Boarding School: Should I Go? (Part 1 Of 2)

The moment I turned fifteen, people began to ask me, “Where are you going for secondary school?” I didn’t want to answer it because the thing was, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. Should I go to a regular secondary school? Should I go to boarding school? Or should I pick the option to continue my studies in Malaysia?

Dorm room in boarding school with bunk beds.
Boarding schools provide accommodation for students to stay at. When it comes to discussion of boarding schools, I would automatically search up pictures of the dorm room, because it will play a huge part in my comfort in boarding school.
Photo by Marcus Loke from Unsplash

High School And Secondary School: What Is The Difference?

I’ve been attending an international school in Saudi Arabia since I was twelve. When I was in eighth grade (year 9 or Form 4 in secondary school), the senior year in middle school, I was pressured to start applying for high school. The international school that I attended works differently than the schools in Malaysia as they are based on the American education system.

In Malaysia, secondary schools are available for ages thirteen to seventeen, and all study in the same school, despite being separated into lower and upper secondary. However, for American-based secondary schools, they’re separated into middle and high school, both put as two different schools. Hence for middle school students to continue studying into high school, they must apply through an application process. This leads to my current predicament.

Where Does It All Begin?

It was January 2016, and I just turned fifteen. My birthday celebration was quite simple; we ate at my favourite restaurant and I picked my gift. The celebration was even more simple at school, where nearly everyone who knew me wished me happy birthday. It was, all in all, a great day. Turning fifteen was a huge milestone; the need for privacy was stronger than ever and there’s this yearning for independence. I wouldn’t say it was the kind of independence where I wanted to move out, but more like doing things on my own without seeking help. 

Birthday cake in pink colour with number fifteen candle on top.
Turning fifteen feels like the age where I officially considered myself an actual teenager. This was the year where I value privacy even more and yearn to handle my own problems, rather than approaching someone for help.
Photo by Hanna Pedroza on Unsplash

School year continued as usual but things were a bit different this time; high school. Eighth grade is the final year of middle school, though the school I attended lasted until ninth grade instead. I enjoyed that year to the fullest: going to classes, hanging out with friends, and doing many things. It wasn’t until my friends talked about sending in their high school applications that I began to feel pressured to do so.

Regular High School Or Boarding School?

Arguably the most difficult decision to make was to choose which type of high school I wanted to attend. On impulse, I wanted to apply for a regular high school because that was where most of my friends were going. I imagined gathering around during recess, talking and fooling around. Just like middle school. Not to mention that I could go home everyday like I did with middle school. However, few of my selected friends encouraged me to apply for boarding school instead, especially the one that they applied to. They thought that boarding school experience would be valuable and fun, especially according to the reviews they heard from some seniors.

Middle school group photo of my friend with my classmates.
On the far left is my friend, Aqmal, and the rest of my classmates in middle school. During recess, our respective group of friends would gather around one of the tables, where we would talk and laugh. Due to how small our school was, we pretty much knew everyone.
Photo by my friend, Aqmal Zulkifly

The idea of having to leave home for boarding school sounded anything but appealing. So at the time, I decided to apply for a regular high school. I was willing to wake up at 5 am every weekday to take the bus to school, as long as I could still stay with my parents. With the majority of my friends were going to regular high school, with few choosing boarding schools, a regular high school was good choice for me. With this decision in mind, all I needed to do was to apply to that high school of choice and prepare for anything after. I thought that was it: I’ve made the decision, and everything should be good… right?

Changing My Mind?

It began with me talking to my friends about high school selection. Despite my definite decision to attend a regular high school, I didn’t really share this with my friends. Instead, I listened to what school they chose and why. As far as I was aware, the majority of my classmates applied for a regular high school along with my close friends. Few either chose the boarding school nearby or continued their studies in their respective home countries. My friends here talked about applying to the nearby boarding school, which they recommended to me earlier. They were talking about what they could possibly do there together, from sleepovers to shopping. I felt a bit left out, since I was the only one who chose a regular high school.

So, I asked them about this boarding school they were planning to apply to. The more they talked about it, the more intrigued I got. Eventually, I decided to do more research on this boarding school. I first went to attend a boarding school fair, dressing up nicely (which was something I rarely do) to give the representatives the best impression. That was where I got to sit down and talk with the school representative to know more about it. And then, my family and I went to Bahrain, which is where the boarding school, Bahrain School was located. We toured the school and I was persuaded to apply for it after my seniors gave positive review of the school.

