Alexandra Algafari, Class of 2011, International Baccalaureate

How to succeed in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme: Interview with Alexandra Algafari, Class of 2011, who is now part of the Zlatarski International School team

Alexandra Algafari graduated from Zlatarski International School in 2011 among the top in her class with 39 points in her International Baccalaureate Diploma and excellent 5.93 in her Bulgarian diploma. She chose to pursue a degree in the United Kingdom, at the University of Exeter, where she successfully graduated in Psychology in 2014, followed by a Masters in Psychology at Marbella University, Spain. She works in psychology and psychotherapy. Today she is a part of the team at Zlatarski International School of Sofia.

Before embarking on their IB Diploma Programme journey, students and their parents come across multiple information materials at school, on the school website or the website of the IBO. In this interview we discuss the details of the educational process, what exactly happens in the classroom, how to do well in IB and how to survive it.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma has a lot of positive aspects and brings many privileges. What should we do to succeed in it and how can we survive it?

I graduated from the school with a score of 5.93 in my Bulgarian diploma. But my greatest pride was that I received 39 points in my IB diploma (scores 7 in all three languages, scores 5 in Maths, Bio and History, and 2 bonus points from the Extended Essay and the TOK essay) – absolutely sufficient to be accepted in all the universities that I had applied to, and even with 3 points more than the amount required by the University of Exeter where I ended up studying psychology. The University of Exeter is in the top 10 in the UK (i.e. it’s good, trust me). But even more valuable was the fact that many among my colleagues there, who were from all over the world, had walked the same path. This way, the oh-so-frequently-mentioned “internationality” of the IB revealed its true nature – not only that people abroad knew what the IB was, but I also found so many friends from Malaysia, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Hong Kong, the USA, just because each one of us had gone through the same program and that drew us all together.

Throughout the years, I have met people who have been scared of the pressure, work load, the deadlines, the exams, the subjects, the assessment, the exams, the expectations, the essays, the exams again, the whole point… is there even a point? There is and it isn’t that hard at all. This fear will pass the moment you enter the program and you see, first-hand, what it actually is. It’s not that scary.

What subjects did you choose to study in 11th and 12th grade?

Apart from the compulsory ones like Literature, English and Maths, I chose to study Spanish, Biology and History. I already knew that I wanted to study Psychology so I easily chose Bio and History. Besides, I’m not that good with numbers so Economics and Physics were somehow automatically out of the question… But I’m sure that had I chosen them instead, it still would have been interesting and I would have done great at them simply because of the way they were taught. The most amazing thing about IB in itself is the huge diversity of the things that go through assessment (essays, presentations, etc.) and the versatility of the methods that our teachers use.

What will you remember of your studies here?

It was mind-blowingly interesting! Our teachers would inspire us to learn, our textbooks were so interesting. I remember that in our English classes we would learn new vocabulary with the Eagles’ song Hotel California and we would translate Hamlet’s monologue into a funny Bulgarian dialect. The essays that were sent for external assessment abroad had the most beautiful topics – “What is freedom to me?”, “What would the greatest gift be?”, “What are the important things in life?”. But my favourite was when we were reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and our homework was to do role-play for each chapter. I remember how I brought a pillow and a blanket from home once so I could play Holden’s little sister.

We had tons of discussions and we had the chance to voice our opinions and defend our stand.

For example, we would be divided in 2 groups in History class and we would have homework on some topic along the lines of “Social politics during Hitler’s rule” – half of the class would point out the positive aspects and the other half – the negative ones. We would spend a whole lesson in heated discussions, each defending their own stance. We were that excited again when we were writing our Historical Investigations which are a part of the IB History class assessment. Each of us had the opportunity to select a topic and find out the various threads of facts, causes, consequences and details. It was incredible how each of us, both in the discussions and in the written works, had an opinion, each opinion was supported by strong and well thought-out arguments and we easily made references to other historical topics and events.

I had the chance to study literary works that I liked more than those included in the program for the Bulgarian diploma.

I am still in love with Isabel Allende’s magical realism and The House of the Spirits or the Russian life in Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. I love to write and the unfamiliar texts that we had to comment on for the exams and the course works were unbelievably colourful and inspiring. Commenting on them was an absolute pleasure. The comparison of two works for one of the exams and one of the course works was a great challenge, but through it I was able to look into the souls of the various authors, to find the common human values and to discover that we are not that different, no matter where we are from, and to truly understand Ralitsa’s pain from the poem of the same name by Pencho Slaveykov along with Tatyana’s letter to Eugene Onegin.

We would carry out actual scientific experiments instead of being bored with raw theory.

As much as we were moved in Literature classes, Bio classes would quickly return us to the real world and sometimes we would fly off to the weird and curious world of cells and germinating beans. It was so interesting watching what was going on under the microscope or taking notes of how much our beans had grown each week and writing everything down carefully so we could put together our Lab Reports later. And these report taught me how to write the same ones for my Psychology classes at university, while most of my colleagues spent almost a whole year trying to figure them out. I remember how in school we would often vote whose description of the thingy under the microscope sounded most plausible and we would carefully avoid mentioning who turned over the beakers how many times and who forgot to water the beans.

The best thing about the IB program was… all the fun.

It was the fun we had that helped us most to handle it all. We were having fun and we were inspired by the diversity. When something is enjoyable, it’s easier to do and we don’t have a problem with handling a lot of it at once. And when this is combined with a future perspective, success is guaranteed. If we have some aim and we know why we are doing it all, the things that we are doing take on a completely different hue.

What is your advice for the current students of Zlatarski International School?

I knew that I wanted to work in the field of psychotherapy some day and each bit of IB made sense for me. It’s one thing doing the IB just because it’s part of school – then, it would be less a pleasure and more boring. It’s a completely different thing when you know that the IB diploma in Zlatarski opens up the way to your future in an extraordinary manner – regardless of whether it’s about grades necessary for university or about what kind of a person this journey transforms you into.

When we know what the point of an action is and why we are doing it, its consequences double. Although, no matter what we say here, without sound sleep things are way rougher. So… sleep! You’ll stay up all night after the last IB exam when you will be partying for a week straight.