I didn’t desperately enjoy boarding school. By the time I left, I’d made a few friends and found a localised kind of happiness and certainly gained a great deal from it – exposure to public speaking, journalism, intellectual discourse, guitar skills, philosophical debate, various sporting activities and the like helped net me a place at Cambridge.
However, a significant part of the time spent there was dotted with pained phone calls back to home, agonised discussions as to whether I should transfer back to a school in Malaysia, spates of bullying and a persistent sense of being marginalised by a community in which I did not really fit. And this resulted in a general sense of misery for myself and my parents for the duration.
Having become a parent, discussing my childhood with my parents, the question was asked: should I have been sent to boarding school at all? Should it be a regret for all involved?
Now, oddly, despite the relative unhappiness whilst I was there, I have absolutely no regrets about taking the decision both to go – and to stay – there. In both cases my parents applied very little pressure – first I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps, and then a combination of pride and obsessiveness had me wanting to finish what I’d started. And eventually friendships formed and it became less of a trial, and I grew to love elements of the experience.
It’s funny how any experience, once you’re sufficiently clear of it, can be seen for the ‘character-building’ goodness that it was. The person I am today was not entirely defined by my experience at school but certainly aspects of me were forged there – 15 years ago in the rolling fields of Buckinghamshire. And now I’m an extremely happy adult, it’s difficult to regret anything that got me to where I am today.
I miss some aspects of being at Stowe, and the friends and teachers I had there. I hope to reconnect with some of those people in the months ahead and see how perspectives have shifted in the decade and a bit since we all left… and just rekindle the memories of discussing fantasy novels with Will, cars and Transformers with Mac, Squash and alt-rock with Al and, of course, Radiohead, religion and Tintin with Roy…