Dressing up in red blouse and black skirt for the boarding school fair.
Me dressing up for the boarding school fair. That’s where students get to meet the boarding school representatives to learn more about the school they’re interested in. That’s also where I got to learn more about the boarding school my friends applied to.
Photo by my mother, Faizah Ahmad

The Pain Of Being Rejected From The Boarding School Of Your Choice

Applying for boarding school was admittedly an impulsive decision. I didn’t take the time to think things through properly, nor did I prepare myself. I was called in for an entrance examination and interview after submitting the application. These were the two parts that I didn’t anticipate nor prepare for. But I raised my chin up in faux confidence and did the best I could, even though I felt like I messed up. 

A week later, my results letter came and the moment of truth. I stayed late after school to get extra help for my homework, so my mother picked me up that day. Gently, she relayed the news of my results: I got rejected. Then, she continued that my friends got accepted into the school. The news didn’t surprise me in any way, because considering how horribly the interview went, I anticipated the rejection. However, the feeling got to me and I burst into tears. 

In my mind, I was already preparing to submit another application; this time, to a regular high school that I thought of going initially. My head was full of negativity, just thinking how horrible I was, how I was the worst student, and many things. Humiliation ran so deep that I didn’t share the results with my friends. Over time, I just kind of accepted that my place wasn’t in that school and began looking for alternatives instead.

To Try Again

Rather than helping me find a different school to apply to, my mother encouraged me to try again. Not only was the school offering me a second chance, but also because she had faith in me. Even though I was still bummed out by the rejection, I agreed to give it another try. But this time, I came prepared. From the previous test and interview, I recognised the parts that I was weak at, particularly maths. Maths is that one subject I absolutely despise, but I recognised that I couldn’t ignore it. So, I prepared the next few weeks crunching the numbers to improve it. Even though my confidence still wavered at my second test and interview, I was a bit confident that I did better. 

Maths exercise sheet with calculator at the side.
From the first test, my clear weakness is definitely maths. I’m not a huge fan of the subject along with science, but I recognised that I can’t run away from it, especially when I need to understand the basics for the future.
Photo by Mario Aranda from Pixabay

After a few agonising weeks with no response, I finally got my results letter. This time, the letter began with a ‘Congratulations’ instead of the previous ‘We’re sorry.’ I couldn’t stop myself from screaming with joy at the news: I got accepted! I shared this with the rest of my friends who got accepted, and now we happily discussed what we could do when we were there. All those weeks of hard work had paid off! From here, I didn’t have to worry too much about which high school to attend anymore.

Is Boarding School Suitable For Me Though?

Perhaps an important question to myself was whether boarding school was suitable for me. Though time was limited, I took some time to do research on the school and what it had to offer. Aside from allowing me to learn how to be independent, it also provided a strong security, which made the school safer. Academic wise, the school offered a variety of programmes for senior students to take, with International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) being the most common choices. The school also provided necessary support for students, both physical and mental health. I personally found this suitable for me, as it offered the programmes I planned to take and it had the support I knew that I needed. Despite the decision being impulsive, it was something I knew I wouldn’t regret.

Even then, I don’t recommend applying to any schools by impulse. If anything, always take the time to do research on the school, see what it has to offer. I was quite lucky because the school did offer the things I needed, but I also knew that things could go south quickly. I find that it’s important to see if the school provides the things you need, because it might be good for me but not others.

When The Time Arrives

Time passed and now came the moment for me to go. This was the tough part, as I knew that I could no longer see my family for the whole week until weekend. I packed my things in my luggage and I was off. I felt many things that day: nervousness, excitement, and even fear. The house got further and further away as I soon entered a new chapter in life.

Phone with social media apps on the screen.
Social media is a great way to stay connected with family and friends, especially when living far away from them. As someone who used not to be active on social media, it became my best friend immediately the moment I entered boarding school.
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

But if there was one thing I knew then was that I would miss my close friends, and that hanging out with them would be less likely. So I kept in contact with them through Instagram and Snapchat. These apps are where we continued to update all the things that happened in our lives. We shared photos and videos of our friendship, so that we can reminisce it in the future.

In the next part, I will share my rollercoaster experiences upon entering boarding school, including the ups and downs of my time there.

About Afrina MOKHTAR

An introvert who lived most of her life abroad, surrounded by people of different cultures, Afrina expresses herself through writing. She's into mysterious and supernatural stories. She also loves anime, and dreams of becoming a manga artist too.

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