“Why did you go to boarding school for high school? Why didn’t you just stay home and go to your regular high school with your friends? Did you get in trouble a lot at home? Were you a bad kid?”
Invariably I’m peppered with these questions whenever it comes up in conversation that I left the comforting confines of my coastal Florida hometown at age 15 to attend boarding school roughly 1,100 miles away in Lakeville, Connecticut. However, my experience at The Hotchkiss School broadened my horizons and opened my eyes at a young age in a way that would never have otherwise occurred in a sleepy, resort town.
The East Coast of Florida was an idyllic place to grow up: quiet, safe, and beautiful. But it didn’t offer much in terms of culture, diversity and varied educational opportunities.This isn’t the case today in 2015, but it most certainly was the situation back in 1984. My parents recognized this and decided that my chances of getting into a competitive college were much stronger if I attended school elsewhere. We looked for an educational institution that offered the small class sizes, individualized attention and varied educational, social and cultural opportunities that my small beach town just couldn’t provide.
So, in the fall of 1984, I found myself on a plane with my one trunk of personal belongings headed from coastal Florida to the Berkshire Foothills of Northwest Connecticut, the home of The Hotchkiss School.
Today, when people ask why I went away to school, I list a litany of reasons . . . none of which involve me being a bad kid or getting kicked out of the family home. Below are some of the reasons why I think a boarding school education is an invaluable experience that positively impacts a young person’s life forever.
- The world we live in is a highly interconnected one where globalization reaches the most remote corners of the world. Unless a student lives in a diverse, urban environment, like NYC, the chances of mixing with young people from varied cultures and backgrounds are slim. And even living in a place like NYC does not guarantee a student’s exposure to this diversity, especially if the student attends a homogenous school environment. But when a few hundred students from around the globe come together on a campus in rural America, they’re going to have to rub elbows at some point.
- To further this point, at boarding school one doesn’t just sit in class with this varied group of kids for a few hours and then head home to like-minded family members. In a boarding school environment, the students not only learn and study together, but they play together, perform community services together, attend cultural events together and live together . . . 24/7 . . . day in and day out.
- The decision to attend boarding school is an adventurous one. Many teens don’t want to venture too far from home or to leave the safety net of friends. But those who do attend boarding school are surrounded by kids who are just as risk-receptive and who have a sense of adventure. This creates a community of “doers” who like to try new things and to learn about themselves. All of this fosters personal growth and increased self-confidence, which are valuable skills to help one navigate college, a successful career and life in general.
- Boarding school faculty and staff are well trained and equipped to recognize students’ individual talents—whether these are athletic, musical, artistic, scientific or mathematical—and encourage students to hone these talents. One student striving to be just like the other is not the goal in a boarding school environment. Young people are celebrated for their individuality and ability to recognize and improve their strengths. And while the strengths are bolstered, a student’s weaknesses are also recognized and worked on with the hope of reaching improvement. For instance, my younger brother (who also attended Hotchkiss) was notorious at home for forgetfulness and lack of organization—typical traits seen in many middle school and high school aged boys. However, boarding school taught my brother to independently get himself up in the morning (previously a major challenge), get dressed, gather his necessary books and homework and arrive at the dining hall for breakfast before class.This was a major, major improvement from his previous life at home where he was constantly late, disheveled and remiss in turning in homework assignments despite very attentive and involved family members.
Please check back for Part II of “Why Go To Boarding School?” In the interim, please visit www.globalacademics.us for more information on the boarding school experience.
Joanna Cain is the Founder and President of Global Academic Consultants, www.globalacademics.us, a United States educational consulting firm specializing in boarding school, college and university admissions counseling, test prep services and tour guide services in the United States.