I too, go to (boarding) school — a tale of two friends

It was July, the start of my 16th year on earth, when I received a text from my friend Anna. One year my senior, we had gone to the same co-ed international school for as long as I could remember.

The summer before, Anna had left after for an all girl’s Catholic boarding school in England. She had mumbled something about “high Oxbridge acceptance rates” when I had, almost tearfully, asked why she was leaving Hong Kong.

The text read, “Hey Janet, how are you? Would you be up for a coffee tomorrow morning? Anna xx”.

I stared at my phone in silence. This, coming from someone who used to message me (and I quote verbatim) “yo dudee let’s hang after skl~!!”.

“Who r u and what have u done w Anna?! 😮” I eventually recovered and texted.

My phone beeped. “Haha! So, 10am? xx”

Since Anna had been the only one of my close friends to have gone abroad to study, I was dying to ask her what it was like.

Another part of me realized that we hadn’t spoken much, save for the perfunctory happy birthday message, since she’d left. Oops.

After a few moments of internal debate, my curiosity took the lead and I agreed to meet up with her the following day.

As I approached Starbucks with growing trepidation, I spotted a familiar red and white cardigan, black skinny jeans and long hair tied back with a scrunchie — the same Anna I knew on the outside.

We hugged, ordered our lattes, and sat down at a relatively quiet corner table.

“How ahh you?” Anna smiled. Thereafter, I listened in fascination as one word in every five she spoke was British-tinged. The remaining 80% consisted of same pseudo-American accents us international school kids had.

Any awkwardness towards our meeting began to melt as Anna started sharing parts of her new life abroad – from school curfews and prep to ‘socials’.

As she spoke, I began to dream about fusing school and home. Most of my classmates wouldn’t think twice about staying out past 10 pm to hang out on a Saturday night. On the other hand, we’d all be neighbors anyway. Would a curfew matter as much in that case?

“What do you do during weekends?” I asked curiously.

Anna tilted her head to the side, thinking, then mentioned classes on Saturday morning, some sports practice and prep in between. The word prep seemed to pop up a lot in our conversation, and I had assumed she meant some form of preparation for the classes and/or sports meets.

Only until Anna grumbled that one teacher always set the class “far more prep” than could be done, did it finally dawn on me that she meant ‘homework’.

“Sometimes we have exeats and I stay at our family friend’s home in London”, she added. Before she could continue, I hastily asked her what ‘exeats’ were. Anna explained that it was a long weekend, sometimes a week, whereby the school was closed and the girls went home for a short break.

Giving me a wry smile, Anna said, “it took me at least a month to catch on to boarding school language. Now, it just seems so weird not to use it!”

I joked that our international school was probably the same. Infusing us with similar accents, speed of speech, and certain slang. Not to mention that some teachers also had a penchant for giving too much ‘prep’.

We shared a laugh and agreed that schools would be schools, irrespective of where they sat in the world.

A few reciprocal stories from my end later, we said our goodbye’s. Anna suddenly turned to me and confessed, half-shyly, “it’s weird to be back in Hong Kong for the summer, when I feel like everyone else has moved on a year without me”.

I knew she was referring to her friends, the people in the year above at school.

“Anyway Janet, I had so much fun. Thanks for coming out to meet me.” Anna grinned.

The confident Anna resurfaced; the one whom I could count on as an older sister, who would share with me her stories of nightmare teachers and how to get away with skipping classes on the school bus.

I hugged Anna goodbye and told her sincerely to keep in touch. She waved and walked off towards the MTR station.

A few minutes later, I took out my phone.

“Hey Anna, thx for coffee. Wanna do lunch next week? xx”

My phone beeped.

“Sounds gr8. See u soon ;)”