Previously, I shared how I made the decision to continue my studies in a boarding school. I was attending an international school in Saudi Arabia as my father’s an expat in an oil company there. And the school only offered up to ninth grade (year 10 or Form 4 in secondary school). In other words, I had to apply for a different school to continue my studies, and I settled on Bahrain School, a boarding school. Adjusting to the school was a long process, but I appreciated every moment I took to reach my comfort zone. It became an important learning experience for me to manage my struggles better.
Spending Time With Family
We arrived in Bahrain around late morning. It was a two-hour drive from home, not including the time we took at immigration. I spent the whole day at Bahrain City Centre Mall, buying all the necessary things I needed and watching an animated film in the cinema. Watching the film in the cinema was an important bonding moment for us. Similar to years past, we had a late lunch at my favourite Thai restaurant, Thai Beach (now renamed Top Thai). This was where we had our usual order of tom yum and rice! And a plate of fried egg and fried chicken for bonus. The day went by quickly and it was tiring, but it was fun. For a moment, I forgot that day was the day I was going to boarding school… until we arrived there.
Saying Goodbye: Moving Into The Dormitory
We arrived at the dormitory around late evening. The dorm parents greeted us on arrival with great enthusiasm, which helped eased me into this new environment. Dorm parents were adults who were responsible for looking after the students in boarding school, supporting however they could. We had a quick tour of the dormitory before they took us to my room. My parents took the time to set my room up and made it as homely as possible. It made me appreciated them even more, despite the fact that they needed to leave early because our home was quite far from here. It wasn’t until my parents said goodbye to me and left that the situation dawned on me. Tonight was going to be my first night sleeping in a room that wasn’t in my home.
First Night: Learning To Follow The Boarding School Routine
I couldn’t help but immediately felt down the moment my parents left, but I tried my best to stay positive. Night came and I met my roommate, Amina. New students wandered around and I attempted to meet new people, but it was difficult. I later discovered that the majority of new students already knew each other previously. However, I still managed to strike a brief conversation with a girl named Taylore, who was showcasing her drawing to one of our dorm parents.
The clock struck ten, and dorm parents began to remind us to prepare for bedtime (or ‘bed prep’). Students crowded the bathroom and I felt anxious. For a moment, I contemplated to come in later. However, this was boarding school, and I knew that I should be learning to adapt to the routine provided. So, I sucked up my anxiousness and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I survived! Soon, the lights went off. I tossed and turned, struggling to fall asleep, but eventually managed to do so, waiting for morning to come.
Excitement And Disappointments: The First Year In Boarding School
The first day of school went quite well. Or too well, in my opinion. I was taking the time to get to know new classmates, teachers, and the school environment. All were part of my learning process to adapt to this school. I aimed to reach the same level of comfort I had back at home. However, I soon found myself struggling to adapt to boarding school life.
1. Learning To Cope With Homesickness
I tried my best to adapt to my new school routine on my first day of school. That afternoon, I had lunch, free time, and dinner. Soon, it was study time, the time where we spent two hours to complete our homework. I was doing my maths homework when I remembered that I used to struggle to complete it. Yet, I was able to complete it on my own. Slowly, I felt tears escaping, and I knew exactly what this feeling is: homesickness.
As someone who preferred solitude in her room, I thought that I would be fine in boarding school. However, I also forgot that I was a family-oriented person. And that being away from home turned out to be more difficult than I thought. So, I broke down. The dorm parents were very understanding of my situation and supported me however they can. It was through them that I met Taylore and we bonded with each other through our struggles with homesickness. Our friendship blossomed when I learnt that we shared the same interests: anime and drawing. Since then, I would always go to her room after school to talk about those two things. I also befriended another girl, Maya, whose interests were different from ours, yet we cliqued with each other. That was when our journey in boarding school began.
2. Learning To Adapt To Culture Shock
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to experience any culture shock when I entered boarding school. This was because the school culture in boarding school was pretty similar to my previous school. Both schools were based on an American educational system, and both consisted of international students. The only difference was that my previous school was smaller, so it was a tight-knit community and everyone knew each other. Whereas in this boarding school, everyone minded their own business, and we were only familiar with those who were in the same class.
However, I realised that I was experiencing culture shock due to several factors. For one, the teachers weren’t as friendly compared to my previous school. They were more strict and had already set their expectations of the students on the very first day. And the classrooms were sombre compared to my previous school. There, the teachers were more fun and easy-going, and the classrooms were full of warmth. The unfamiliar surroundings intensified my homesickness. Whilst the teachers were stricter, that didn’t mean they couldn’t have fun too. Similar to my teachers back in my previous school, they had the freedom to decorate their classroom however they liked. The designs made the classroom friendlier and I was looking forward to learning more in the school.
3. Facing The Academic Challenges
Even in my previous school, I wasn’t exactly a top student. I was smart enough to pass the important subjects, but I tended not to put a complete effort in subjects I disliked. However, the subjects in my previous school were considerably easy and flexible. For subjects that I don’t score an A or B, I had the option to retake the test for a chance to get an A. Teachers were also approachable and encouraging, which made it easier for me to approach them to seek help in improving the tests. The elective subjects, or optional subjects, were more towards having fun and relaxing. Overall, my previous school made my learning journey fun, despite me not liking certain subjects.
In this boarding school, I had more responsibility over my studies. Here, I was expected to approach my teachers instead of them approaching me. There was also no option for test retakes, which was the biggest challenge. Though, I find this to be an important change, as many people took advantage of it without putting effort in the first test. I also had the responsibility to choose which subjects I wanted to take, providing that these subjects qualify me to graduate. For example, I had to ensure that I chose subjects that allowed me to complete my physical education (PE) credits. It was a difficult process, but I appreciated this learning experience.
My Boarding School Experience In A Nutshell
Though I was reluctant to attend boarding school at first, I had the best experience there. Whilst I was miserable during the first two weeks, I appreciated the support from dorm parents, friends, family, and even teachers. Adapting to school life and being away from family was difficult, but with the right support, I was able to get through it and enjoyed my boarding school year. I particularly enjoyed the activities that the dormitory offered, especially the art and craft. But just because the beginning had passed, it doesn’t mean the rollercoaster ride had ended. If anything, adapting will be a lifelong learning experience, and it will continue as I go on with my life.
If you find adapting to boarding school difficult, then that’s okay! Adapting was not an easy process, and it will take a while to get into your routine. Learning to adapt to the new environment is to go at your own pace. Hence, try not to stress out over not adapting fast enough. You have your own pace to adapting. Over time, you will slowly get used to your environment and accustomed to your routine. Should you ever find yourself homesick, you can still connect with your family through social media, such as Messenger or WhatsApp. If you have it, take advantage of it to reconnect with your family and friends!