An American Perspective on Boarding School in Canada

American boarding students Neekan Motavaf (Grade 12) and Jenny Yeh (Grade 11) write about what it’s like moving from the United States to study and live in Victoria.


by Neekan Motavaf, Grade 12

Growing up in California, I felt that my world view was closed off to the fluid Bay Area culture that engulfed the Bay, from the global centre of innovation that was Silicon Valley to the Golden city of San Francisco. That is why when I made the decision to pursue my academic interests in Victoria, I was not prepared for the eye-opening experience when I first began collaborating academically and living alongside students and staff from many different cultural backgrounds. I soon realized that I had not touched the surface of gaining an in-depth global perspective when studying in the US, and through the large amount of opportunities provided, I began to develop cross-cultural communication and collaboration skills as a boarding student at St. Michaels University School.

A huge difference between St. Michaels University School and any other school I’ve attended in the United States is the vast amount of opportunities available to join clubs, pursue academic interests of choice, and truly find what you are passionate about. Having the opportunity to join the Intercultural Council, and enrol in a Criminology and Social Justice course taught by an outstanding professor are aspects of my SMUS experience that I will never take for granted, because without this school I would not have had the academic exposure to discover my passion for criminology and law.

Neekan and his Bolton House brothers during house games last school year.

Although living in another country without your family by your side is also a notable difference between SMUS and other schools, you have to remember that you are not alone. As a proud member of Bolton House, I have had the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with people from all over the world when living alongside boys from China, Mexico, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam and Oman. Living and learning about these different cultures and values are key experiences that have guided me towards the insightful global perspective all boarders gain once becoming a boarding student at St. Michaels University School. My experiences within the boarding houses as a newcomer last year allowed me to develop a sense of brotherhood and community amongst the diverse and intellectual student body within Bolton House, and led me to learn more about the beauty that resides in our cultural differences, and develop meaningful memories with my brothers that I will never forget.

I can confidently recommend that fellow American students join SMUS, because as I reflect on my experiences within the boarding community and the decision-making process of choosing to study abroad in Victoria, I have realized that if you are considering studying abroad in high school, then you have already found the courage to learn how to adapt to our school’s tight-knit culturally diverse community. Although I could never get used to how cool it is to wear a suit every day, and be able to wake up five minutes before class starts and still be there on time, I believe that the best aspect of the boarding experience are the memories that you will create here with our school that you will look back on in university and cherish forever.

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by Jenny Yeh, Grade 11

It’s only been roughly 60 days since I began experiencing boarding school life in Canada, but it’s been some of the most amazing days of my life. I’ve been to American public schools my whole life, and SMUS is the first independent school I’ve attended. Many people, when they first think of boarding school, get the impression that boarding schools are for students who aren’t disciplined – however, it’s nothing like that. Boarding is another opportunity for international students to experience a different culture for high school.

Coming from the United States, I’ve found that what I am studying at boarding school isn’t drastically different from what I’m used to. What’s different is how I’m learning it. The amount of support teachers give to students is really genuine. The staff here truly want each and every student to do well; both academically and mentally. Teachers at SMUS understand when you can’t meet a certain deadline or when you need to meet outside of normal class time. At the end of the day, teachers want you to do well and make sure you’re not overwhelmed. I’ve found that communication is the biggest thing to having a good bond with the teachers. As an AP student, time management is key; but with the understanding from teachers, it makes me feel less stressed to ensure that I’m handing work to my teachers at its full potential, and not something last minute.

When it comes to living on campus as a boarding student, one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between Canada and the United States is getting used to walking everywhere! Being a boarder, cars aren’t really the most efficient way to get to places. In the US, I’d drive everywhere but now I find myself enjoying the walks to my destination. Compared to living with my parents, I’ve found that boarding school has made me more organized and independent. There’s not a second person with me at all times to help remind me that I have several errands to run; that second voice is now me. I’ve become more organized because there’s always something to do after school, leading to me having to make sure I have no time conflicts with other activities. Even though I’m not living with my parents, the houseparents in each boarding house truly feel like second parents to me, as well. There’s always someone here to help and support you.

Another difference between California and Victoria is the weather! Some days I look at my closet and I think to myself, “I seriously underestimated the advice when my peers were telling me it’s colder than Southern California!” I’m slowly starting to get used to it though.

Jenny takes part in a weekend activity that saw her and fellow boarding students volunteer on a local farm.

For any American students considering boarding school in Canada, you really need to be open-minded about change. But take the opportunities that present themselves and go for it. Sometimes I think that if I hadn’t entered The Best School Year Ever contest, I wouldn’t be experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime chance. Especially being at SMUS, I’m learning something new every day. On top of switching schools I’m immersing myself into another culture, so open-mindedness is an important trait. When else would you be able to live in another country as a high school student? If boarding school interests you, I believe it is a great opportunity to find that once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Academically, I feel that I receive more support from teachers, because ultimately they want you to succeed in a class. Marks are determined based on the whole entire year, so you can truly see your progress and your understanding of the course; it’s not just term-based. At SMUS, class sizes are really small; my smallest class is a group of 4 and my largest is 19. Compare that to when I was studying back home and I had class sizes over 40.

I truly mean it when I say this about going to boarding school here: you get close with people really, really fast. With the amount of welcoming people that came to my room to introduce themselves within the first week of moving in and the inside jokes that were already formed, it truly feels like family. I’ve only been experiencing the boarding life for a little over two months, but I call a lot of my friends my second family. Quite honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without some of them. Maybe it’s because we’re all far away from home, and we all need each other to lean on. The feeling knowing that there’s always someone to talk to, someone to ask for homework help, go on a new adventure – whatever it may be, it’s an extraordinary feeling. In boarding, there’s always something to do; whether it’s going to the local mall, giving back to our local farms, or even a nice day on the field kicking soccer balls.

You learn to cherish the little moments because every day at boarding school is so different than the day before.

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