What Almost Failing IB Taught Me

The International Baccalaureate Diploma, better known as ‘IB,’ is one of the hardest programs in the world; full of anxiety, sleepless nights, breakdowns and so much more. I have suffered for two years straight, with assignments that never seem to stop, teachers that push you beyond your limits and stress that is simply exhausting...and yet, all that wasn’t enough -or was it?

I got my final IB grades two weeks ago, and my first reaction was that I am a failure and that I didn’t do enough. I cried for the whole day and slept through the next. My dad was proud and I couldn’t fathom why, at least not until I reflected upon the last two years of my life.

I don’t want to sound clichéd and say that these years have taught me poetic values like self-love and hard work, even though they kind of did.

So what has IB taught me?

Before I started my last two years of IB, I was the shy fat girl who just stayed silent and had three friends maximum. What changed, you may ask? Well, during last two years of IB, everything changes; you have to pick six subjects that you then spend the following two years studying, so, naturally, you had to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. That is exactly what happened.

I’ll admit, it was hard at first -but with the help of group projects and the common hardship of IB, I befriended a lot of people who I never thought I’d ever talk to. After being thrown into the blizzard, I became instantly better at my creative process, public speaking and typing at a miraculous pace. Then came the time for the Model United Nations (MUN), one of the things that completely changed my perspective on politics, economics and human rights. After my first MUN experience when I was 14, I just couldn’t get enough; I attended more than ten conferences in three years. With the right mentoring from all of my chairs, advisors and teachers, I became deeply interested in human rights, law and equality. It’s safe to say that I’ve met the most interesting people during my MUN career, people who I’m sure I’ll be seeing on TV one day as senators, ministers, lawyers and maybe even presidents. What has all of this taught me, you might wonder? I became more invested in politics and human rights, and I even became a devoted feminist and started investigating feminism and activists from around the world. In fact, I ended up writing my extended essay about feminism in Egypt.

IB helped me get out of my shell and my comfort zone, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am now proud of my body and as confident and happy as ever. Through the past two years, I realized that being different only brings out your uniqueness. I also started devoting myself to self-discovery and improvement; proving that there is always a way in which you can improve yourself.

When I started IB, I thought, “How hard could it possibly be? I’m really good at said subject; I’ll just wing it.“ I also thought that comparing myself to everyone else was a good idea. What I later found out was that I was incredibly stupid that I ever thought that anything in life can be “winged” and that being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll always be good at it, or that you don’t have to work towards it at all. Similarly, comparing yourself to others can be either very fruitful since you are challenging yourself to do better, or it can be harmful and lead to an epic failure. You see, everyone learns at their own pace, so comparing yourself to the students who easily excel at subjects can have horrible results. I understood that there are students who get it from the first time and others who need a few more times to get there, which is okay. Similarly, some people may excel at things that others can’t even bear the thought of. For instance, it’s okay to suck at math and science since not everyone can understand art, history and literature. Everyone has their strong suit; you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was choosing subjects that I liked over subjects I needed; I picked art and history, which were and still are my two favorite subjects of all time. Seems great, right? Well, it wasn’t. I found out the hard way that loving something doesn’t necessarily guarantee excelling at it. I don’t regret choosing these subjects, I’ve learned so much from them but if I were to do this whole thing another time I would probably pick something else. You can learn something from almost anyone, but what matters is what you learn and how you use this newly obtained knowledge. This is what my mistakes have taught me.

Academically speaking, I gained a lot of skills because of my experience in IB. For instance, my English and French are impressive according to the tourists that I’ve met abroad. I became open to all forms of criticism and learned research, communication, critical thinking, and writing skills that I will carry for the rest of my education and hopefully my future career. I became creative and learned how to think “outside of the box” to an extent (Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is still the work of Satan though). Suffering through TOK taught me how to consider the impossible point of view: the weird theory. It taught me to ask myself questions like, “Do facts exist because of proof or does proof exist because of facts? What comes first?” (The work of Satan, I tell you). Even though I spent half the time yelling at my laptop and banging my head on the wall hoping to get anything, a sliver of an idea, in order to write my paper.

One of the values that I am the most grateful for is open mindedness, even though I was born into a pretty open minded family (thank God), there are some things that I grew more open about because of IB. I began having the courage to discuss topics that are considered taboo within my community with my peers; topics such as rape, early marriage, inequality, the LGBTQIA+ community (and women’s rights, as well as LGBTQIA+ rights) and many more. It’s because of IB that I became confident whilst talking about said subjects and that I don’t even consider them as taboo anymore. IB prevented me of being sucked in by the Egyptian stereotypical way of life, by our taboos and uneducated opinions. It also taught me to respect my culture and embrace it. I used to be ashamed to be an Arab, Muslim woman when I was younger, but now I am embracing it fully. I was taught to respect other people’s opinions and value them, to not take everything that people say personally -and that is what I consider the key to success. I also became more racially sensitive, which is a consequence of being in an international IB school.

You may be asking yourself how in the world I learned all of that even though I almost failed IB. Well, the key here is the fact that it’s not about the grades. I value my success in IB with how much I changed and developed as a person after graduating IB. It’s about what I’ve learned from my experience and what I’ll be doing later in life to prevent this almost failure from ever happening again. It’s about learning what my weaknesses are and confronting them, not running away from them and to not be cocky about the things that I’m good at, to be humble and work hard no matter how easy the subject may seem. Since in the real world you have to work to earn your place in the world, we learn that nothing is neither easy nor unachievable.

I am proud to say, mission accomplished. I became an open-minded coffee addict, a raging feminist, an art, literature and music lover, a proud IB survivor, and so much more. I finally understand that I am worthy of my family’s pride, that I am not my grades.

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