Unplugged: A Harrow student reflection

Gavin (not his real name) is in the graduating Class of ’21 at Harrow School. He will read Law at Oxford after completing his National Service.

Why did you choose to board?  Tell us your story!
I wanted a different experience from the one offered by the local Singaporean school I attended previously. I felt that while they were incredibly academic, they were often lacking in encouraging students to pursue sporting or cultural interests.

How big are the classes? How is your relationship with teachers different, being that you live on school campus with them?
Classes are around 10-15 people depending on the subject. Teachers are available to talk to you at pretty much all hours of the day by virtue of us living on campus with them. It’s far more convenient to schedule a 9pm or 10pm meeting than one might think!

What is the workload like outside of the classroom? Were you up doing homework all night?
Workload is definitely manageable provided procrastination is not done in excess. On the few (more realistically, many) occasions I left all my work to do in a single night, I was forced to stay up very late. However, that was done through my own perverse volition so it is in no way the fault of the school.

What is the social life like at a boarding school? What do you do on weekends?
Pre-Covid, social life was centred around after-school activities like sport and music. It was incredibly easy to meet someone for a game of tennis after lessons or watch a movie with them over the weekend. However, in Covid times, such socialising has been constrained due to the ‘House bubbles’ which, while enjoyable, is perhaps a bit more restrictive than one might expect. In the past, we were able to take floater weekends and leave the school allowing us to meet up with friends from other schools and experience London for ourselves.

Do you feel boarding school prepares you for university?
You get very used to living and working independently. You are the only one responsible for your work and while there are teachers to help you manage things, the onus is on you to decide how you want to split your time. While living with your parents is wonderful, you are somewhat deprived of the ability to make some of those decisions for yourself.

How did you adjust to living away from home?
Bringing some of your favourite things from home was probably the most important way I avoided homesickness. By using some of my old cutlery, bedsheets, and drinking copious amounts of Milo, I was able to ameliorate the seeming hostility of the unknown boarding school environment. Video calls with family and friends from home also played a key role in helping me adjust. It reminded me that with modern technology, we are only really as separated from home as we want to.

What advice do you have for new students starting to board?
As mentioned above, try your best to make it feel as much like home so it is not a completely foreign experience. At the same time though, paradoxically, it is also best to not get caught reminiscing all the time by getting involved in as many activities as possible. The idea is to have the comforts of home within reach when you want them but to grow to not need them by participating in school life.

What kind of student fits into your school?
As is the case with most other schools, an outgoing boy willing to laugh at himself and take part is likely the one who fits in best. Athletic, musical, or academic ability are all of a secondary nature when it comes to one’s temperament.
The overall makeup of the student body is predominantly British which I think is crucial for maintaining the atmosphere of a traditional English boarding school. There are plenty of Asians, a few Africans and Europeans, but relatively few Americans. For boys from Asia, there will likely be plenty of students from your hometown.

What is the sports culture like at school?  What kind of opportunities are there in the arts?
Sports is a massive part of school life with involvement in activities being one of the key ways one integrates. The school comes together to celebrate the achievements of each of its teams from the first XI to the sixth and it is really wonderful to be a part of.
For music, art, photography, and more, the school provides incredible opportunities to further your talents by providing immense facilities and teaching resources. There is definitely time to pursue artistic interests though, like with all things, it will cost you some free time.

What kind of community service opportunities are there?
The school is very involved in the local community, meaning that boys are able to go into the town to help out with service opportunities involving the elderly or underprivileged youth for example. There are also environmental service opportunities on the campus itself with a conservation programme being run.

If there was something you could improve in your school, what would it be?
I would relax some more of the restrictions for the Upper Sixth in terms of allowing us to leave the Hill. It would be nice to get more independence in the final term.

Tell us about your alumni network. How have you interacted with the alumni?
The school’s alumni network is one of the best with Old Harrovians regularly coming in to give talks and participate in school life. Personally, I benefitted from two mock Oxford interviews with two alumnus which really helped me in the application process.

What was a particularly memorable moment during your school life?
School Songs are always a special occasion with the Old Harrovians coming in to sing the best of the song book. Nothing compares to the sound of Speech Room ringing with Forty Years On.

Why did you choose this school? Are you happy there?
I chose Harrow because I felt it offered a traditional boarding school experience while not lacking in academics or other co-curricular opportunities. I am entering my last term and have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the school; I only regret that I did not get to be at school more due to coronavirus.