5 Things I Learned at Boarding School

Alice Park es Gogo
Credit: flickr / Tetsumo

For my last two years of school, I was at a fancy English boarding school. This is not something I write about or talk about much, because it was not the most enjoyable experience (so, normal for high school!). However like everything, there are some important lessons for life that I got out of it.

1. People and Power

I will tell you two things about my housemistress in my final year.

  1. After I had my nose broken she said, “you know even if it stayed like that, for the rest of your life, you wouldn’t be like, deformed” (Just the thing a 17-year-old girl wants to hear, of course).
  2. I always got the impression that she enjoyed, far to much, how much power she had over us.

Now, if someone’s in a powerful position, I always look for what motivates them to be there, and how they use it.

2. I’m not that great at math

In the state sector, I was always considered to be good at math, in fact when I was 14 I got sent to some kind of special weekend math classes (this is, of course, just what you want to do at the weekend when you’re 14).

Then I got to boarding school, and discovered that I was at best average in those who were taking A level math.

Your size as a fish is relative to the size of the pond you’re in.

3. Quality > Quantity

I worked really hard for my GCSE’s, but the teachers at the state school I was at… several of them seemed to have had the stuffing kicked out of them. Over 2 years I watched one of my teachers go from a young, bright-eyed idealist to someone who didn’t seem to have the energy to go on. They’d given up, and that was reflected in their teaching and their engagement with their classes. Because the government rewards schools for getting as many people as possible to some arbitrary (and fairly low) level, rather than for helping students achieve their potential – whatever that is – brighter students can be effectively left to fend for themselves.

No amount of hard work from me could compensate for this.

At boarding school, the teachers hadn’t been kicked around so much. They were more able and willing to push us to succeed. And they did. I continued to work hard, but my results improved dramatically. Because I was finally working on the right things.

4. Some people think process is more important than result

I wanted to take a kickboxing class on Sunday mornings, but on Sunday mornings we had to go to church. Another student got to do this, because he went to the Catholic service (which was earlier) instead. So I went to the chaplain to ask if I could too.

He asked if I was a Catholic, and I said no but that as an Atheist I didn’t see that it mattered which church I was in, not believing.

He didn’t see it that way. In fact, he said, “when you’re older you’ll realize that it’s not as simple as that”.

I am older, and I still think it’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.

I did not get to go kickboxing.

This will not be the only person I encounter with arbitrary, irrational distinctions between two very similar things.

5. How to be alone, even when you’re not

I was talking to someone yesterday, and she asked when I took “veg out on the sofa by yourself and chill out time”.

Mostly, I don’t.

It is near impossible to be alone at boarding school. You share a tiny room with another person, and there are people everywhere, all the time. If you go into town, you’ll see people you know. If you wonder out of town, you probably will as well. So I learned how to be alone, even when I wasn’t. This was when I started spending a lot of time in the gym.

I survived (just!) nearly 3 weeks with someone who couldn’t go to the corner shop by herself and would not let me shower alone for a week (not like that – she just insisted I leave the bathroom door unlocked and would be in the bathroom doing her hair etc).

It’s all about taking your alone time when and where you can get it – I learned that at boarding school.

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