Is boarding school REALLY where the naughty kids are sent?


Hi friends! Welcome to my very first “Tea Break Tuesday”!

You may recall that I went to boarding school from grades 3-12.

I have noticed that when I tell people that I went to boarding school, they sometimes give me a funny look. It turns out that apparently there are some stereotypes around boarding school… the most common stereotype I have heard is that boarding school is where the naughty kids get sent! Another one I’ve heard is that boarding school is for elite rich kids.

As someone who spent a number of years at boarding school, I thought it might be interesting to share some of what that experience was like for me.

So a few basics: The school is a Christian boarding school called Rift Valley Academy (RVA), and is located in central Kenya.

Homesickness. In my school, students lived in dorms in much the same way that university students live on campus. RVA is only about an hour from Nairobi, and between away-games, weekend trips to ‘town’, and mid-term breaks, I was in Nairobi on a frequent basis. Some kids experienced homesickness, but to be honest, I never did, not even a little bit. That may also be due to the fact that when my parents divorced, school was a welcome respite from all of that. I found the culture at school to be supportive and inclusive, and not only that, but I had a great group of friends (still friends to this day!) with whom I had a strong sense of “belonging” — they were closer than sisters. Plus, I was always too busy with school, sports, and other extracurriculars to be homesick.

Weekend activities. I don’t know if other boarding schools are this way, but RVA always had activities going on every single weekend. These included sports tournaments, plays/musicals, concerts, movie nights, banquets/dances, dorm/class trips, and also planned activities for dorms and/or classes to do together. There was always something going on. I won’t say I never got bored or that I never complained (what kid can say that?), but in hindsight, there really wasn’t much to complain about!

Strict. Like a lot of private and/or religious schools, there were a lot of rules at RVA… curfew, chores, attendance at chapels during the week, attendance at church on Sundays, no kissing, no short skirts, no spaghetti straps, no drinking, no drugs, etc… and yes these rules generally make sense and I probably wouldn’t have broken them even if they didn’t exist. But hey, as kids we still managed to complain about #alltherules.

Playing sports. Every term (trimester) constituted a different sport season. I played soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Other sports included field hockey (girls only) and rugby (boys only). Since RVA is located at elevation, this meant we were usually more fit and had better endurance compared to teams in Nairobi that trained at lower elevation.

Cafeteria food. There was one cafeteria on campus that all students ate at for every meal. Age groups were separated into 3 different dining rooms (1st-6th grade, 7th-10th grade, and 11th-12th grade). Bear in mind this was decades ago, so things may have changed or been renovated since. Meals were slightly predictable and on a rotating schedule. Boy did I used to complain about the food! But in reality, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, there were meals I absolutely despise even to this day (looking at you shepherds pie!), but overall we had plenty of wholesome and healthy options. The food was all prepared on-site, so no packaged or processed foods were provided as far as I am aware.

Walking everywhere. Even without playing sports, most people there had active lifestyles. Everyone walked everywhere on campus, and there were plenty of hills (plus high elevation). The campus is spread out enough that between walking to the dorm, class, cafeteria, or elsewhere, you could easily get all your steps in for the day.

Dorm parents. Every dorm had “dorm parents” who lived in the building and took care of the students who lived there. This meant organizing weekend activities for the dorm as well as nightly group meetings for devotions. Dorms were always separated by gender and generally also by grade or age group. For example, 7th-8th grade girls lived in one dorm, while the boys lived in another. Students addressed their dormparents as “uncle” or “aunt” (in contrast, teachers were addressed as Mr., Miss, or Mrs.). Sometimes dormparents were also teachers, which was the case with our awesome junior high dormparents, Uncle John and Aunt Pattie. Uncle John also taught 9th grade biology (when I took his class, I called him Mr. Schuit). Side note, I LOVED that class – it was one of my favorites in all of high school, and it was because of his class that I decided to major in biology in college. :) Another side note, Uncle John and Aunt Pattie also came to my wedding reception :)

TV? Internet? I’m not sure how it is nowadays with the advent of smartphones and streaming, but back in “my day”, there was little to no TV of any kind, and no internet access. We sometimes watched movies with our dorm or class, but not much else besides that. And as far as internet, no one had computers or even smartphones. If we wanted to send emails, we had to go to the computer lab. I’m sure that things have changed now that every kid probably has a smartphone and laptop.

