Stories from our international boarding schools

A letter to my first year self

“Don’t stress so much!” I wish I could say that, but stress is probably an inevitable thing. It shows that you care, that you’re invested into your classes and you want to do well. In actuality, an overplayed expression is apt here: It’s not the stress per se, but how you deal with it that matters.

What does that mean? Well, first of all I’d tell myself to go and get some more friends. Because you really can lean on them, spiritually and physically, and it’s comforting to know that there are others who are scrambling to not be late to assembly like you.

One of the most important things is to not freak out when something goes wrong. Just because you did much worse on that test than you thought you did, or you have a misunderstanding with one of your friends – don’t just give up on that class or that friendship. Life goes on – you’ll just be missing out if you just get hung up on that one mishap.

Say yes!” – the motto of motivational speakers everywhere: saying yes really does help you grow as a person, as cliché as that sounds. This is where friends can come in too: find out what they’re doing, where they’re going – just rummage your nose through all that good stuff – and join in! Go to see a play, ice skate or just to try a different cuisine for the first time; this is your opportunity – you won’t regret it.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how to do better in your classes without killing yourself with long hours of studying everyday, I have some good advice, based on my own experience, for you guys. It seems incredibly common sense, because it is: when it’s class time, focus. Stop trying to find ways to text on your phone when the teacher’s not looking, or wonder about what you’ll do after school, you’re wasting a valuable chance. The way I look at it, the class will be the same length of time no matter what you’re doing, so if you pay attention to the teacher (and possibly take notes to keep you from dozing off), that’s that much less material you have to study on your own. Teachers always tell their students to ask more questions for a reason – they know class can get tedious, even if it’s not boring! So make sure you ask questions when you don’t understand; by getting the answer straight from the horse’s mouth (excuse me for that one, teachers!) it saves you from having to sift through online for a (possibly wrong) answer later.

Being active in class really is effective; paying attention during your 50-minute short period could teach you more than trying to get back and study the material yourself for 2 hours, because you don’t have the teacher reinforcing the information so that your brain can remember it. Then, if you listen in class, you’ll have all that after-class time to do what you want to do, whether it’s studying more and doing even better, extracurricular or even just passing time with friends.

Oh, and one last thing– and this goes especially for the non-native English speaking students: be proud of yourself! You’re on your own, living in a foreign country speaking a foreign language, at such a young age. School is going to be hard; work hard, but there’s no point if you aren’t enjoying yourself at all. Being here in a foreign country isn’t only a chance for new academic learning: it’s an opportunity for cultural learning and personal growth as well – go seek out the things that interest you, and push yourself outside your comfort zone.

Author: Robby Yu Ngai

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