Sunday, 27 May 2012

Boarding was not boring.

I largely identify with being a country kid who attended public school.

The school oval has its own weird smelling smoke cloud, Saturday was football/netball day, everyone knew everyone else's business and the predictability was both safe and aggravating.

Half way through year eleven I was sent to boarding school.  While I would like to admit to doing something so unacceptable that my parents decided 'enough was enough', nothing could be further from the truth.  I was working too much.  I know - dork issues.  I was doing well at school (except for maths - I don't have that kind of brain), was vice president of the student representative council (the boy I liked won president even though it should have been me), was attempting to dance in the rock eisteddfod and was the star employee of Baker's Delight.

That's right - I rocked the maroon culottes as I sold bread.

I literally worked myself into boarding school.

I was so reliable, in possession of no social life (again, small town) and stepped in at a moments notice.  Most nights after school I would race to the local shopping centre, put on a damp uniform and sell pasta dura loaves.

It became such an issue that I would come home and be unable to form sentences from working so much. And yet, some of my peers were working longer at the Woolworth's, so go figure.

First day of second semester one of my parents rang the high school at recess.  I was instructed to grab my bag and meet my mother at the gate.  I had NO IDEA why.  

The next thing I know I was sitting in the leather interior of a private school foyer.  I then found myself in an interview with the headmaster.  I then found myself enrolled at private school with a move to the boarding school the next day.  This all happened inside of three hours (my country town was only 80km from Adelaide).

That night I packed up my life.

You would think I would be upset.  Crying over leaving friends, school, crushes...  Not the case.  It was escape from my town, escape my parents and their tense relationship (they split eighteen months later), escape from the 'square' label I couldn't shake off at school and escape from everyone who knew me.

The next morning my dad drove me to the school where I was outfitted with a uniform that was a long way from the navy polo shirt and shorts that I wore to public school.  Suddenly I had to wear grandma coloured tights, a tunic (I mistakingly thought they were for medieval men), a blazer (tbh I LOVED this) and a boater hat (ew).

By fourth period I was sitting in my new geography class at my new school.

Change tends to freak most people out.  I've always relished it....if I am onboard.  I am definitely a sink or swim person - throw me in the deep end and I'll be free-styling before you blink.  There have been occasions where I've sunk but in this case, there were no benefits to being passive.  New start, new impression, new everything.

Around 4pm my mother rang the boarding house to talk to me and see if I was alright.  I had already left the house with two new boarder friends for the afternoon.  She was a little surprised.

But boarding school was amazing.

I went from an environment where people hid their successes or were made to feel ashamed of them to one where it was competitive to be the best.

But returning home each holiday and exeat (boarders are made to vacate boarding house two weekends a term) was difficult.  I was seen as a traitor for leaving my high school for a private alternative.  By the time schoolies week came around they were largely over it but in boarding school I had found my people.

Now people have idealised versions of boarding school in their heads.  I've heard both good and horrific stories about people's experiences in these places and I feel unbelievably fortunate that mine have been the former.  That being said, Harry Potter has a lot to answer for.

To answer some questions:

  • In year 11 I shared rooms (walls didn't go to ceiling so more like pod) with 1-2 people.  Sometimes I chose them, sometimes not.
  • We had to get in and out of showers in 4 mins.  As a result I can wash my hair, shave my legs and cleanse my face in that time.  Scary - yes.  Useful - most definitely.  We did not have shower rooms - there were four shower cubicles per floor (15+ girls) hence the small time frame.
  • We had set homework time that was patrolled by the house mother, house mistress or junior mistresses (JMs).
  • Leaving the boarding house involved signing out and sometimes parental permission.  Your level of clearance depended on your year level.
  • On birthdays we got to choose desert for the entire house.  Most popular - honeycomb icecream with fudge sauce.
  • I've seen girls who put tomato sauce on absolutely everything they eat - it's not pleasant.
  • Television was a group decision.
  • I watched Dirty Dancing every afternoon of term 3 of year eleven.  Not by choice.
  • In year 12 I had my own room and shared an ensuite with another girl - sometimes I chose them, sometimes not.
  • We did not wear academic gowns to dinner.
But for those who are curious, I went on to spend 5 years at a residential college while I studied education at university and then my masters (in a year, one v v painful year).  It was there that I wore an academic gown to dinner every night.  It's great for catching spills and disgusting on humid nights.

I visited the place last week and took some pictures of the college including my Felicity-cupboard ;)

On your birthday, or any other transgression, students would be ponded by seniors.  This involved being rolled into the pond (above) to the ringing of a large bell.  

That cupboard (in room B4...not kidding) features the name of 90+ freshman who lived in that room.  Was very cool to return and take some pictorial evidence.

Boarding for me was an invaluable experience - one that intrigues many people who have not had the opportunity.  It's because of this that I am so excited when a YA boarding school title comes out - most of the time it's the idealised version.  You can tell immediately if someone has experienced it compared to imagined it.  

But for those who survive it (unfortunately not my 4 goldfish) it's an experience to remember.


MissE said...

Two terms of boarding school gave me an insight that is coming in quite useful now I'm working at a school with boarders. Sounds like you had a good time at your school - I admit to being curious as to which one you were at here in delightful old Radelaide.

Was really nice to be able to meet you in person last weekend btw - hopefully, next time I won't be doing my best impression of Patient Zero.


Helen's Book Blog said...

Nice post, I love hearing about people's experiences that are different from own. I did the very American high school thing with student government, swim team, pep rallies, etc.

However, my nieces live in Kent and will be attending boarding school as they get to age 15 or so and I look forward to hearing all their stories.

Lana said...

I've never been to boarding school, but definitely enjoy reading about them. Your post made me curious - which YA boarding school stories get it right?

Lana said...

Silly me - subscribing to comments now :)

Adele said...

To be honest, I've been yet to read one that is mostly right. There are elements of John Green's Looking for Alaska but my boarding house wasn't co-ed.