Roommates. Similar to university life, we always had roommates (usually 2-4 per room depending on the room size). We usually chose who we wanted to room with for the term, and my group of friends pretty much always stuck together. One time in 3rd grade, a bunch of us snuck out of our rooms after lights-out and decided to hang out in the bathroom (such rebels). I don’t know what we were doing, but probably just being mischievous, staying up past when we were supposed to. Our dormparents heard us whispering and giggling, and when I poked my head around the corner to see if they were still there, they saw me and had us get right back into bed! Another time in junior high, my friend Kristi got mad at me because she could hear the skittles in my mouth — I had a thing for skittles while doing homework — so she went and did her homework somewhere else. After that I always made sure to enjoy my skittles quietly. :)  Kristi and I are still friends to this day… she’s the blond one in this photo. When I went to college, the adjustment to dorm life and roommates was pretty seamless, probably because I had similar experiences growing up.

Scenery. I mentioned earlier that RVA is on one of the rift valley’s escarpments. The views were always incredible. Mount Longonot was in clear view, and we had the most unbelievable sunsets. Sometimes my friends and I would go for walks or sit on one of the fields that overlooks the valley and just hang out. I miss that view a lot!

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll save that for another day. I loved my boarding school experience and would not change anything about it. Those were some pretty awesome years.

Know anyone who went to boarding school? What was your school like? 


75 thoughts on “Is boarding school REALLY where the naughty kids are sent?

  1. I didn’t go to boarding school but I was in Catholic school from preschool 3 until 8th grade so 11 years. So many rules! One that drove the girls nuts was our hair had to be in a ponytail and our nails couldn’t be painted. To this day I don’t know why 7th and 8th graders had to wear our hair in a ponytail but whatever I guess. It’s weird because now I rarely put my hair in a ponytail for the whole day.

    1. That is an unusual rule, especially since some girls get terrible headaches from ponytails – they give my mom migraines. 😕

    1. Thank you, it was definitely a good experience. I love to reminisce with my friends — we may not have realized at the time, but everything was so simple and carefree back then! :)

    1. that’s great to hear that your friends had good experiences with boarding school too. i’m glad you liked the post :)

  2. This was really interesting! I don’t know anyone who went to boarding school, my only insights into came from books. Then it seemed like boarding school was full of mean girls and a lack of supervision. It’s wonderful you made such good friends! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Kim, I did’t realize boarding school was portrayed in such a way in books :( Although just like any normal school, there were a few jerks in my boarding school for sure, but they were not the norm by any means!

  3. I love getting a chance into a peek of what a boarding school experience is like! After you started in grade 3 did you return home for longer periods of time, summer or holiday break?

    1. Hi Kyra! Yes, we didn’t have long summers (we had trimesters)… we had a one-week mid-term break each trimester, and also spent a month at between trimesters :)

  4. Sounds like it was fun, quick question though.. i dont know if i missed it was it a strictly girls boarding school… I went to a catholic co-ed boarding, and killed a lot of chickens if there is one skill up it was that, we had to kill a dress the chickens for the thursday rice and chicken meal fun times lol

    1. Hey there! My school was co-ed :) we didn’t kill any chickens ourselves. However, in Kenya it was (and is) pretty common for chickens and goats to be slaughtered on-site at big events/functions, so I’ve definitely seen it happen.

    1. Hi Mary, I’m glad you enjoyed it, and that my positive experience “came through.” Those really were some wonderful years!

