True Story: I Went To Boarding School

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.  This is the story of Thalia and her time at a boarding school.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

Hi! I’m Thalia. I spent my entire childhood living in an American oil compound in Saudi Arabia, although I was born in Canada. I have been back in Canada for 10 years this September, and I’m 25. I live in Toronto with my boyfriend and I can usually be found knitting or cooking up a storm.

Before you went to boarding school, what was your educational history?

I attended the American school on my compound, and it was only for the children of the people that worked at the company. It stops after grade nine and you have to make other arrangements after that.What are the biggest misconceptions about boarding school?
I know the biggest one I keep hearing is that we’re all very rich and entitled kids. All of my friends were very down to earth and lovely people. I mean, we were all just kids in high school, right?

Why did your family choose to send you to boarding school? How did you feel about that decision?

The schooling system in my compound only goes up to grade nine. The options other than boarding school were either attending school in a different city, or boarding at a school in Bahrain and going home on the weekends. Neither really appealed to me, so it was off to boarding school I went! I made sure to choose one that was close to extended family, so I could have some familiar faces nearby.

Tell us about your boarding school.

The boarding school I attended was in a small town in southern Ontario. It is co-ed, but has only been for about 20 years. It has about 400 students. The majority of the students were boarders, which was important. There are other schools that have mostly day students, which would have been difficult on the weekends. All of the students were divided up into “houses” (Harry Potter-style). My house had 50 girls and three teachers living in the building. We all had to wear uniforms (ties and kilts and all). My school was fairly well rounded, but they have an awesome arts program.How old were you when you went to boarding school? How did you feel about being so far away from your family?
I was fifteen when I left home, and I cried pretty much every day my first year I was there. I made friends with a lot of day students, and I wished that I could have gone home every day after school. I also missed my family like crazy. My second year there, grade 11, was much better. I started making more boarder friends, and we all bonded from being so far from home.

It was rough being so far from my family, but we talked on the phone a lot, and my mom sent me letters. I went home three times a year for breaks, which helped a lot as well.

Tell us about an average day at school!

Boarders had to be in uniform and signed into breakfast at 7:30 at the latest. After breakfast, we’d have chapel, which usually lasted 20 minutes. After chapel, we’d had a couple of minutes to rush back to our rooms, and gather our books before our first class. Classes proceeded as usual, with about an hour and a half for lunch. After our afternoon classes, we had just enough time to change out of our uniforms for sports or extracurricular activities. You had to be enrolled in something during that time. I did cross country running in the fall, cross country skiing in the winter, and track (or rowing) in the spring.

After sports, we had supper. After supper, we had “interhouse” which was when boys were allowed to visit girls dorms and vice versa. The doors had to be open and all feet on the floor. After interhouse, we had study! You also had to have your door open for study and a teacher patrolled the halls of your dorm to make sure you were doing homework. After study, you had a bit of free time before bed. The internet and phone also shut off around 11 to get us to bed. In grade twelve, you got some perks: you didn’t have to go to breakfast, or participate in study, and your internet stayed on all night. The weekends were a bit more relaxed than weekdays, but there were still activities for us.

They really kept us busy, and I’m so thankful for that. If we had a lot of downtime, I would have been so much more homesick.

Do you think your time at boarding school affected your relationship with your family at all? Or your approach to life?
Just before I left for boarding school, my younger sister and I fought all the time. After I left, I really missed her and she joined me at the same school two years later. I never really had any fights with my parents as a teenager, mostly because I only saw them three times a year and missed them so much.

When I went off to university, I felt like I had already done everything before, so I felt a lot more secure. I didn’t really feel a need to rebel either, because I had left home three years before everyone else. I feel a lot more independent than I might have been if I stayed at home for high school. It’s also made me more open to new experiences.

Would you ever send your own children to boarding school?
I had a great experience there, but I don’t think I would, unless it was absolutely necessary. My situation was different, which was why I went to boarding school. I see myself staying in Canada for the rest of my life, and I’d keep my hypothetical kids at home for high school.

