Tag: boarding school

A Boarding School Education Part II: The Room at the Top of the Stairs

 

With my suitcase of home-sewn dresses, summer clothes from the market, and the precious store-bought red and white checked skirt I was saving for the first day of school, I climbed on the night bus for Bangkok.  I would proceed north from the humid capital to Chiang Mai, where I was to start my first term at boarding school.  It was fall 1982, and I was eight years old. I wasn’t alone–my older brother was coming with me. I imagine my parents and younger siblings came along, too, at least as far as Bangkok.

In Chiang Mai, we entered a soi, or side street, and turned down a driveway of an expansive property with a two-story building to one side. The house was white on the first floor, with dark wood on the second.  My brother and I were part of the first cohort of dorm kids to live here, which included several other sibling pairs along with the German dorm parents and their four children.  The first floor was mostly one open room, with a cool concrete floor, long kitchen, dining tables, living area with straw rugs, and red-patterned curtains. I heard stories from Papi, the dorm dad, about how the first iteration of the building had been so sloppy that they’d had it torn down and rebuilt. The yard was still a mess, he said, and needed lots more work.

A Boarding School Education, Part I: Hard Choices

 

After I was excused from lunch one afternoon at boarding school, I stood out in the side yard whacking at the tether ball, trying to  give it enough momentum to whip around the pole a few times.  Solitude was time for a nine-year-old to do some thinking, and on my mind was this: What if I had been born somewhere else, like in the States? And just grew up ordinary, went to a regular school, didn’t get to travel and stuff?  How boring would that be?  I’m sure glad I’m me.

Boarding school is a controversial topic on the missionary kid (MK) Facebook group I’ve joined. One’s experience really depended on individual circumstances: how your parents handled challenges, who your dorm parents were, how old you were, how far away from family, and so on. MK’s often express that their years in boarding school were painful ones, that they were too young, felt misunderstood, and shaped by approaches to discipline that were often harsh.  For me, in spite of some difficult semesters, the three years I spent at school were overall positive ones. They developed my mind in both expected and unlooked-for ways, providing exposure to American culture, time with peers, classroom experiences, and a long list of enrichments that included music and swimming lessons.

Member Post

 

Look at this picture for a minute. Why are these children spiffed up in dated clothes? Why are they lifting their feet? Maybe it’s a school event, but if so, why the clutter in the corner?  Some pictures from your past are meaningful to a handful of folks whose life intersected with yours for a […]

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Unexpected Trouble

 

As a child, did you ever do something you thought was innocuous, or at least only semi-problematic, and then find out your parents were surprisingly steamed about it? I ran up against this unexpected trouble more than once.

One incident was when I was nine years old at boarding school in northern Thailand.  My friend C. dared me to eat a worm. Well, she wasn’t really my friend at the time. She was my rival. We were around the same age, and she was a newcomer from the States, with a collection of novel American toys. Plus she had olive skin, dark hair, and large, expressive green eyes. She liked the boy I’d had a crush on for years and despite her unusual looks, I had dibs on him. My jealousy weighed on me unpleasantly. She and I were always vying for first place in stupid scenarios: Who would win in arm wrestling? Who could climb a mountain? We both sensed when the other was showing off and were mutually annoyed. I affected a slight babyish accent that rubbed her the wrong way; she wanted everyone to know her affinity for animals and talked to lizards with a high-pitched lilt I couldn’t stand.

Unexpected Gifts: Turning Eleven Away from Home

 

The bike I rode at our Chiang Mai, Thailand, boarding school was inherited from my older brother. He had received it it already well-used, and he and his buddy Steve had not exactly gone easy on it back when we lived in the village. So it was not much to look at: faded red, maybe pretty once, with worn front basket and backseat long gone. The wheel rims were rusted, I remember, because I used to stare at them and think about rust–what made it happen, how blighted it made the wheels look, and how odd that my brother could rub it off with some compound on a rag. It was like a toothless, blotchy, gaunt, yet sinewy older woman.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed that bike from the time I arrived at the dorm as an eight-year-old. It was serviceable for cruising around the network of side streets (soi is the Thai word for something like an alleyway) and perfectly good for trips to the corner store, where we bought cheap sweets for one baht. It was best, though, for joining the boys in the street in front of the dormitory. We rode back and forth and in circles, refining our stunts. Although it was no BMX, this bike of mine could be coaxed do wheelies. Next, I mastered the skill of riding around with my hands at my sides. I loved the joke, probably from our dorm’s old copies of Boys’ Life, where each time a kid pedals past his mom, he announces a new trick: “Look, Mom, no hands.” He progresses through his repertoire until he says, “Look, Mom, no teeth!” None of us thought of wearing helmets, but nobody seemed to get hurt.

Member Post

 

Somewhere around the time of my eleventh birthday, and just when I would have been entering the sixth grade, had I been living in the USA, my parents unceremoniously dumped me at The Abbey School, Malvern Wells, and my English boarding school experience began. I’m sure they meant well. I’d had a rocky and circuitous […]

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