  5. This is a great overview of life at private school. There were a few downfalls for me but on the whole, like you, I liked it. I have some friends that I still stay in touch with. My school was also Christian and we too had chapel every day and were “encouraged” to go to church on the weekend. I was not able to play sports so joined the choir and debate team instead. Thanks so much for making boarding school seem a more positive and pleasant experience than most people imagine!

  6. I always wanted to go to boarding school! I was raised in Boston, and I just loved the idea of living and learning away from home. I went to a very liberal, urban public school, and I craved structure and rules; the grass is always greener, you know? I’m a teacher now, and I’ve helped several students apply to and head off to boarding schools; it really is a great fit for some kids!

    1. Hi Kerri, it really does seem like the grass is always greener on the other side. And yes, so true, boarding school is a great fit for some kids! So cool that you’re helping your students apply :)

    1. Thanks Eugenia! I’m not sure where the bad rep came from historically, but I’m glad this post has shed a positive light on boarding school :)

  7. Boarding school sounds like fun! Almost a little like practice college.

    I was homeschooled, so my school was… well, homely. I still love it and don’t think I’d like it any other way. I get to learn at my own pace and get to pick and choose the people i spend time around. No awful/mean teachers. If I got bullied by my sibling, my parents were on it and shut it down quickly. We get to choose our subject courses- and if we don’t like it, we change it. Soooooo many upsides to homeschooling to where I can’t count them on both hands.

    1. True, boarding school really was a bit like practice for college! I love what you say about homeschool! Sounds like a lot of upsides indeed! 🙂

  8. This is interesting for me cos I also went to boarding school. But I guess boarding school here in Nigeria is a bit different from there but, it was still a lot of fun, there were no views, but we had adventures. My friends and I would gather together and have fun, it made us appreciate each other’s company.

  9. I didn’t personally go to boarding school, but I went to college with LOTS of kids who did. This is pretty true to their experience, as well. Thanks!

  10. Oh my lord. Your writing is incredible. I feel like I understood all the emotions you were conveying here. Such dear memories. My mind is thinking of Hogwarts in an African Landscape :)

    1. Dear memories indeed! It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as Hogwarts, but I like the “Hogwarts in an African landscape” description! 😊

  11. I have always been intrigued by boarding school. I know it probably helps a person to be more independent and assertive. Because i know at that age i may have had severe homesickness as you mentioned.

    1. I can totally relate – those were some pretty awesome years! Thanks for stopping by Mary! Have an amazing day! 😊

  12. Wow this is crazy I personally didn’t attend boarding or know anyone that did so I wasn’t sure of how it worked!

    1. Haha yeah boarding schools don’t seem too common in some countries whilst in others they are more the norm. Thanks for stopping by, i hope you have an amazing day! 😊

    1. I had an incredible experience! I hope your son will enjoy it too! Thanks Maria, i hope you have a great week! 😊

  13. You seem to have had an incredible experience at boarding school and so make a good case for the institution. I am glad it provided that kind of support for you after your parents’ divorce since divorce hits children really hard

    1. that is so true Ingrid, it really was a great environment. I appreciate your stopping by, i hope your day is amazing! 😊

  14. All I can think when I hear “boarding school” is this tale by E.A. Poe, William Wilson! I love that story and it’s probably the only contact I’ve had with boarding schools. I am living in South Africa at the moment, as my husband is from here, and it is a very common practice, in all levels of income, not only rich kids :D I agree that is just an stereotype. School is sometimes a refuge for kids, I’m glad you had a great experience, and would love to hear more stories about your time there!

    1. I haven’t read the story but I’ll keep my eyes open! It’s interesting that boarding school is more common in South Africa too. Thanks for stopping by, i hope you have a lovely day! 😊

    1. I’ve never been to Catholic school but i have friends who went. Thanks for stopping by Margarette! I hope your week is off to a great start! 😊

  15. Looks like it was quite an experience at a boarding school. I didn’t have that experience until I was in college. That was a very interesting time. Good experience though.

