A world of opportunity
July 13, 2012
I attended an international sixth form college. It changed my life. I came from a parochial village background to a stunning coastal castle with incredibly bright people from all over the world. Having cruised through school up to this point it was a shock to no longer be a big fish in a small pond.
Everyone seemed cleverer than me. More sophisticated (the Swedes). Chic-er (the Italians). Cooler.(the Spanish and Dutch). More serious (the Germans). You get the stereotypical drift. Obviously not entirely true but an over all impression. It was an incredible environment. Many of us were sponsored by our countries to attend, whereas others paid if they got through the selection process. There was no point them attending if they were not going to be able to cope academically. And most of them were having to do it all in a second language. I was way out of my league.As the host nation, the UK had proportionally more students than other countries – about 15 or 20 in a year of 150 if I remember correctly. We lived in Houses with 4 students to a room; no two from the same country, no more than two native English speakers per room. I shared with a Swede, a Spaniard and an American. The Swede had a better grasp of English than I did. I remember she asked me if there were a collective word in English for brothers and sisters. “Kin?” I suggested. “But that’s not specifically for brothers and sisters is it?” “No” I said, having never really thought about it. “Is it not sibling ?” she asked. I had never even heard the word. Sixteen years old and ignorant of my native tongue.
The first weeks were taken up with a gruelling torture camp in the Brecon Beacons. Outward Bound kind of stuff (the school had been founded by the same person who set up Gordonstoun ) and run by the second years for the first years. We went walking, night orienteering, pot holing, did drama/trust exercises (early team building stuff), abseiling and canoeing. About 8 or 10 of us sleeping in huge Icelandic tents that were freezing and wet, with burnt porridge for breakfast and a campfire singalong at night. It was character building stuff. Especially the pot holing which I hated. Crawling through tunnels only just wide enough. Our miner’s lights not working, Getting drenched through pools. The two second year guides arguing as to which way was out (all part of the ‘game’ to see how we coped with stress). Never was I more glad to see a twinkle of daylight as we emerged.And of course returned the follwing year as an instructor to put the first years through the same gruelling nightmare. And loved it. We got to sleep in cosy two man tents with huge sleeping bags, eat the porridge before we burnt it and scoot off to the pub at night. A taste of power….Similarly we had to make sure our first years got up for their early morning swim in the unheated outdoor pool when back at College. I’d hated that myself as a first year, but still felt the those following should have to go through it if we had. How anti-progressive and punitive I was.
One of the perks of second year was to have a Carrell Unit. In first year we had a study unit within our House, but second years had rooms around the Hogwartian castle that were converted with individual pens for us to store our books and use for private study.
We were doing the International Baccalaureate (fairly rare in those days) and were meant to do a lot of studying and community service. There was no system of allocation to Carrell Units that I am aware of – the list just appeared and by bizarre fluke I was the only girl in mine. Six lads and me. We called it Genius Corner. A fairly diverse bunch and despite occasional tensions between the boys we rubbed along OK.
One of the lads was really in to photography. I don’t know what he went on to study, but he set up a fantastic shot which they gave to me as a present. They did it before breakfast in the Dining Hall, on the teachers’ table. What a setting. Despite it being over A3 in size (or perhaps because) , I have kept it through thick and thin. Leaving Atlantic College, going to Uni, living in halls, flats, houses, hospitals, getting married, divorced, and married again.
I think you’ll agree it was worth saving as I share this gift wtih you now…….