Ever wondered what it was like to be in a Top British Boarding School? How dramatically life would change from the comforts of your own home, from being able to have your own bedroom and bathroom, from feeling the warm sunshine, from having more free time to do as you wish, from eating Malaysian food and from seeing your parents everyday?
The reality is you will miss all of the above when you go to a British Boarding school. Not only did it feel I was placed in an alien environment that I felt was only temporary because I constantly felt I did not belong (yet), I also felt a sense of abandonment to a cold wintery country, having to embrace the novelty of wearing layers upon layers of thick clothing, taking double the time it took me before to get dressed, and being introduced to many new school items such as tying a tie, wearing a blazer, a lacrosse stick, communal (sometimes dirty) showers, sharing a room with 4 others with no privacy and getting used to the strange people around me. A typical day would consist of waking up in the morning, before the sun was up, putting on my clothes in an awkward fashion so that the others won’t see my underwear, bringing the toothbrush from my bedside to the toilet and brushing my teeth, going downstairs with the 40 others for breakfast which felt very unhomely as I pushed my tray through the metallic canteen racks. After breakfast we went to our study to gather our books and go to lessons, which were back to back all the way up to 3pm. If I was lucky, sometimes there was an odd free period during the day I could head back to my dorm and huddle in bed to relieve myself of the homesickness but this was at the most once or twice a week. After school, we would have team practice (lacrosse, netball, swimming, you name it) and after team practice was dinner followed by study time where we would all sit in our study and complete all the homework given to us. After study time, we would head to bed with “lights-out” at 9pm. This routine would happen everyday, where days turned into months, and months turned into years. Nothing familiar from my previous life that I could cling on to, often waking up in the dark and finishing the school day in the dark.
The only light was the friends that I made, and how friendly all the boarders were towards me. Sharing stories with each other at the end of the day after “lights-out”. Hanging out with them during weekends and looking forward to playing sport and music with them. Without them, this monotonous journey would have been agony, and after making more new friends and getting closer to them, I realized I had finally found a family away from home. Teachers were excellent and engaging and lessons were also much less boring than what I was used to back home – and my friends were all so smart, proactive, well-behaved and positive – everyone wanted to learn and everyone wanted to do well. But at times I couldn’t help but think I was enduring the isolation from normal life for the sake of good results which drove me to work even harder. Particularly peculiar was the all-girl environment.
After the to-ing and fro-ing in and out of boarding school for 9 terms or 3 years, from UK to Malaysia and back, I finally really enjoyed myself during 6th form. 6th form was when I finally earned my freedom – we were allowed out during weekends, we were not at the bottom of the food chain of the boarding house hierarchy – so we got certain privileges like having our own separate “common” room / living room, where we chilled out equipped with our own pantry, we had our own individual rooms, received certain responsibilities around the house which gave us a bit more purpose, importance and recognition rather than being one of the crowd. I could lead my house choir, or our athletics team, or decide the time or date of other house activities rather than being subject to others’ organization. And 2nd year of 6th form we lived in a separate house with others in our year, with our own separate kitchen and we were given allowance to buy our own groceries and cook for ourselves every dinner, food that made us feel more at home and generally in a more homely setting with more control over what we could and could not do. We had also made our good friends by then and so it felt like a continuous and fun sleepover. During weekends we could sign out and go to London without our parents’ permission or head into the local town to shop whenever we felt the need to (rather than only every 3 weeks or with special permission) and life felt a lot more normal. The teachers were just as excellent and our results showed our hard work and I would not mind repeating those years of my life as they were fun.
The above is just a snippet of what it’s like at a boarding school and if you feel this is for you – to go through the whirlwind of emotions but eventually leave being a more independent, well-rounded person who has been exposed to a wider range of activities, adapted to a new environment and learnt general life skills like cooking or making new friends, this is for you.