Did any of you go to boarding school?  Or have a non-traditional education experience?

original image (without text on top) by elle moss, for sale here

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  1. Jenn

    I went to boarding school and much like Thalia, I agree that the biggest misconception is that we're all rich, entitled kids. There were several rich kids, but most of us were just normal teens whose parents were sacrificing to give us an exemplary education.

    Strangely enough, as boarding school kids are few and far between, especially in the mid-west where I live, my boyfriend also went to boarding school, although a different one than I did. It's unusual to run into another boarder!

    Great true story! I was so excited when it popped up on my feed, because it's finally one that I can really relate to 🙂

    • thebockster

      I agree! I've never met anyone else who attended boarding school (other than my classmates).
      Glad you liked my story!

  2. @distract_me

    Thank you for sharing, that was really interesting. I had a pretty normal school life, but I think I would have struggled with being away from my family at a boarding school. x

  3. Becky C.

    I was a day student for a couple of years at a private boarding school and have to say it really doesn't work for everyone, but great if it does work for you (or your child). My main concerns were bullying and a lack of focus on the arts but did make some good friends there and it was an experience for sure! – xx

  4. Lauren

    Aramco, right? I grew up in Saudi Arabia too!

    • thebockster

      No way!! Yes, it was Aramco- what years were you there? What compound? I'd love to hear from you!
      PS- This is Thalia 🙂

  5. penn

    My husband works at a boarding school. Definitely similar to Thalia! She's lucky the seniors had internet; our internet shuts off at 11 pm and doesn't come back on until 6 am. Luckily, I have a special faculty internet access so that I can work at night if needed.

    It is an interesting environment for the adults as well. We have a built-in social network with many lovely people, but it is also sometimes hard to live in such close quarters to all your friends. It almost feels college-like some days. But it's mostly nice to be close to people and be able to walk to someone's house to watch a sports game or hang out.

    We doubt we'd send our kids away to boarding school. But if we still live here when our future, hypothetical kids get into 6th grade, we'd definitely have them attend the school.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So interesting! I can imagine that being really fun for a few years!

    • penn

      For a few years is key. Did I mention that I live in their housing? And that we have peeling paint exposing lead paint? That's the downside, though the upside is that the housing is free. We're saving like gangbusters so we can make a move when the time is right. But we anticipate a few more years here to really get my husband's career on solid footing. It's been 5 years so far 🙂

  6. binelectric

    I really love your true story interviews! It's always very interesting to hear about things I never experienced by somebody who has. Thank you!

  7. LB

    I think boarding school is the only type of educational experience I haven't had! My history goes like this:

    Kindergarten: public school
    Grades 1-3: private Christian school
    Grades 4-9: homeschool
    Grades 9-12: public school (I had to repeat grade 9 because the public school system wouldn't accept my homeschool credits, even though I tested post-grade 12 in everything; I was my class valedictorian)

    Your true story series is so inspiring!

  8. Helena

    My mom was in oil (Texas, however) so I'm familiar with that set-up! There were several overseas locations where, if posted, it's most likely the kids would go to boarding school (Malaysia comes to mind).

  9. Jennifer Scott

    My school experience was pretty typical except that I grew up as a military brat, so I changed schools more than most kids. One summer, though, when I was in the Upward Bound program, we boarded at the UH-Manoa dorms five days a week, and my experience with the routines and scheduling was very similar to what Thalia described! What an interesting story! I always love reading the True Story posts!

  10. Rachelia G

    Ahh, I don't know why (maybe it's the mystique of it, or the interest in things you don't have) but I have always been enchanted with the idea of boarding schools. This interview provided a really neat look into this life. It sounds like it was a bit of a hard experience, but ultimately, worked for Thalia. It definitely doesn't sound like it is for everyone though!

