Junior Year

This semester, I have entered into the third year of my high school career. It has been a very different experience compared to my last two years, and I think it’s worthy of a blog post so that I don’t forget about this special year in the future.

IB – The Source of Woe

My school offers a program called International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. For those of you who live in North America, this term may sound pretty foreign. Basically, IB DP is a two-year program for academically talented students during their last two years in high school. To get this diploma, one has to take 6 college-level IB courses (similar to AP courses in the U.S. and Canada), with at least 3 of them being two-year “Higher Level” courses, write an extended essay during the second year of IB, and participate in activities that demonstrate creativity, action, and service (“CAS”).

Before signing up for the program, I’d heard of both compliments and criticisms – usually the former around “preparations for college” and the latter around “homework” – but I eventually decided to join since most of my friends are, and because I believe I am academically capable of the IB workload.

Unfortunately, the college-level courses are much more difficult than I anticipated them to be: especially the humanity ones, which constitute the majority of my four higher-level courses. I have never been an outstanding writer, and this year’s IB English course (which corresponds roughly to AP English Language) is much harder than last year’s, and places more emphasis on writing. IB History (equivalent to AP US History) has driven me to sleep at 4am on one occasion. IB Philosophy will be my second-ever non-A on my high school report card at the end of this quarter (today).

Sounds tough, doesn’t it…

But never for a second did I regret making the choice of taking IB a few months ago.

IB – The Call to Grow

There are a few things in which IB does very well on its mission to prepare us for the next stage of life. I guess this transition will happen sooner or later, and as with everything, better sooner than later.

The first thing that comes to my mind is how IB forces me to organize my time wisely. Students always face the choice between working and procrastinating, and the Timothy of last year frequently chose the latter. Since there wasn’t much homework anyway, I often got away with it. This year, the choice has morphed beyond homework schedule, into “sleep” versus “no sleep.” I assume this is how it’s like in a competitive college.

Which brings my second point. IB knows what colleges are like, and the Programme really prepares us for the hustle-bustle we will encounter in less than two years. Not only is the workload something IB tries to imitate colleges, but the format of the classes too. For example, I have to write papers for IB math class that feels really college-y with proper fonts, format, and such. For IB Physics, my other HL course, the way we calculate uncertainties and errors will carry through into college, according to my teacher at least.

The extended essay we are going to write next year is a prime example of such preparation IB emphasizes. I am not sure about the details of it yet, but I have a feeling that it will be something I’ll be proud of, just like a college student with his successfully defended thesis.


The only piece of puzzle I’m not very sure of currently is the CAS requirements. Basically the CAS requirement is composed of loggable hours of different activities in the three categories of CAS: creativity, action, and service.

This year, I have started a classical guitar club at my school. My vision of the Classical Guitar Club of SM extends beyond just fulfilling the requirements for CAS (as I hopefully will explain in another blog post if I have the time for it), but I consider club leadership to be a form of creativity (and I hope IB will too).

For action, I am not 100% sure since I’m more of a sedentary person. I do enjoy going outdoors but with me living at a host family, that is unfortunately not always possible. I also used to run (not competitively), but with my schedule overflowing I am having trouble finding time for that. Same goes for golf.

The last one, service. I mean, I enjoy service to all kinds of things: environment, children, elders; but the problem is that I can never find friends with similar interests. Plus, my friends and I often have very different schedules after school and during weekends, and it’s no fun to go somewhere on my own just for fulfilling requirements, which is not the original intentions of CAS anyway.

Other Classes

Beyond the ones I just mentioned, I am taking AP Computer Science, which is my easiest class right now because right now all we do is Java programming. No computer science at all.

Spanish is not a problem either because of our very slow pace through the textbook, which miraculously we finished last year.

Classes I Want to Take

I love science. I love math. I want to take EVERY SINGLE ONE OF SCIENCE CLASSES offered by our school.

But no, I can’t do that.

Let’s do the math. Next year, I am certain about my 4 sets of HL classes; AP Calculus, which is de facto mandatory for engineering schools; Theory of Knowledge as part of the IB requirements next year; and Spanish SL to fulfill my IB requirement and four-year foreign language “recommendation” by colleges. We can take 7 classes per year*, that leaves me to … guess what … 0 empty spots! This means that I will never be able to take a second college-level science class. NOOOOO!

* Plus an optional college-level music class, which I tried to take this year, but the school didn’t open that class because too few people want to take it.


Another source of fun (and work) originates from my role as the Director of Technology at the PIxEL Foundation, a non-profit started by my friend Ethan Lee.

PIxEL stands for “programmers + innovators * entrepreneurs + leaders”. Last year, PIxEL was just another club on campus where we taught our peers on how to use HTML and CSS to MAKE SOMETHING on computer, and to more enlightened ones bits and pieces of JavaScript. Unfortunately, the rest of what PIxEL tries to be was not very much covered. But the relative success of the club kept us going, and the long-time members of the club (including me) formed a more close-knitted group.

This year, we are shifting gears to become a more mature and sustainable organization. First, we are officially a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation, thanks to the great work from the Director of Finances Albert Lee* and his supportive parents. On programming, we are trying to continue our tradition of after-school club meetings, but we are going to expand to hosting more weekend workshops and even hackathons for making an entire project. On our mission to bring entrepreneurship to everybody, we are now also partnering with MIT Launch, which is an incubator of computer projects. We are also trying to bring our love for computer science and the hope of entrepreneurship to younger people (like middle schools) and the less fortunate (Title 1 schools).

All in all, we are really taking off this year, and we have high hopes for everything we are doing.

* Despite their last name, Albert is not related to Ethan.

Moving On

This year surely will be an unique and unforgettable experience for me. Surely I don’t have everything planned out, and there will be some obstacles along the road, but I’m sure with every experience I will learn and grow a bit, and be a little more prepared for the future. And that’s what matters.