone through this process, describes and relates the strengths of this formidable programme. Of course, I only have completed the first half of the whole 2-year ride, so there may be times when I may have to go back and re-consider my statements. But we'll leave that daunting task for the following year.
"Contemplation is the best source of knowledge" goes the old adage, and I so passionately concede with it. Over the years, I have looked back at and evaluated my successes and failures, with the hopes of gaining some—even a tad bit—of insight from them. Having completed my junior half last academic year, I indeed have much to say. If it is the person for whom I am today, three-fourths the credit must go to IB. This time last year, I was just another commoner in the vast pool of prospective high-school students. I had gotten into the habit of aiming only for those mundane little things, and my mind and thoughts rarely stretched beyond the average A+. One year after my studies in this challenging programme, my goals have been revised, my self-confidence boosted. More importantly, my thinking has undergone a stunning change. What's more unexpected is the fact that I can actually observe and feel this profound change within myself. And believe me, it's a great feeling — a feeling accompanied by colossal joy.
It has often been said that Grade 11 is the toughest of all the 4 years that one can be associated with IB. When I entered this superb programme for the first time last fall, I found myself surprised at the quality and density of education offered. The previous year has been a rather refreshing and rejuvenating experience, and it has proved to me beyond doubt that I can achieve more than I thought I could. That I can cope with the increasing work-load. That I am capable of managing myself and my time, balancing the two as skillfully as a tightrope walker. It certainly feels good to be back with vigor and energy once again. Deadlines crept in like earthworms, and the word 'papers' entered my lexicon sooner than I had expected. As I'm now finished with the bulk of the tough stuff (or so I hope), I find myself wiping the sweat on my forehead and dusting the grit off my back. I am a happy boy, and my face exhibits a comely smile. Yes, my friends, I possess the chutzpah to remark with unqualified definiteness: I do not resent that decision I had made a year ago.
Getting back to my first-year at IB, I can say one thing with utmost certainty: The first year has been simply marvelous. Nothing more, nothing less. I just couldn't have put it any more succinctly. My friends reading this will probably think I'm being painfully absurd, but let's deal with the facts. The thorough grinding that we've received over the year will serve to keep us in trim condition and our minds svelte for at least the next 6 to 7 years. Papers, theses, quizzes, assignments, homework, labs, tests, and what not. Every single day. It was agonizing and strenuous, yes; but at the same challenging and rewarding. IB has served to fill that terrible quicksand puddle that always seemed to pull me down the more I tried.
Allow me to disentangle a grave misconception that rests in the minds of some. If someone said to you that it was just impossible to keep a sane, social life if you took up the IB Programme, feel free to get out your left shoe and smack them right on their head. Do it then and there. I tell you, it's lawfully justified. Keeping a social life has not been a task for me at all. I have done so successfully, and so have the 40 and odd students in my batch. Looking at it from an aerial view, it just boils down to two important factors: Time Management and Discipline. I know you've heard this a gazillion times before, but allow me to repeat: Time Management is the ultimate key to making it through the IB Programme. Using all my might to try and avoid sounding pretentious, I must say that after spending a year, I chide myself for having mastered the wonderful art of constructive procrastination. One of the main goals of the IB Programme is to build an all-rounded personality. This means that you ought to be good not only in academics, but also in sports, games, thinking, creativity, social-service et all. The minute you enter the Baccalaureate trap, it is quite plainly assumed that you are a multi-tasker and are capable of managing several tasks in concert. Walk into Physics, and your teacher will assume, quite conveniently might I add, that Physics is the only course you're going to be taking all year. Thus to keep all of my activities in sync, good book-keeping of my time proved to be of immense assistance. In this light, a classic maxim comes to my mind: "Study Early, Study Often." These golden words were enough to enable me to do whatever, mark me, whatever I wanted to do.
Let me narrate to you the fable of "The Three Action-Packed Weeks." My intention here is not to scare, but make known the undisguised truth.