    Also — I live in southern Ontario and this school sounds really familiar, like it could be the boarding school in the small town that is near my city. Neat!

  11. Tara

    I was sent to boarding school when I was 12 when my parents split up so that I'd be "geographically in the middle". Like Thalia, I cried every day for the first year. We weren't allowed any contact with our parents for the first 3 weeks (to "toughen us up"), and were only allowed home 2 weekends a term. I made some close friends but they all had older siblings at the school to support them and show them the ropes so I felt very alone most of the time.

    I wouldn't send my kids to boarding school unless it was absolutely necessary and only if there were 2 of them to go together.

    On the plus side, I definitely felt prepared to look after myself once school finished and I left home to pursue further study, and still now I am fiercely independent. If anything the boarding school experience ignites your survival instinct and teaches you a lot about coping on your own.

  12. FMD

    I went to a boarding school, but I was a day student. Partly that made me feel like I was missing out, partly I felt special because I had a clunker car that I used to sneak my friends and myself off campus, could bring them to my house on the weekends where they did laundry and fell in love with my mom's cooking. By the time I got to college, I was burned-out and 'over' campus living. I struggled to settle at college, and was surprised when I later left. Life is like that – always zapping pre-conceived ideas.

  13. Claire Lopez

    I went to boarding school (it used to be all girls, but went co-ed after I graduated) and loved it. It was many moons ago and I still enjoy catching up with my high school friends.

  14. rachelannpierce

    I went to private Christian school for most of my education, then switched to a Waldorf School halfway through high school. Waldorf is a type of alternative education. There is a big focus on making connections across all different subjects (finding art in science and vice versa). I had a blast there. Parts of me wish that I had gone through the whole system K-12, but I think that I may not have appreciated it as much if I had.

  15. thebockster

    This is Thalia- Thanks for all of your lovely responses, everyone! This was a blast to write and I'm so glad I could share my story on an awesome blog!

  16. Jenny

    Thalia, I loved reading about your story! As someone who didn't attend school until age 10, I used to fantasize about being in boarding school. Your situation is interesting and kudos for being brave enough to leave your parents so early in life – it sounds like it ended up being a positive experience.

  17. Anonymous

    boarding school has always been my dream and the school that u talked about sounds like a good school.when i was young i read many books like 'Malory Towers' and they inspired me to go to boarding school

  18. Carissa Yoder

    I currently go to a boarding school in Germany. It's very different than your experience. The dorms are more family orientated. Each dorm has a set of Dorm Parents and depending on the size of the dorm 1-5 'R/A's' [residential assistants], who are 20 something older siblings.

  19. Anonymous

    This is a great blog/discussion and it's really helped get my head around the fact my son is going to Epsom here in Malaysia for boarding. It's a big step for all of us (perhaps not my dh as he was a boarder in the UK) but for me! It looks like a great school and the staff have been amazing but it's still good to hear your comments – thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Did your child enjoy it or not so much. Im only 12 and im scared so…

  20. Anonymous

    Im 12 and I think my parents are sending me to boarding school. Im really scared but at the same time it sounds nice have that responsibility and independence. Please give me some pointers. Can I have a phone there to contact parents and old friends? Can you bring food in your dorm? Are there video cameras in your room? (I hear there are and I feel a lack of privacy there, it could just be a stereotype)

  21. Sapna Banerjee

    I went boarding school when I was 8 years old and enjoyed a lot. It was amazing experience. I miss my boarding school, my teachers and friends very much.

  22. Anonymous

    Hello Thalia: I am considering taking a job offer in Saudi too. I am a fellow Canuck and it is a difficult decision to make. One question I have for you is if Aramco paid your tuition for the boarding school in Ontario. I know they provide tuition assistance for the kids going to school in the compound itself, but I am curious how it works if they are going to boarding school in their home country. I know it is a question for your parents rather than you 🙂 but I will take what I can get. Thanks.

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