Q&A: Transitioning to Boarding School in the UK
Q: My son Aaron has secured an offer to attend a top boarding school in the UK for 13+ entry next year. What difficulties might he encounter in the process of settling into the school and how might we help him prepare in the next year?
A: Dear Elaine
Going away to boarding school can be a life changing experience. At boarding school, kids learn to be independent, improve social and leadership skills, and explore their talents and aspirations. Here we have profiled some common challenges, alongside our recommendations on how to overcome them. Each student’s response to those challenges would, of course, vary depending on his or her personality, learning style, and the difference between his or her home vis-à-vis the new school environment.
From our experience, the toughest academic transition occurs when a student switches from a Hong Kong local school system to the British boarding school system. This is due to a wider gap in teaching style, differences in the core syllabus, and consequently, differences in how exam questions should be tackled. For example, local schools teach English from the perspective of kids learning it as a second language, focusing on grammar, vocabulary and sentence construction at age 11 or 12, whereas the British curriculum focuses on reading comprehension and essay composition. Looking at past exam papers from the two schooling systems will help you understand the differences in how subjects are taught. We suggest for parents to understand the core syllabus and subject requirements of the 13+ curriculum so that gaps in academic knowledge can be addressed ahead of time. Early familiarisation of the British syllabus for core subjects is essential as it will help Aaron hit the ground running once the first term at boarding school begins.
British culture is such an important part of the British boarding school experience. To enable Aaron to understand his peers, we recommend Aaron to familiarise himself with key aspects of the British culture and current events. This means that he should be aware of the key poets, playwrights, novelists, TV shows, musicals that a kid of his age would be aware of in the UK. Understanding British history (from the Tudors onwards), key places in the UK, and of how the current constitutional monarchy operates would also be useful. Pacing the cultural immersion gradually during the 1-2 years leading up to boarding school would help prevent any major cultural shocks during the transition.
Aaron will experience a period of time in which he will need to integrate into the new environment. As Aaron’s upbringing could be slightly different compared to British or other international kids, he may find that the social cues and topics of discussion are different from what he has been used to. We suggest to cultivate his confidence by enrolling Aaron into constructive group activities, such as sporting events, community service, etc. Once Aaron is comfortable around kids from different backgrounds and perspectives, he will have the confidence to make new friends and be able to smoothly transition into the new environment.