What are British boarding schools really like?

Jacqueline Wong (JR)

Are British boarding schools really like Hogwarts? One YP cadet finds out from three Hong Kong boarders

Jacqueline Wong (JR) |

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Is boarding school really like in the movies?

Most Hong Kong teens probably associate secondary school with homework, tuition classes, and exams. But not all school experiences are the same. Some Hong Kong students choose to study abroad in places like Britain, which usually means living at a boarding school.

As daunting as it sounds, studying at a boarding school can be a great opportunity to gain independence, learn about different cultures, and develop long-lasting friendships.

When you think of a British boarding school, you might find yourself picturing students dressed in uniforms walking down long, ancient corridors, or sitting around one long dining table in a grand-looking hall. After all, it’s what we see in books and films like Harry Potter, Wild Child, and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers. It’s an image that’s both fascinating and intimidating – but is it true?

To find out, Young Post sat down with three Hong Kong teens currently studying at British boarding schools.

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Let’s start with the stereotype of the rude, snobbish head girl, as seen in films like Wild Child.

Christy Yeung, 17, from Badminton School, says there isn’t really any such thing. “People come from all around the world and from all different kinds of backgrounds, so not everyone is like that.”

Kathy Chan, 16, from Cheltenham Ladies’ College, agrees, adding that although there are posh people at her school, it is easy for her to get along with everyone. “The key is to embrace the different personalities and to learn from one another,” she says.

Moving on to meal times; in pop culture, they typically involve sitting in a vast dining hall with high ceilings, portraits on walls and long dining tables. While this may be true for some schools, not all of them are Hogwarts-esque.

Are British boarding schools really like Hogwarts?
Photo: AFP

“To be honest, our dining hall is more like a cafeteria,” admits Vanessa Tong, who currently studies at Oxford International College.

“Our dining hall is actually really small and modern,” adds Christy. “So many people ask me whether it’s like Hogwarts, but it’s nothing like that. It’s not dark or like a cathedral.”

Anyone who has seen 1995 film A Little Princess will expect matrons and housemistresses to be stern, unforgiving people who always conform to the rules and never allow students to have fun. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, says Kathy.

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“I have the best matron in the entire world,” she says. “She has done so much for me, especially during my first year when everything was so unfamiliar to me, She always listens to us and is never too harsh.”

“My housemistresses can occasionally be very strict with the rules, but it is needed to keep us all safe,” adds Christy. “We often have chats together and joke around in house and we have all developed a great relationship with them. They’re almost like our second mums.”

Of course, moving to a new environment far from home is never an easy adjustment, but there are some perks.

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“I think the best part of boarding school is living with your friends,” says Vanessa. “It’s like a sleepover every night and there are times when my friends and I chat the whole night.”

“I’ve learned to be so much more independent,” adds Kathy. “It was a bit of a challenge at first, because I had attended the same school for seven years back in Hong Kong, so I found it quite hard to adapt to a completely new environment.

“However, I’ve made so many new friends here. I don’t regret going to school in England. If anything, it’s been the best choice I’ve made and I feel like my horizons have truly broadened because of this experience.”

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Tips for making the most of your boarding experience:

  • Be excited about it and look forward to attending. A positive mindset is key, despite the challenges you may face.
  • Be open; don’t be scared just because you’re the “new student”.
  • Don’t keep things to yourself.
  • It is likely that many new students have the same worries and concerns as you.
  • It’s okay to feel homesick; everyone goes through it at some point. Just remember that you are surrounded by people who are willing to lend an ear.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge