The road less travelled: life as a boarding school student

Additional reporting by Caitlyn Tjong

Illustration by Elizabeth Han.
Illustration by Elizabeth Han.

It was several hours in the bus to the water park, but junior Oeishi Banerjee did not mind. Each time the bus lurched to a stop, she’d run outside with her friends to gaze wide-eyed, breathless, at the hills and the towns and India. This was the first day she’d ventured from the gated yellow enclosures, the prayers and meditative hours by candlelit bowls, in their small school with its green gabled roofs, nestled between the foothills of the Himalayan mountains and 16 km from the town of Dharamshala in Northern India.

“Whenever the bus would stop, we would run outside and explore, and it was like seeing the real world,” Banerjee said. “It was such a change from being at school everyday and doing the schedule. Just going on that field trip made us independent…it was just being free.”

For Banerjee and others, boarding school was a very unique experience. It’s very different from the normal public school routine and students are able to gain many eye opening experiences, some good, and some not as good. Surprisingly, students are actually willing to attend the boarding school far away from their family and friends. Even though they realize that they’ll be leaving behind the many precious memories they’ve made, they’re willing to take the chance to become more independent and gain valuable knowledge.

Students at MVHS generally follow the same daily routine: Wake up 7:30, go to school for around eight hours, and then go home at 3. To them, school and home are completely separate entities. However, for some students, school is their home. They wake up, go to school, and go back home, all in the same place.

Making the move

It was in the fourth grade that Banerjee was sent to a boarding school in the Himalayas. Her mother had been a part of the religion Sahaja Yoga and introduced the religious boarding school to her young daughter, hoping that Banerjee would grow up “pure and innocent.”

The boarding school was extremely prohibitive and regulated almost every aspect of the students’ lives. However, Banerjee said that the strict control the boarding school exerted over the students only encouraged their rebellious and risk taking side. It was considered “cool” to not pay attention during rituals and meditation sessions, “cool” to do the drugs and alcohol that the school so strongly urged against and “cool” to not believe in Sahaja Yoga.

“I think that being that sheltered makes the students rebel a lot more,” Banerjee said. “Apparently alcohol was a big thing at the school. Drugs were big too. We’d get ten to twenty rupees for allowance, but there were girls sleeping with guys for money. It just wasn’t a good atmosphere.”

“I think that being that sheltered makes the students rebel a lot more. Apparently alcohol was a big thing at the school. Drugs were big too. We’d get ten to twenty rupees for allowance, but there were girls sleeping with guys for money. It just wasn’t a good atmosphere.”

On the other hand, for senior Pranav Kawatra, the decision to attend the Delphian School, a small boarding school in Sheridan, Oregon, was a decision made completely by himself. He appreciated the philosophy of the school, and decided to ultimately attend because he felt like he wasn’t getting what he wanted out of MVHS. Too great of an emphasis was placed on grades, and he never felt like he wasn’t gaining knowledge.

“School wise, I feel more opened up,” Kawatra said. “I can choose what I want to study, and it’s a lot more immersive.”

Sophomore Seena Ashtiani will also be leaving at the beginning of second semester this year to attend the Army and Naval Academy, a private military boarding school, in San Diego, so that he can improve upon his education, as well as work habits.

“I tend to slack off if there’s no one there to push me, so that’s the main thing,” Ashtiani said, “[My parents] want me to learn discipline, so I have self discipline.”

Two different worlds

Even though the boarding school was extremely restrictive, at the time, Banerjee enjoyed it very much. The students at the boarding school were her friends, and her family. However, in seventh grade, Banerjee’s parents got divorced, and Banerjee returned to the public school life, a life that was foreign to her after three years of a very secluded and protected life. She was extremely shocked by how different the environment was, and the way people dressed, talked and interacted with each other.

“Coming into seventh grade, everything was really different. In the locker room the first day, people were changing, and I was just…” Banerjee said, making a disgusted noise, “And then Human Growth and Development in seventh grade. That was just oh my god. Everything was very conservative before, and then I just came into public school and everything was different.”

The transition for Banerjee was a pretty rough one, as the environments were polar opposites. Kawatra, though, was glad to leave public school, and enter the Delphian School, where he was able to find what he couldn’t at MVHS.

“The focus [at Delphian School] is not on getting the best grades, but rather it’s on learning what you’re studying.” Kawatra said. “I actually have no idea what I studied in biology, but I got As in both semesters.”

Although Kawatra believes boarding school was the right decision, he misses certain aspects of public school that boarding school is unable to give him. For one thing, his social life at the boarding school is very limited. He says that even though he’s constantly surrounded by his friends, he can’t go out and do as much as he could at public school. Basically, he just talks with his friends, watches a movie, or studies, but that’s it.

The right choice

Even though Kawatra misses the social aspect of MVHS, he’s still happy with his choice to go to boarding school. It’s given him what he wants. He admits that boarding school is not for everyone, and that whether it’s right or not for someone depends completely on the person. For example, Kawatra believes that his younger brother would not be able to attend a boarding school because his younger brother relies too much on their parents.

“There’s ups and downs to both [boarding school and public school], and I’m happy with my choice,” Kawatra said, “It’s the right choice for me for sure. I’m glad I came here.”

“There’s ups and downs to both [boarding school and public school], and I’m happy with my choice. It’s the right choice for me for sure. I’m glad I came here.”

Ashtiani, even though forced to leave behind his close friends and family, also remains optimistic about going to the military academy. He says that in his free time, and over breaks, he will definitely come back and visit the family that he has made at MVHS. He knows that the boarding school is going to benefit him, and teach him to be more independent, as he has always had a strong dependency on his family, being the “lazy one who sits back and relaxes.”

On the other hand, Banerjee is happy right here. She has so much more freedom, and is allowed to make her own choices, rather than having choices be made for her.

“There’s so many options here. I can do whatever I want. It’s great, and I love that feeling,” Banerjee said, “In the Himalayas, you have no options. You’re stuck there, you can’t go anywhere because you have no money, and every place is like hours away.”

Boarding school was definitely a very significant part of Banerjee’s life, and even though at the time, it was very enjoyable, a harsher light was shed after she left the boarding school and came to see how things at the boarding school really were. She realized how much opportunity and freedom she had missed out on in those years locked away in the Himalayas. She regrets that she was unable to always have the freedom she has now. Public school was definitely the better choice for her.

“I don’t think about [boarding school] that much. It might’ve changed me as a person, but I remember so little of everything before seventh grade,” Banerjee said.,” It was just a fresh start, and everything started over, and I was just this whole new person.”

Boarding school is like an entirely separate life to Banerjee, a life that she has happily forgotten. What matters is that she’s here now, and this is her life now.

The road less travelled: life as a boarding school student

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