Home away from home

Home away from home

Many Hong Kong teenagers attend school abroad, mainly in Australia, the United States, Canada and England.

A boarding school education is not cheap. According to various websites, it costs around A$30,000 to A$40,000 (HK$205,380 to HK$273,840) a year to go to boarding schools in Australia; US$38,850 in America, and GBP21,530 (HK$254,960) in England.

Many may think boarding schools are just academies for rich teenagers who want a place at an overseas university. In reality, they can be serious institutions where students live independently, and learn to juggle responsibilities. And the experience is not always fun.

'Our lives are too structured,' says 17-year-old Yiu Pak-wayne, a Grade 12 student at St Peters Lutheran College in Australia. 'We have a schedule for the whole day, and that includes having dinner at 5.30pm, and studying from 6.30pm till 8.30pm from Mondays to Thursdays.'

Pak-wayne - who has been studying abroad for two years - says there are certain things he dislikes, like the long wait for a shower. 'Everybody takes showers in the morning to refresh themselves, but [some] people take forever and a lack of showers becomes a problem.'

But studying abroad can be a valuable experience, he says. For Pak-wayne, it was extra special because he was born in Australia. He left the country for Hong Kong with his parents at the age of four; now he has returned, he is learning more about it.

In a boarding school, you're with your classmates 24 hours a day. Many of the friendships developed during this time will last for years or even a lifetime.

'[In our dormitory], we have curtains instead of doors and walls. This may sound like a lack of privacy. But it helps you get to know the people around you more, instead of locking yourself up in the room,' says Pak-wayne.

To Madeline Chan, the experience has made her more independent and responsible.

'When you are away from home, you are away from the watchful eyes and nagging of your parents,' says the 18-year-old, who has just graduated from Emma Willard School in the United States.

'You learn to take charge of your education and lifestyle, and to be responsible for yourself.'

There were times when she felt homesick, but the school eventually became her 'home', says Madeline, who will join Amherst College in the US this autumn.

'One night, my houseparent asked me where my roommate was and I said, 'She is not coming home for the weekend'. Then I gasped, realising it was the first time I had referred to Emma Willard as home,' says Madeline.

'If you are willing to get involved in the boarding school community, work hard and play hard, you will have an amazing boarding school experience.'

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