How was your first day at school?

boarding school ex-boarder first day at school Feb 15, 2024
image of grand building with large metal gates suggestive of boarding school

What are your memories of your first day at school?

Many ex-boarders can find this question hard to answer. Often it can take time to recall, and sometimes there are no memories as it was so painful they may have dissociated from this time completely. What is clear is that when a child is left for the first time in the institution, a threshold is crossed from which they cannot return.  When they do return to their home at the end of term, it may no longer feel like their own and instead, they feel like a temporary visitor waiting until they return to school again.

“The dreadful handover on that first day at school found me walking down a long corridor with great distrust, as each step took me closer to the inevitable saying goodbye. I was 10 years old. A formidable woman met us, and a smaller rather timid woman stood by her side. I did not take to them or them to me. As I stepped over the threshold I knew deep inside me that this was not going to be a good experience. I was right, it was something to get through, something to be endured. The feeling was one of going inside from the light into the dark, of leaving all I knew and that was familiar. As I stepped into the dark everything closed in on me and I left most of myself, if not all, outside.  It has taken years of therapy and support from family and friends for me to find myself again.”

Imagine that you have grown up with your parents, grandparents, friends, pets, toys, familiar sounds, and smells.  You are driven to an institution one day and left there by your parents, with nothing but your uniform, some at the young age of 7, others at 11 and told that you must have no contact with your parents for several weeks, so you can get over your homesickness.

You are handed over to the care of a stranger who often may have 70 or so other children to oversee. Your bedroom is now a bed in a dormitory with possibly 30 other children and there is no privacy.   If you cry or blub as commonly described in boarding schools, it will be devalued as homesickness rather than grief and you will be bullied or ridiculed or tormented by the chaos inside of you with no parent there to soothe you. 

You are told by your parents and society as a whole that you are very privileged to have this opportunity, so you feel you mustn’t complain about it.  If your parents loved you, why are they sending you away, you may wonder.

This can be a very confusing time for the child, and it is often at this moment that a child takes on the “stiff upper lip” approach and shuts down their emotions. It may be imperative to their survival.

Take away the perceived privilege and wealth, these are small young children who are being handed over to strangers to be looked after in the hope that.....??


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