On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Schools United Kingdom USA Student life Mental Health Daria Bella Matuznaia

The Anxiety of Overachievers or Extra Motivation: How Have Boarding Schools Affected Me?

Boarding students, whether in the US, Great Britain or Switzerland, is a separate category of people.
They share common experiences, which affect their lifestyle long after graduation and become a part of their identity. As soon as a child becomes a boarding school student, their life changes due to a great responsibility that falls on the unprepared shoulders. Not only do they have to organise their mode of life, simple things that eventually prove challenging, such as cooking or doing laundry (a whole different story in boarding schools), but also to create their personal approach to education. It doesn’t matter whether it is A level, Advanced Placement or any other system of education, there is a heavy burden of endless information that needs to be absorbed in the shortest period of time, or you are behind.
Here comes the anxiety of overachievers, as not everyone is able to find the right attitude towards their studies.
Having spent three years in boarding schools in two different parts of the world, I formed a certain opinion of this way to get secondary education. My first boarding experience was in a school located in East Hampton, New York and it perfectly represents my idea.

Our “shift” began at 8 am and ended at 6:30 pm, which is longer than a normal working day for an adult. As the last lesson finished at 4 pm, it was mandatory to participate in sports. As we returned to the boarding houses, exhausted from physical and mental activity, plenty of homework was impatiently waiting to be done. We were expected to complete a large number of assignments within little time. These affected student academic progress, which was checked online and students always had access to it. As grades were changing with the speed of light, it affected students’ moods, consequently generating sleep deficiency and academic anxiety. They were loyal companions of every student of the last two school years.
Today I can very well explain the dissonance of feelings which I was experiencing.
Based on my observations, education in the majority of boarding schools is directed at independent learning, meaning only some are ready to sit all day long dismantling complex topics, exchanging a bigger half of their personal time for subjective success, which then can easily be negatively affected by other assignments. My opinion was very well expressed by William Deresiewicz, the former Yale English professor, studying education at the elite institutions of the United States. He refers to students of elite institutions as “excellent sheep”, meaning that excellence in such educational places is simply measured by an ability to fulfil all the requirements and consequently get into a top-tier university. It takes what is called being “academic” and following the given rules.

I hope we can all agree that it is a very narrow definition of excellence. Elite boarding schools develop a habit of performing a large number of set tasks without the usage of critical thinking, such as writing essays based on the given format or else getting an “F”. It is hardly a method to develop skills for future world leaders.
“These are kids who have no ability to measure their own worth in any realistic way – either you are on top of the world, or you are worthless”

William Deresiewicz.
Even though he talks specifically about Ivy League students, I noticed the same behaviour while living in a boarding school. A number of strict rules and hundreds of assignments created a disbalance in my life, one I couldn’t simply solve in one or two sleepless nights. As I didn’t get the help I wanted, my worth as a student and later as an individual went down hand in hand with my grades. The same was happening with those I know. To my surprise, my anxiety ended at university, where our programme is mainly based on delivering high-quality coursework, which requires an entirely different set of skills. Due to the switch in the educational system, I can now confidently describe myself as a successful student. More time to complete it significantly reduces stress and allows to achieve a higher, fairer mark.
Nonetheless, it is not all that bad. As harsh as it sounds, hard work gives dignity to individuals, and being surrounded by those who work for their future has an apparent positive effect. The responsibility of living alone and taking care of oneself allows for greater independence and adaptability, which is a necessary quality for a successful career. Moreover, the ability to work under pressure is a valuable skill. Quite often, we are dependent on abstract things like “inspiration” or “concentration”, but when you know clearly that completing the work is the only way to a bright future, those abstractions take a backseat.
Although education in boarding schools is not suitable for everyone, it is worth trying. Turning life upside down always substantially affects individuals, strengthening and expanding personality to an extent they wouldn’t know otherwise.