Life at a boarding school during the pandemic
Written by: Eric Joseph Roberto
From: Oxford, UK
Edited by: Anna Kissajikian
For my entire life, I studied at St Nicholas School in São Paulo, which is a day school where you arrive every morning at 8 am and go home at 4 pm, just like most local schools around the world. The only knowledge of boarding schools I had at the time came from watching movies and to be completely honest, I always thought to myself “Why would anyone ever want to attend school in a foreign country, away from your parents and the comfort of home?". But I'd often sit and wonder what it would be like to go to one of them. And in August 2020 the question would be answered and the doors to the world of boarding school would be unlocked as I took the decision to Attend St. Clares College in the UK for the 2020/21 pre-ib course. My home had changed to the city of Oxford which is better known for the elite and prestigious Oxford University, a completely different place to São Paulo.
One of the biggest challenges that most students, including myself, faced upon arriving at St Clares was adapting to the new surroundings. I was in a different country, away from my parents, and away from home for the first time ever. In the beginning, this made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and being an only child, I especially didn’t enjoy having a roommate as it felt like a constant invasion of my privacy. Additionally, getting used to the food was something that took a bit of time as I grew used to eating home-cooked meals, and even though the dining hall food at St Clares wasn’t bad it still wasn’t my piece of cake. However, after about a month of being there, I was fully integrated into the school, had made many friends, gotten used to the boarding system, and stopped caring about the quality of the food as I was happy enough to be there.
In my experience, one of the biggest advantages of boarding school over day school was waking up in the morning. At St Clare's classes start at 9 am or even 10 am and it’s a five-minute walk from the dorm to the main building where all the classes are. This meant I could wake up at 8:00 or 8:30 am, have a relaxing morning, and make it to class without any rush. Something else I really like about the boarding environment is the sense of community amongst the students, it's as if we were a tribe working together at a common goal. This is something I will always cherish about being in a boarding school and having this feeling of belonging makes being away from home a whole lot better.
At this point, I've lived in the UK for a year and I have to say this experience really changed me. I feel as if I'm a different person now. To begin with, I definitely improved my social skills and it has made me a lot more sociable, better at interactions, helped me establish good friendships, and maintain a healthy relationship with both students and staff. Due to that, my confidence levels have grown, as in the boarding school, I have constantly been pushed out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions, but this has only been good for me, as now I am able to handle situations with more assertiveness. By seeing the way people act outside of class has really taught me a lesson on making assumptions or judging people without knowing what's really going on. Many times I would only judge a person based on what I saw in class without having a clue as to what they were like outside of school, however getting to see the bigger picture made me realize that nothing is the way it seems on the surface. St Clares is a college that offers a lot of freedom to their students, for example, having no uniform, 10 pm and 11 pm curfews, no mandatory physical education, and allowing students to leave campus freely. At the start, this felt like being a kid again where everything was just fun and games, however with freedom comes responsibility. Thankfully I felt like in general, I was able to find a good balance between studying and having fun which allowed me to maximize my marks at the end of the year while still enjoying myself. Additionally, despite no Physical education lessons I decided not to be lazy and unhealthy so I worked really hard at the gym and frequently practiced sports. Despite all that, having all this freedom and no parents in the way has lead to irresponsible and poor behavioral choices which was something that pretty much never happened before. However, life is all about learning from our mistakes and one thing St Clares has definitely taught me was to be honest whenever things went wrong.
I was very happy when I received an offer to stay for the IB at St Clares in December and I have chosen to stay here for the next two years. So far everything has been really enjoyable! This year alone I have made many long-lasting friendships, became more independent, learned valuable lessons about people, improved both socially and academically, and even the things that didn’t go down so well were all part of what has been an amazing and unforgettable experience! I look forward to returning in September and the next two years!