Sometime in-between these 3 weeks, my good friend Peter promised to run to the IB Common Room at the end of the school year and scream until his tonsils popped. Such was the tension we experienced during those turbulent weeks. I had been a pompous fool, and floated in belief that end-of-year was going to be a breeze. To be honest, I had been unprepared and had become over-confident. The first terrible blow came when I discovered, quite accidentally that too, that I had run out of room to fill in an assignment in my agenda—something that had never happened in the history of my extensive agenda-using career. I took a closer look, and a grave truth was bestowed upon me: three major assignments, History Internal Assessment, Math Portfolio Assignment, five tests, vast number of text-book pages to read, daily homework, Z-Blocks, social outings, final exams, looming Math Provincials, and French orals. Boy, wasn't I in a state of chaos!
My lack of preparedness made it hard for me. And if you're here reading this, you're lucky that you have been cautioned, for I wasn't. At the end of the three weeks, when school had closed down for the summer, I promised myself with all the austerity I could muster: I am never going to let this happen to me again. Ever.
Yes, it was hard, it was tough, it was anguishing, it was challenging, it was demanding. But the bottom line is that we made it through. The silver lining at the end of the tunnel provided me with the bitter determination and perseverance I so crucially needed. Whilst the others were toiling away, I, barely able to ascend staircases, was into fooling myself, alleviating myself repeatedly "Oh, this is just a piece of cake" and pretending to be excited about the massive workload. Today in retrospect, all I can do is laugh, and laugh again. But I know at the back of my mind that this thorough grinding has put me in peak condition for Grade 12 — the most important of the 4 year span, or the Grand Finalé as I like to call it.
What I've come to realize during my last year is the true power of our IB culture. Some people, surprisingly, haven't even realized that a culture has evolved from here. Allow me to expand on this culture a bit. Until today, I am yet to come across a person whose passion and enthusiasm for his fellow IB mates has wavered even the slightest bit...
I could write a whole book on this. But let me spare my readers some reading.
I was quite impressed when our teachers identified with our tensions, and sometimes even gave us free blocks to refuel. Most students utilized their free time wisely and caught up with their pending work, while I was busy catching up on the oxygen that I had missed the night previous. Our teachers kept us motivated and energized in the face of our crushing workload, and we owe them one for that.
There were other interesting things too. I re-phrase Tricia's (an environmental engineering student doing her co-op program at UWaterloo) words: At IB, our teachers are very approachable. If you show them that you care about your grades and what you're doing in the program, they'll care back tenfold. They'll give you absolutely every resource available to them.
It only seems tough when you're "in the party" but once you're done with it, you'll be pleased with yourself. It's just that invisible threshold you need to somersault through. Whenever I found myself in a state of turmoil, unsure of why I was here and what my purpose in high school was, I simply added to my jet another 3 engines and gave myself a walloping thrust. Meanwhile, I kept reassuring myself that this is actually fun!
Looking back at my past year, I'm waddling with mixed feelings. On one hand, it has been highly educational and perhaps, dare I say, even entertaining. The programme has taught me numerous other things—besides the functional Math, Physics and Chemistry—which, I'm certain, will be highly beneficial and truly indispensable for my future endeavors. On the other hand, it has been a tough road replete with obstacles. Today with Beethoven's Ode to Joy reverberating in the background, even the supremest of obstacles materialize themselves as a puny mutt. I imagine myself as a talented Olympic sprinter, swiftly jumping over the hurdles with astounding ease as I run toward the finish line, ready to tear into the red ribbon. And once I get there, my audience will cheer and clap for me, while I shall take a deep breath, and pat myself on the back on a job well done. The jet engines have been signalled, and the air hostesses asked to remain seated and fasten their belts. The thrust initiated here will take me how far, I cannot foresee. University will be a breeze, I'm sure, and I, rejoicing triumphantly, will finally be able to say with audible ease: "University, here I come!"
So now I'm spending my summer fruitfully, recharging myself, inventing newer and better strategies to tackle next year's workload. Perhaps I should furnish myself with a couple extra batteries. Backups do come handy at times.
The bottom-line is straightforward: if you're in the situation of being
atop the fence, stuck with the dilemma on whether or not to continue
with the programme, my advice to you would be to dive straight in —
head first. The water's in the pool, fret not. Any problems
encountered subsequently aren't problems, they're challenges.
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