I was scared. I was troubled. I was alone. I was 7.
My parents had shipped me off to a boarding school situated in India, a country almost 3,000 kilometers from Thailand, my home country. It was my first time stepping foot in the Indian subcontinent.
I knew I had no choice, but I had hope; hope that maybe, just maybe, my parents would pay heed to my pleas and not ship me off to the institution.
Despite my best efforts to change their minds, I ended up spending three years of my childhood at Mussoorie International School, an all-girls boarding school in the Dehdarun district. The years were filled with life lessons and milestones, as well as abuse and bullying.
Although I did not fully grasp the concept of abuse and bullying as a seven-year-old, I certainly involuntarily familiarized myself with heartache and abandonment.
I became used to being smacked with rulers and pulled by the hair and assumed they were ordinary forms of punishment in educational institutions. Little did I know that I was being mistreated and it was not what going to school should look like. Ultimately, I knew little difference between right and wrong.
Amidst all the abuse and the bullying, I searched for my family, but once I realized that my flesh and blood weren’t around, I found solace in other terror-stricken kids searching for the same. I’d never felt more abandoned.
Fast forward 12 years into the future, here I am writing this piece with the intention to shed light on the bad and the ugly of attending boarding school as a child.
Time, combined with overwhelming trauma, has resulted in gaps in my memory and repressed memories, but there is one instance that really stuck with me.
There was a teacher with whom I found solace. I only realized a couple of years ago that his behavior towards me was not benevolent and well-intentioned, but inappropriate and immoral. I thought I was his favorite student, a thought that comforted me and made me feel special in times of need. But in actuality, I was just his favorite student at his disposal, readily available to him.
While at the time I believed that he was taking care of me, I later realized that he was taking advantage of me. A part of me wishes I never had that realization because my fictional version of the truth was a lot more pleasant than the reality.
Granted, this is my personal experience and I’m coming from a subjective place, so let’s take a look at the happenings within the walls of boarding schools elsewhere.
In May 2021, a 37-year-old Indonesian man was arrested for sexually assaulting thirteen girls and impregnating eight of them in an all-girls boarding school in Bandung, Indonesia. He raped the girls during his time as a teacher, the chairman, and the founder of the school.
British journalist Alex Renton has spoken up about the abuse he suffered as a boy in one of Britain’s elite private schools. Renton claims that he has “a database of more than 800 criminal allegations from former schoolchildren of 300 mainly private boarding schools.”
A 2021 article by Evening Standard revealed that children at a Scotland-based Catholic boarding school were sexually abused and subjected to sadistic treatment, ranging from oral sexual activity to rape, as well as physical and emotional abuse.
World-renowned socialite Paris Hilton has opened up about her experience with abuse during her time as a teen in a Utah boarding school.
These horrific personal accounts illustrate that abuse, physical or otherwise, is not uncommon in boarding schools.
And although the physical, psychological, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse occurred years ago within the walls of a place that was once home, the trauma lives on.
India is home to more than 5,000 boarding schools. There are more than 500 boarding schools across the United Kingdom. In the year 2019, 565,269 students were enrolled in boarding schools in China.
These statistics are a telling indication of the prevalence of these educational institutions across the globe; speaking to the fact that boarding schools are indeed a popular choice for parents and guardians.
Going to school as a child should be about getting creative in art classes, geeking out in science classes, and celebrating the wins and losses with your friends; it shouldn’t be about getting smacked for waking up late, being treated like pawns, or tolerating abuse.
As a boarder, I inflicted harm upon myself; I begged and begged to go home; I mistook abuse for fondness. Make sure this doesn’t happen to your kid.
While you may believe that sending your kids to boarding school teaches them independence and discipline, I say that they can acquire those life skills without the company of abuse and trauma. Allow them to attain the life skills that you believe these schools will instill in them in other ways.
If you have the option to not send your kids to a place where they are extremely susceptible to maltreatment, persecution, and abuse, then why would you?
In a way, the abuse starts from shipping them off in the first place.
As a journalist and as a boarder myself, I plead with you to not send your children to boarding school.