Life at a UK Boarding School

Written by: Mioie Kwok 

When I received the offer from my desired boarding school, I was overwhelmed with excitement but was also concerned about what boarding life would actually be like. According to countless TV dramas and movies I watched, life at boarding school appeared to be very cliquey and somewhat intimidating. But after studying at the City of London Freemen's School for two years, I am happy to report that life at boarding school is not nearly as dramatic or painful as depicted in the movies! For starters, the facilities at my boarding school were more advanced and better-equipped than most schools in Hong Kong. We had our own swimming pool, sixth form centre, sports hall and two libraries and there was even a blackbox theatre, which helped develop my knowledge and directorial skills as a drama student. Most importantly we had a newly built and incredibly spacious boarding house. This great living space immediately made me feel at home and played a vital role in helping me adjust to life in a new country and learning environment. 

First, I would like to provide you with a glimpse into what an average week at boarding school is like, at least according to the school I attended. Mondays to Fridays are school days, thus relatively similar and repetitive in nature. We were expected to be ready at 8.00 am for breakfast and then get to class by 8.30 am. As a sixth form student I had an average of five one-hour lessons per day with an additional hour that was dedicated to form tutor periods, assemblies, games or volunteering. The school day ends around 4.00 pm and boarders were given two hours of free time to participate in extracurricular activities, attend IELTS lessons or take a lovely afternoon nap. As a drama student I definitely spent most of my free time in rehearsals. We had dinner at 6.00 pm, then had prep time from 7.00 to 9.00 pm, in which I was able to complete most of my homework and revision. While senior students were allowed to work in their own rooms during prep time, junior pupils were closely supervised by our boarding house tutors who were responsible for keeping track of academic progress.

Our weekends were quite free. As boarders we were given the choice to participate in activities organised by the boarding house, apply for an exeat (permission from the boarding school for a weekend leave) or stay in to get some work done. My favourite activities included karaoke and movie nights, bowling, trips to the beach, laser tag and of course, our weekly grocery runs to Sainsbury's. But nothing trumps the series of Christmas celebrations arranged by our boarding tutors. These included a shopping trip at the Kingston Christmas market, ice-skating at Hampton Court and most importantly, our legendary Boarders' Christmas Ball. So, boarding school life is far from boring, but never jam-packed with so many activities that students end up falling behind with their studies. In fact, according to the A-Level exam statistics released by my school, the average number of A*/A grades achieved by boarders was 10% higher than the average achieved by the rest of the year level! 

In my boarding house, bullying was never a big problem because students across year levels got along really well. We bonded over cooking for each other during the weekends, video games and playing silly pranks on each other (and sometimes on the boarding tutors too!) Of course as teenagers, the occasional fight is indeed inevitable. Yet we managed to put aside many problems and the house prefects were encouraged to get involved to help resolve any difficulties. As a boarder, I developed lifelong friendships with students from all around the world, which was one of the many reasons why I chose to study in the UK. Many of my friends helped me through tough times and comforted me when I felt homesick.

In my opinion, one of the most rewarding aspects of studying in the UK is the high quality of teaching I experienced at my boarding school. When I first started sixth form, I had a lot of reservations about my subject choices because they were made based on what I was good at, without much insight into the future or career prospects. Luckily, my teachers were masters of their field who were genuinely passionate about the subjects they taught. The strength and depth of their knowledge cultivated my curiosity and inquisitive mindset so I fell in love with all three of the subjects that I took. As a result, I dedicated more of my free time to studying and became increasingly knowledgeable, which was reflected by the improvement in my grades. Their wise and professional advice also helped shape my career plans and ambitions, thus assisting me to develop a stronger sense of self and what I should do in the next chapter of my life.

Studying at a UK boarding school cemented my academic interests and strengthened my abilities in the scholastic field. It taught me about the importance of independence and time management as well as ways to maintain a balance between academic progress and social life. These are all extremely important life lessons that I honestly would not have learned anywhere else within such a short period of time.