Tips for boarding school – how to survive feeling alone, make new friends and weather potential Covid-19 restrictions

Clara Ki Lu
  • Becoming more independent from your family is a huge step, but it’s not easy to start the new school year in an unfamiliar place without the comforts of home
  • A former boarding school student gives advice for anyone who is feeling nervous about living in a dormitory and starting at a new school
Clara Ki Lu |

Latest Articles

In Mexico, endangered monarch butterflies inspire hopes of a comeback

10 English idioms about betrayal and choosing trustworthy friends

MTR services on Hong Kong’s East Rail line disrupted after man dies on tracks

China relaxes Covid controls, allows home isolation for mild and asymptomatic cases

‘Fast track to PR’ helps Canada become top choice for Hong Kong students

Put yourself out there, and get out of your comfort zone

I remember crying the first night of boarding school when my mother left. My roommate was crying as well. That was actually how we first bonded. Even though we were complete strangers, we were hugging each other as we both cried.

Leaving home at the age of 14 isn’t easy – at least it wasn’t for me. While I was excited to learn how to be independent, I was also worried about whether I would fit into this completely new environment. At the beginning, I felt my insecurities bubbling over, as I became a more closed off and reserved version of myself.

During my first week, I scrolled through Instagram, seeing all my friends back home having the time of their lives at school – laughing together and making jokes, all without me.

Studying abroad and what they don’t tell you about loneliness

I had never felt so alone. I struggled to find people to walk to chapel and classes with in the mornings, and people to eat dinner with at night.

For the first few months, I never went to the dining room alone. I made two good friends, but they lived in different dorms. I always waited for them to finish their sports so we could eat together. And when they had other plans during dinner, I just brought food to my room and ate by myself. I was so afraid of being seen alone, that I started isolating myself from meeting new people.

In the end, even if it took me time to adjust, boarding school was the best decision I ever made. There were so many things I wish I had known before going to boarding school, so I wanted to share my tips for anyone starting their first year.

1. Get out of your comfort zone

If you don’t have someone to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner with, don’t be worried. As comforting as it might be to always walk with someone to the dining hall, you can always find someone when you arrive alone. You’d be surprised how many strangers can become friends if you muster up the courage to sit with them.

In the spring term of my first year, my roommate showed me how easy it was to sit next to strangers and start conversations. She would also drag me to all the school dances. I have her to thank for pulling me out of my comfort zone.

Asking for a friend: How do I make new friends?

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you live on campus and don’t know how to get around, or are confused about an event on your calendar, don’t be scared to ask people – especially your prefects, advisers or dorm representatives.

In my first year, I always asked the prefect living next to me for help. She was one of the nicest people I have ever met and became a good friend during that first year.

If you are struggling academically, always ask your teachers for extra help, or even try peer tutoring. Many boarding schools have this, and it saved my grade so many times when I took precalculus.

3. Stay organised

When you live on campus, there are so many events going on. You want to make sure you get the most out of your experience, so it’s crucial to plan your time well.

When I would come back from dinner, sometimes there would be people in the dorm laughing and eating cookies together. While joining them was incredibly tempting, I had to remind myself that I had hours of homework left to do.

Remember that you will need to sacrifice some social time for sleep and grades, or vice versa. A healthy balance is the way to go. This applies not only to boarding school, but life in general.

Help! I’m totally burned out and I can’t study

4. Try new extracurricular activities

During your first year, try different activities, whether that be playing a new sport, going to the student centre, joining different clubs, or even simply exploring the campus.

When I was in the States, I tried hockey for the first time during the winter term. My team was so welcoming and fun, and I made so many new friends. I found myself looking forward to hockey after school every day rather than dreading sports. Those few months became my favourite memory of all my four years.

5. Covid-19 tip

There can be lots of restrictions when going to school during a pandemic. Events get cancelled, and you might not be able to leave campus. But try to make the most of your time: stay in and watch films with your dorm mates; order takeaway; or even go on a run around campus.

Whenever you feel closed in a bubble because of regulations, try your best to get creative! Fun is always around if you allow yourself to find it.

Sign up for the YP Teachers Newsletter
Get updates for teachers sent directly to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy