International boarding schools become reality for some SHS students during COVID-19

October 18, 2020 — by Kavita Sundaram and Nika Bagherian
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 Coronavirus restrictions in the U.S. have made the freedom and novelty of international boarding schools more appealing to students.

Virtual education: A reality students have become all too familiar with. But while the majority of the student population has chosen to settle with an online education, others, like junior Linnea Bradley, have decided to take a different route. 

After COVID-19 hit the United States, Bradley decided to leave SHS and enroll at Brentwood College School, an international preparatory boarding school in Vancouver Island, Canada, in the hopes of being able to live in a new environment, take new classes and meet people. 

Known for its oceanfront campus as well as its selection of unusual classes such as entrepreneurship and pottery, according to the website, the Brentwood College School’s main goal is to act as a pre-college rather than a regular high school. 

Bradley said that Brentwood College School appealed to her because the school offers many unique opportunities to their students such as skiing trips, kayaking, various art classes and unusual sports and courses. 

The school’s location was also a plus. Bradley and her family took a vacation in the area in 2018 and were taken by the welcoming people and places of Victoria. Over the summer, her family began researching boarding schools there and decided on Brentwood College School partially because of its prime location. 

“Canada has far fewer COVID-19cases than the United States,” said Bradley. “This makes it possible for me to actually have in-person school as well as try new things.” 

Bradley was introduced to the idea of international schooling when her family hosted an exchange student from Switzerland. She saw the new experiences that her host student had and wanted that for herself. 

“I saw how [our exchange student] got to experience two completely different cultures and environments, and I thought it would be really fun if I could as well,” said Bradley.

Many families across the nation have also approached the idea of international boarding schools during the pandemic. According to an article published by Yahoo News, the number of enrollments in international boarding schools has increased on average in 2020 since international schools can provide students with in-person education and socialization opportunities. Some schools like Rugby Boarding School and St. Edward’s Oxford in England have received a record number of boarding students this year than ever in the past. 

Many students have felt that in-person school was of higher quality than online education. Many working parents have also struggled to assist their children with online school and are looking to boarding schools as a way to ease the load. 

“I didn’t enjoy having to sit at my desk for nine hours straight and stare at a screen,” Bradley said. “It made me sad.” 

There are currently around 500 students enrolled at Brentwood, and Bradley lives in a dorm with 50 people. While the school is in-person, Bradley only takes classes with a select group of students and has to socially distance with students outside of her dorm group. 

Each student at Brentwood lives with a roommate and a “houseparent,” a teacher who oversees their dorm. Having this sort of connection with a teacher made it a lot easier for Bradley to get to know her teachers.

“In Saratoga, I hadn’t gotten very close with any of my teachers,” said Bradley, “So it's nice to have a closer relationship with my teachers in Brentwood.”

While attending an international school has been a valuable experience, Bradley does miss certain aspects of Saratoga High school like her friends and the academic rigor. Still, she said the prime location, new opportunities and people of Brentwood College School have made the year memorable. In fact, she plans to stay at Brentwood for the rest of high school.

“I love the people, and the school is so pretty,“ she said.

 Bradley was not the only Falcon who thought about attending international school when the pandemic hit. As soon as the district halted in-person classes in March 2020, senior Audrey Tang traveled to Taiwan to spend time with her extended family.

“I decided that I would rather go to Taiwan and enjoy myself there than be cooped up at home,” Tang said. “Apart from a few cases, Taiwan is generally pretty safe.” 

 Through its restricted international travel restrictions, mandatory home quarantine decrees and strict public transit safety precautions, Taiwan has been hugely successful in curbing the spread of coronavirus. During their COVID-19 peak in March, Taiwan had an average of eight new cases and seven deaths per day and seven deaths total. Since then, Taiwan has only brought its numbers down, averaging only one new case a day as of August compared to the situation in the U.S. where 40,000 new cases a day has been common.

 During her spring stay in Taiwan, Tang spent a lot of time with her family and took up painting at a local studio. She also signed up for a virtual Barnard College creative writing course during the summer. This was a challenge as the classes were ran on Eastern Standard Time, forcing her to stay up to attend her classes at midnight. Tang and her family had planned to stay in Asia for the entire summer if COVID-19 cases didn’t decrease in the U.S., but complications with the family’s travel visas led her to return to Saratoga.

If Tang had decided to stay in Asia for the school year, she said she would have returned to her old school, Shanghai American School, which she attended for four years. Tang says the biggest difference between SHS and her old school in Shanghai is that they are learning in-person this fall.

Although her experience in Shanghai would be safer and she could go out every day to shop or hang out with friends, Tang said she is ultimately happy with her decision to return to Saratoga. 

“By leaving Taiwan, I was giving up a lot of my freedom to do as I pleased given the current climate,” Tang said. “But Saratoga will forever be my home, and I knew I had to finish my senior year here.”

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