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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.

Atlantic College

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.

I lived in the only all-female House *groan*. These are my fellow first years.

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.

I wore that cagoule and hat nearly every day

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…….

Fine anatomical specimens. It may have inspired my choice of degree.

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8 Responses to “A world of opportunity”

  1. kate Says:

    was it a peter storm cagoul bought by your mother?? if so, I have jsut thrown one out, had for years…and years…used last month for the first time in years…and years… packing away again and noticed mouldy smell…. chucked out! I think itwas as old, and same style, as the one you are sporting! How sad>


    • Yes it was a Peter Storm! I had forgotten that nugget of info! Available only at that quality shop Millets I believe. I used to sweat like a pig when it was done up as it was waterproof but not breathable at all. Nightmare. Like a boil in the bag beet root after a couple of hours. And when I took it off it would be running rivulets on the inside . Nice.

  2. Elaine Purse (Parry) Says:

    OMG! and I thought it was only me that was going through all that!!! As I get older, though, I also understand what we walked away from – family, home, ‘normal’ 6th form – like a lot of us I suspect, being ‘clever’ meant moving away at some point – something I didn’t really notice until I had kids and realised that the link between grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins wouldn’t be the same for them that it was for me – I had become ‘socially mobile’ – good ol’ middle class isolationism! I dont regret AC at all, but I always have a weird moment when I watch Billy Elliot get on that bus to London – life will never be the same again, boy!

  3. Martin Sanders Says:

    Very small village (<50 people) to castle tick
    everyone cleverer/cooler/(didn't know what chic was) than me (bloody huge) tick
    How about: did you know how to use a washing machine? Manage your own money (doled out by the housemaster as i recall)? Take notes in a lecture? Drink?
    Missed first year camp as i only got in when someone else dropped out but had plenty of experience of that kind of stuff already so suspect it would have been less of a shock
    Went caving in Malaysia. Guide said once we got a long way in "anyone got a spare torch" 1 or 2 replies "anyone got a spare battery" 1 reply (smart arse) "anyone got a spare bulb" silence Interestingly no one dropped their torch after that. teaches you to plan ahead
    I'm sure the lads are delighted you've tagged them…


    • God, I’d forgotten about the money being handed out! And your Malaysian caving sounds the same kinfd of thing as my first year. Our torches did all go out bar one of the second years. We had to crawl holding on to the feet of the person in front. It was really horrible and scary. But yes, this post was simply an excuse to get that photo out there!

  4. Kelly West Says:

    I love it!
    Where you in our group when the 1st year got stuck in the cave? I can still feel it! Great Blog. Great memories!


    • Hi Kelly! So glad you enjoyed reading it. No, no one got actuially stuck. Quite a few tight squeezes, but not actually wedged completely. What a nightmare that must have been. Never been potholing since and get the shudders just going round tourist caves!!


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