- Posted by Amy Bell
- On November 12, 2023
A young British graduate and BSS member, shares her positive cultural and educational experience working as a house parent at an English language school
By Mary McCullough
I recently had the pleasure of working for Wimbledon School of English as a house parent at their residential summer language school. Based in Lord Wandsworth College, Long Sutton, Hampshire, for four weeks in July, 320 children of 21 different nationalities came to learn English, see some of England and of course have fun!
My role as house parent involved providing pastoral care to the girls in my house, being someone that they could turn to but also kicking back and having a laugh with them. Having been to a boarding school myself for five years, it was always amusing to catch them using all the same tricks which I had thought worked at that age. From surreptitiously scurrying around after lights out, to hiding in people’s wardrobes…to my own former house parents, I can now see how ridiculous I looked!
Like so many rural based boarding schools, Lord Wandsworth College was described as a bubble, but it was not as insular as it seemed. The sudden burst of diverse backgrounds that flocked the buildings meant that the quintessentially British school became host to a vibrant cosmopolitan fusion. Rather than jarring, the picturesque school, dripping in 100 years of history cradled this hub of nationalities. With only a small percentage of British people on site, it was down to the surroundings and trips to London, Windsor and Oxford to convey the British culture. Britain was a backdrop to the students’ experiences who in turn suffused the environment with diversity.
The term “school of English” implies that the overall aim was to attain a level of proficiency in the English language. Whilst this may be the primary objective for many of the parents, this goal somewhat ignores the potentially more significant gains to be made. Embedded between 2am wake ups for some questionable emergencies and explanations that a fire alarm requires an immediate response, were some charming moments that I had the pleasure of witnessing.
On the second evening, a group of ten girls (Italian, Slovakian, Argentinian and Turkish) were proactively getting to know each other and in the process broke down any potential for cliques between national identities. Over the course of the four weeks, the Argentinian tea, ‘mate’ was shared, the Turkish dance Halay was taught, and often tears were shed at the end of their stay. I remember thinking to myself “But you’ve only known each other for two weeks!” It was only when I left the language school that the reason for their sadness dawned on me.
Whenever I’ve been to Spain, I have always found there’s a Spanish version of myself that is unlocked when speaking the language and embracing the culture. I have been fortunate enough to return whenever I need to satisfy any Spanish cravings. But for the students at the language school, it would not just be a case of simply missing each other, but that part of themselves which had become enriched. This enrichment came about through a diverse range of cultures, encounters with others and friendships made, throughout their time there.
The social and emotional experiences of these young girls and boys at the language school were just as, if not more significant than their speaking and comprehension. Whilst their progress in English developed gradually, and was such as pleasure to observe, new characters emerged in response to people and place. Language schools and boarding schools present an environment rarely found elsewhere. It is not an experience that can be easily replicated. Beneath the language aims of the summer, a much deeper sense of self-discovery took place which often became apparent towards the close of each child’s stay.
On reflection, whilst the young people travelled physically to England, the more valuable journey was an internal one; horizons broadened, minds and characters enriched. So, a competency in the English language was never the end point, but a gateway to new experiences thus discovering new versions of themselves, the opening and entry to intercultural experiences and personal growth.
Note on Author:
Mary McCullough was educated at Stonyhurst College. She graduated in 2023 with a First Class Honours in Spanish and English Literature at the University of Reading