"My Life as a UK Boarding Student"

Araminta Harris shares her personal experience of life away from home as a student in a UK boarding school.
"My Life as a UK Boarding Student"
By Carli Allan
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Araminta Harris shares her personal experience of life away from home as a student in a UK boarding school. The 17-year-old talks about her four-year journey from joining Culford School as a boarder in Year 8 to leaving the school after completing her GCSEs in 2022.

"People often misunderstand boarding school and can fear the unknown. However, my boarding school was full of excitement, transformation and countless memorable moments. It shaped me into the person I am today and has changed the way I see myself and others. 

"When I joined Culford School in 2018, I was timid. I didn’t want to leave the nest of my comfortable home and try new experiences. I hadn’t discovered my talents and strengths, and I didn’t feel I knew who I was. After four years at this Suffolk-based co-ed boarding school, though, I can confidently say that I now have a clear vision for my future, have discovered my passions, and I’m more confident in who I am.

"To parents and students who may be uncertain about boarding school, I can share these words of advice. My boarding school experience was filled with amazing opportunities, cherished memories, and lifelong friendships. As I would say in the dorm rooms late at night with my best friends, “It’s like a sleepover that never ends!”

Surviving... then thriving

"When I arrived at Culford, a mix of emotions overwhelmed me as we reached the front door of the boarding house. Its sheer size shook me, and I felt a wave of anxiety. I can't sugarcoat it - I was terrified. I remember the nervous flutters in my stomach as I climbed the staircase as if it was yesterday. I knew it marked the beginning of a new journey. 

"On that first night, I just wanted the comfort of my own room, but instead I found myself sharing a room with seven other girls – and they were all strangers to me. It was definitely the toughest night.

"However, as time went by, I quickly adjusted to the daily routines - early breakfasts, full days of lessons, mandatory after-school clubs, and intense sports sessions that I grew to love. Even though we didn't particularly enjoy the evening prep sessions, they proved to be incredibly helpful when I needed academic support. I am truly grateful to the teachers for that.

"Initially, making friends was a struggle for me. But one day, I met this amazing girl who was a day student. We instantly connected, and from that moment on, everything changed. She helped to ease my homesickness and anxiety, and through our friendship I made so many other friends.

"As I moved up to the senior school in Year 9, I had the opportunity to meet even more amazing students, and I never wanted to leave. I got to know students from all over the world, and not only did I help them in improving their English, but they also introduced me to the language and traditions of their home country. It was truly eye-opening, and I never would have met such an international group of friends if it weren't for boarding school.

"There were always exciting activities organised for us on the weekends, especially during my time in the Prep school (Year 8). Whether it was trips to a trampoline park, shopping in Cambridge and London, movie nights in the common room, or water fights in the summer, there was always something fun for us to do.

"If I felt a bit bored, my friends and I would take the housemistress's dog for a walk around the grounds, attempt to bake a cake (which never seemed to turn out quite right), or simply enjoy a movie in the common room. I looked forward to weekends after a week of intense studying.

"The contrast between my initial feeling on the first night and the feeling I experienced when I completed my GCSEs last year is huge. At the beginning, all I longed for was to be back home, and by the end I was so sad to bid farewell to the memories, my friends, and my second home. I miss it all so much, and I continue to stay in touch with my roommates and best friends, no matter how far apart we may be."

Advice for boarding students

Araminta shares this advice for anyone going to boarding school for the first time.

  • Talk to as many people as possible and join in with everything. You should never pass up opportunities to meet others and try new things. I had never picked up a hockey stick or a netball before joining Culford , and three years later I was playing in the top teams against other schools. 
  • Sharing a room and living along a corridor of girls, there was little peace and time alone. If I felt overwhelmed and needed time to myself, I would go on a walk alone, sit in a park and read.
  • Some of the rules may feel unreasonable and strict, but as I’ve grown up I now realise that they are there for a reason. It really isn’t worth giving up an amazing opportunity by breaking the school’s rules.
  • It’s normal to feel homesick when you’re away from home for the first time, but I found these ways of coping with it. After a year of boarding, I never felt homesick again – it truly became my home.
  • Stay in touch. Despite the busy days, take some time in the evenings to catch up with family and friends back home.
  • Decorate your dorm room with pictures and fairy lights. It helps to make the space feel cosier and more like your own.
  • Stay busy and get involved in activities. Make the most of the opportunities and experiences available to you.
  • Bring a childhood toy, teddy bear, or any item that reminds you of home. 

And finally, here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) pack:

  • Snacks. Very important! Comfort food is essential in times of need.
  • Books. If you are a bookworm like me, books can really help you to wind down after the busy days in school. 
  • Sandals. These are so handy for those trips to the shower.
  • Don’t pack too many clothes. During the week you wear school uniform and you’ll do a lot of sport at the weekends and after school. So you won’t need 15 pairs of jeans and 20 hoodies. I learnt the hard way when I couldn’t close my suitcase!

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