My friend in Kuala Lumpur called me up on Skype, absolutely distraught. She had recently packed off her 16-year-old daughter to the UK, and the girl has been in floods of tears. And upon googling boarding school / separation anxiety / pain, my dear friend pulled up a very disturbing article in the reputable Guardian:
You can read the article here.
Yes, traditional English boarding schools do have a reputation for brutal treatment, from sadistic masters to seniors who take great delight in psychologically traumatising new students (more prevalent with boys, I think). I have also heard from several friends that boarding school was a deeply traumatising experience for them.
But here’s the other side of the story. I had a lovely time at boarding school, though I initially resented being sent away as a weekly boarder. When I first arrived, I hated the regimented way of life, the lack of privacy and the unfamiliarity.
But in time, I learned to love my small attic room that looked out onto the sweeping gravel drive, I learned to love listening to running footsteps on the old wooden stairs outside my room and I even learned to love the “slop” (boarding school food).
More importantly, I learned many important life’s lessons at boarding school. Like having to get on with my peers (I was always the boss at home). Like living within a structured world (it had always been free and easy at home). Like learning some independence and trusting that my home will always be there waiting for me. Like self-regulation: I had to manage my emotions, rather than lash out at my parents or brothers.
I learned how to make meaningful friendships – this was where I learned the importance of sisterhood. My ultra-glamoorus roommate Sue was my first close girl pal – years later, when we met up, she shouted from across the street, ‘Roommate!” and the years just melted away. We hugged and we were fifteen again, sharing a messy room and arguing about tidying up, as well as sneaking around looking for food: we were false friends to the Chinese girls across the corridor whom we used to beg for food from (they always had dried noodles stashed away), and whenever we failed to get some off them, we would break into the Buttery in the middle of the night, giggling uncontrollably as we used the flashlight to hunt for food, trying to avoid clanging saucepan lids. Those memories were simply priceless.
So much so that last year, at this exact time, I went back to Bembridge and stayed for over a week somewhere near my old school. Everyday, we walked by the beach on which my school sits and I am filled with the good memories of my boarding school years.
This attic window was my room!
The wild beach of Bembridge:
I cried when I was first driven up this drive. “I want to go home!”, but later, it became home of sorts to me.
Here’s a good quote and a good lesson for life too from Mary Pierce, the successful tennis player:
Sometimes things aren’t clear right away. That’s where you need to be patient and persevere and see where things lead.
Yes, we can’t run away the first time something gets difficult or uncomfortable. Because who knows what tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow) brings.