Discovering who and what we are at the 2017 TOK Conference

During the ski break, February 16–20, seven students from Grade 11 went on a trip to Maastricht, the Netherlands, to take part in the student-run Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Conference 2017 at the United World College Maastricht. Over the course of the the three days the students participated in four TOK workshops, which all explored the theme "Who are we?" from various perspectives. This report briefly explains my personal experience of the trip.

The conference began in an evening opening ceremony in a converted squat in the city centre. Students played music and gave performances including Shakespeare's "to be or not to be" soliloquy, and the speakers introduced the theme of the conference.

We attended workshops of our choice, such as "Nothing really matters", "Is music universal?" and "Do you judge?", all of which were run by students, with an emphasis on interactivity through discussion and activities. The most interesting workshop for me was the one that addressed the central question "What are we?"

ISP at the TOK Conference 2017

This workshop focused on areas of human and natural sciences and the questions that attempt to define us, as humans, of the same species. We addressed three topics upon which our daily lives and existence as a race are based: anthropology, philosophy, and biology. These topics differ yet also coincide with one another when attempting to define what we are. Are we what we think we are or what other people think we are? Or, are we what we are according to science? It is difficult to mention all of the discussion that took place at the conference in this report, but this was one of the most fruitful lines of thought.

Each workshop was designed by the workshop leaders. The student leaders in the conference were not like teachers and they did not seem to be very different from us. We discovered that the leaders' imperfections also helped the discussion to be more interesting, since it stimulated every participant to get involved in the discussion without being afraid of the teachers. Overall, the leaders' independence and leadership were impressive, although the quality of the workshops differed depending on how organized each leader was.

ISP at the TOK Conference 2017

The fact that students who were the same age as us were designing and leading these TOK workshop raised the question – could we do this ourselves? After the conference, we discussed the question. The answer was, yes. It seemed to all of us that designing and leading the discussion with people outside of the school can be very meaningful, giving us a new perspective and new ways of thinking. We, the participants in the 2017 Maastricht conference, are looking forward not only to participating but also to designing a possible TOK conference at ISP in 2018.

Hiroki Fujihara
Grade 11

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