    1. It does seem quite similar to the college experience, doesn’t it. Thanks for dropping by David, I hope you have a lovely day! :)

  16. I don’t personally know anyone who went to boarding school, so it’s cool reading about your experience with it. I attended Catholic schools since kindergarten up to College so I’m used to having rules all the time. The school I attended in elementary were run by nuns so I can relate to all things you mentioned about your school being strict with attending chapels and church, no short skirts, etc. Funny how I used to complain about them all the time, but thinking about it now, I don’t think it was too bad. Haha.

    1. Haha Kristine, that’s exactly what I think too! My friends and I used to complain about all the rules, but when I think about it, they weren’t even that bad! haha :) glad I’m not the only one! Thanks Kristine, I hope you have an amazing day!

  17. Wow you definitely had a great boarding school experience. I never went to one but had friends who did and they all had for the most part good experience too, really enjoying the close knit friendships they had there.

    1. That’s so right Jennifer, the friendships made there were so close! Thanks for stopping by and reading. I hope you have a wonderful day! 😊

  18. I didn’t go to boarding school but I lived in a dormitory. I was studying in a university far from home and I pretty much relate to everything you said. :)

    1. Its funny how similar boarding school life is to university life! I thought the same thing when i was in uni. Thanks Kirstie, i hope you have a wonderful day!

    1. It definitely is an interesting time! I had a blast and still regularly keep in touch with my boarding school friends. Thanks for stopping by, I hope you have an amazing day! :)

  19. My Dad has this bright idea so send my ass back Nigeria to learn my culture (My brother and sister soon followed). So from 9th-12th grade, I did my high school at an all girls boarding school. I was a day student at first but then after the Easter break, I became a ‘boarder’.

    Best decision ever.

    It took me a bit to adjust, especially coming from the States. But once I did, it was a great experience.

    I never got the ‘naughty’ reasoning when telling friends here that I went to a boarding school. It was always, “oh, how fancy!” type of deal. Honestly though, my school was filled with kids from wealthy families or politician kids. And there was a period when the school started getting lots of them from outside the country, similar to me.

    Girl, I have stories for days about my boarding school life.

    1. I know what you mean! I feel like I have a TON of stories from my boarding school days too. I absolutely loved my experience. One of my favorite things was making the BEST friends, most of whom are still very close friends to this day! :) It’s always fun to hear from others who had similar experiences. Thanks Vivi, I hope you have an amazing day! :)

      1. Yep. Some of my closest friends came from my time at the boarding school! It helped that they moved to the States for college. Also, social media absolutely helped to keep in touch. And I’m not talking about Twitter and Instagram. I’m talking about the days of AOL Messenger and Hi5 and Black Planet and MySpace. hahaha.

        Wishing you an awesome 2018!

  20. So glad you did a throwback to this post in your 100 posts blog as I enjoyed reading it. I will say that I definitely thought of boarding school as something only rich kids went to; I’m not sure where that idea comes from as I can’t even think of any movies that portray it that I’ve seen? Did all of your siblings go to that school? If so how did that help or hurt your relationships with them? It seems like a really good way to gain independence at a young age. That said I lived away at college my freshman year and though it was only 45 mins away and I came home nearly every weekend, I couldn’t stand it. I shared a bedroom with my sister growing up, but being roomed in such a tiny space with a complete stranger was just not my cup of tea. I transferred to another college to which I could commute and graduated from there.

    1. Aw! My boarding school experience was such a big part of my life and I loved it so much, so I am really glad you enjoyed reading this! Yes, all of my siblings (except one) went to this school, and from my perspective it made us closer — it’s also fun having this experience in common when we reminisce about those days. :) I still keep in touch regularly (sometimes daily!) with the group of friends that I made at boarding school, which is fun. I wouldn’t change a thing about it! :D

Don't be shy, chime in!