October 31, 2018 | Janet Yung
We sit down in a Q&A with a Cambridge University and Winchester College alumnus to find out what it’s like to be involved in activities at boarding school.
You can find our previous article on the range of boarding school activities here.
I: Hi, thanks for taking your time to participate in this Q&A! May I ask which extra-curricular activities you were involved in at Winchester?
P: Astronomy, Basketball, Chess, Winchester Football, Duke of Edinburgh, Combined Cadet Force – the RAF, German Play-reading, Art School, Rifle Club, Drama, Community Service.
I: Wow, that’s quite a list! Did everyone else join that many activities?
P: Absolutely not. Some did, and some didn’t.
Also, no laptops were allowed in first year at the time. There were fewer distractions, and some boys definitely joined out of boredom. Others out of curiosity or interest.
I: How did you decide which activities to join?
P: At Winchester, you see so many things happening. You’d walk past sports pitches on your way to class. Back at the house, older boys would return in gear from their activities. Sometimes it was such a nice day that you had to go outside.
So I tried out many things. Even cricket! It turned out to be pretty fun.
I: Blue skies, good weather… I can see it. What were people at the clubs like?
P: Clubs were generally friendly to newcomers. Other players would often try to recruit you. Doing life together with everyone at a boarding house is very unlike living at home. You learn to fail, learn to interact with others, to anger people, to handle disputes, and to work as a team. These are things no one really teaches you, but you figure it out there and then.
I: Sounds like a great place to learn teamwork and build relationships.
P: A big part of it was definitely about the relationships. Say, Astronomy. I joined it as two of my close friends were in charge of the club, and I knew the teacher who ran it.
Before joining, I didn’t realize we had a giant telescope right at school. You could even see Saturn’s rings and craters on the moon with your own eyes.
I: That sounds incredible. What was another memorable moment from a club you joined?
P: So many memories. I don’t know where to start. [Pauses]
Oh, wait. I remember one. Losing to a 12 year-old girl at an inter-county chess tournament. [Laughs]
I: Oh dear! How did that make you feel?
P: Well, she was a good chess player. At one point I tried to offer her a draw, but she didn’t take it! She went on to win that one.
Another memorable one was going to Lake District for the Duke of Edinburgh, climbing up St Sunday Crag. We started from a valley, reached the top of the mountain, and only then did we realize there were a lot more mountains around.
I: How did you make time for academic studies and everything else?
P: The time at boarding school is structured, so it’s extremely favourable for activities. Generally speaking, they provide time for homework in the evenings.
I: I see. How many hours did you get for activities?
P: Per day? It was 1.5 hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays we had 4 hours. Sundays were completely free, aside from compulsory Chapel time.
P: Yes. Teachers run the activities themselves. You get to see them in another light outside of the classroom. They were also the ones who selected student leaders or presidents of the clubs.
I: Did the teachers encourage you to join their societies?
I: How does one become president or leader of the society?
P: You have to prove yourself first. Sit there long enough.
I: Were you ever chosen to lead a society then?
Yeah. The Astronomy Society. German Play-reading. And I was vice-captain for Shooting and a sergeant in the CCF [Combined Cadet Force].
I: What were some of the challenges you faced when leading the clubs?
P: How to grow the club. Most clubs are student-led, so we actually had a big stake in promoting and keeping it going. Leadership was just a bonus, since everyone was involved in recruiting new members and spreading the fun.
I: I see.
P: I have one more thing to add on this, that the society is one large friendship. Much more than just an activity. It’s a family. The basketball guys; we had a great time. We were all good friends. Same goes for Astronomy.
I: So, it was a good way for guys to bond at school?
P: Yes, definitely. This brings me back to why boarding school can be so different from non-boarding… but it’s not all rosy. There is some bullying, peer pressure, not fitting in, and so on, but nothing you wouldn’t find in any other school.
I: Thanks for sharing that! Finally, is there anything you’d encourage younger boarders or those considering boarding school in regards to extra-curricular activities?
P: Try new things, see new places. Explore. In boarding school, it is a very safe place to try.
I: It’s been fantastic getting to hear your experience on activities, clubs and societies. Thank you so much for your time!
Janet enjoys teaching humanities subjects as well as Business Studies, Economics, English and Maths. Educated in both Hong Kong and England, she has helped students of all ages with interview and entrance exam preparation, university admissions in addition to IGCSE, A-Level and IB exams. Janet went to Wycombe Abbey before studying Land Economy at the University of Cambridge. Her extensive work experience from the education, property and financial sector enables her to work with students of all ages in an engaging manner.
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