A glimpse into the life of an international boarding school student

One day my parents told me that I was going to move to the US and complete my high school years there. I was 15 years old and in 9th grade at the time. My parents never really gave me any specific reasons why they wanted me to do so. Whenever I asked, they replied that studying abroad in the US would be a better educational opportunity for me, as it have been for their friends’ children. I decided to give it a chance and proceeded with the application process. After many test practicing sessions, interviews, application essays, SSATS and TOEFLS tests, I was finally accepted to Pomfret School in the US.

As my 2015 summer days went by quickly and approached closer to my first day of school, the fears I had anticipated about leaving home to study abroad grew bigger. I had spent my entire childhood and then teenage years in Ho Chi Minh City and I was afraid that I was going to miss home too much, or perhaps would not adapt well in the new environment. Pomfret School, located in Connecticut, is more rural than Ho Chi Minh City. Images of traveling halfway across the globe to live in a completely different place, surrounded by strangers, haunted me until I arrived at the school on the hilltop.

 

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During my first week, I wandered around the campus, trying to familiarize myself with this 500-acre land. Pomfret looked exactly like the pictures in their brochure—a vast green plain with lots of green hills and plants. As I was heading to the dining hall, three boys were walking in the opposite direction and as we got closer towards each other, one of the boys walked up to me and started barking at me: “Woof! Woof! Woof!” I froze for a second then, out of nowhere, my instincts made me raised my hands, clawed my fingers, swung my arms down with a scratching motion and shrieked “Meow!” We all laughed at this strange exchange. I don’t remember who the boy was, or recall what happened after our zany ‘conversation,’ however, it was a thing between us that we would do at a distance occasionally.

I never found out who the mysterious barking boy was. Although the incident might have seemed odd to some, to me it was a warm welcome to Pomfret because it made me noticed how comfortable people were when interacting with each other. It was true when the seniors told me how Pomfret School was known for its caring community and kind culture, because its students and faculties had been striving to build and cultivate a friendly environment for everyone at the school.

I am a visual and kinesthetic learner. My first two years at Pomfret, I’ve learned valuable things from people by watching and helping them. Students at my school are unique individuals who aren’t afraid of expressing themselves. For instance, in school meetings every Tuesday, it’s common for students to voluntarily run on stage to dance whenever music starts at the beginning of the meeting. Students at Pomfret are courageous and ambitious. Besides working hard on their academic commitments, they also manage their own independent projects or clubs: the book club, ski club, investment club, etc. Before I came to Pomfret, it had never been clear to me that good academic results aren’t the only thing that were going to help a student become successful, it’s also the things they engage themselves in outside of the classroom.

I discovered that there were so many ways for students to pursue their passion. For example, a group of students initiated and ran their own thrift shops, and even put on a Tedx event. I also learned that along the way of pursuing one’s passion, the process is much more fun and productive when there are friends to help. Therefore, building connections with students and faculties are very beneficial. Every student at Pomfret has an interesting story to tell because of the things they do outside of class.

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A Winter’s Tale

I never would have thought that I could lead a group of students, but during my sophomore year, it was thanks to these brave students that inspired me to lead my own project. In the winter, I did a two-week project with a group of 12 students on helping the homeless. From this project, I learned that each homeless person has their own different problems and it is difficult to solve all their problems, or it might even be considered rude to them if you try to help them with every single one. I learned that a considerate way to facilitate their lives without intruding too much is to simply provide them with basic needs, such as money, clothes, shelter or food. Another big takeaway from leading the project was that no matter how well prepared I was to head it wasn’t so effective when I was not confident. I tend to be timid and quiet when communicating in front of groups and as a result the instructions I planned to give were not well delivered. Optimism is also indispensable along with confidence. Whether it is speaking to the group, directing or encouraging them, confidence and a positive attitude makes you look professionally presentable and charismatic. When I grew more comfortable with my group, I became more confident and my team worked more efficiently.

Another favorite thing about living as a boarder is that I am surrounded by bright, young people from many different backgrounds, and I get to live with some of them. Some of the best things about living under the same roof with your best friends are movie nights, late night conversations and snacks, dance parties, spa sessions and more. School boarding with my best friends feels like I’m having a sleepover at their houses every day.

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My favorite memory so far at Pomfret happened during a bitter cold winter night. Coming from Ho Chi Minh City, I found New England’s weather very different, especially in the winter where the temperatures can drop to as low as -17 degree Celsius. Winter isn’t my favorite season because I wasn’t used to the cold. The snow was fun for a few days until it grew extremely thick and made it difficult to walk around the campus. Winter days were shorter as well and the skies were almost-always gray. I was depressed throughout the winter season. On one snowy day, when it was -8 degree Celsius and the snow was approximately four inches high, my friends decided to go snow sledding down the school’s hilltop. I wasn’t so excited about the idea initially; nevertheless, I gave it a try. We ended up sledding for three hours straight. The cold didn’t bother me at all because I had a blast with my friends. That day made me realized that whatever the circumstances are, regardless of how bad things may seem, instead of anticipating the negatives; I can be optimistic instead because I can’t control the future. In any circumstances, I get to decide whether I want to suffer or make the experience worthwhile. My lessons at Pomfret went beyond the classroom and I am grateful, for it helped me to become the person I am today.

If you’re interested in learning more about the application process, students’ boarding school lives, or just to get different perspectives on this topic, visit US Boarding School Conference Ho Chi Minh City’s (UBSC HCMC) Facebook page. UBSC is a non-profit organization founded to provide insightful information and stories about US boarding schools. UBSC also holds annual conferences in HCMC every summer for prospective boarding school students and parents.

Images Provided by Nhu Vo, a 17-year-old junior at Pomfret School