Every September, Pickering College’s (PC) boarding program welcomes students from all walks of life into Grades 7 to 12. For some students, it’s their first time away from home. For others, not only do they have to navigate the challenges of settling into a new country, they also have to tackle fluent communication in a non-native language.
“It is normal to have mixed feelings about leaving home to go away to school,” says Laura Mason, Director of Boarding Life and Health Services at Pickering College. “It can be exciting to make new friends, have new experiences, be more independent and become more confident. We understand that students may also be feeling scared, homesick or lonely. It is not unusual for them to feel nervous about leaving their familiar surroundings and we tailor our program to help them through this transition.”
To help keep homesickness at bay, Pickering College’s boarding students live in a family-like atmosphere called a boarding family. Each family is headed by an Associate Faculty member (many of whom are qualified teachers) and are assisted by senior boarding students known as Proctors. Each family contains students from all different grades which allows for mentoring relationships to develop and flourish.
“Our boarding program is very robust and attempts to offer opportunities to suit everyone’s interests. We have activities that run each evening and a very extensive weekend activity program. There is no shortage of things to do for those willing to get involved and participate,” says Mason.
Pickering College provides boarding students with opportunities to experience Canadian culture, to develop new skills, to gain a greater understanding of the international community in which they live and to become independent thinkers. And the school’s boarding students are quick to tell you why they love the boarding program at Pickering College.
“As a boarding student, I really like the residences and boarding life,” says Eduardo Pita Leca, a Grade 12 boarding student from Curaçao who was brand-new to boarding this past school year. “I really enjoy that every day and night it’s a new adventure.”
“The students here at PC are very friendly and outgoing people no matter what your background, where you come from or if you’re a boarder or day student, you always have someone to talk to about almost anything,” says Kallin Raynor ‘15, a Pickering College graduate and boarding student from Bermuda. “The people you meet here at this school are essentially lifetime friends that you keep forever.”
“Since Pickering College is a diverse school, being a boarder has improved my integration with other nationalities,” explains Josephine Kanu ’16, a new Pickering College graduate and boarding student from Sierra Leone. “I have been able to communicate and bond with students from different grades and nationalities through classes, co-curricular activities, advisor meetings, advisor lunch and clubs. PC is just a fun, exciting and inspiring place to be.”
Tips to help students settle into the boarding environment
Pickering College works hard to ensure boarding students – especially those adjusting to a new culture and climate – ﬁnd the School to be a “home away from home.” It can be overwhelming at first – but Pickering reminds them that they are not alone, offering these tips to help students settle down:
Give it time
Big changes take time! Moving away from home and starting at a new school is a big change. We encourage students to give themselves space and time in order to adjust to this change. They try to take it one day at a time. It is likely that life will start to get easier as they become more familiar with the school routine and start to make new friends.
Stay in contact with old friends
While students are making new friends, it may help them to stay in touch with old friends back home. These are the people they’ll want to talk to about how the experience is making them feel. Although they are not able to be in same room with their friends, it is still possible to keep in touch via Skype, FaceTime, text message or by phone. Staff try to remind them that friends at home can be a bit slack when it comes to responding as life can get in the way, encouraging them not to take it to heart, while reminding them that new relationships take time to develop and grow.
Have something to look forward to
Sometimes it is helpful to plan ahead so that students have something to look forward to. They may want to plan to catch up with friends during the holidays or plan to do something special if their parents are coming to visit them at school.
The best way to make new friends is to get involved with School activities; this way, students are meeting people with whom they have things in common. They may want to get involved in sports, music, debate, community service or attend the evening and weekend activities offered in boarding, or actively participate in one of the Boarding Councils. There are many available options.
Organize something at school
Often other people are feeling nervous about making new friends. It can sometimes take a kind suggestion for someone to break the ice. Students may want to suggest shooting some hoops or heading to Upper Canada Mall. If they have a visitor, inviting other people out with them can be a great way to get to know them better.
Create your own space
Students are encouraged to make their space their own, helping them bring a slice of home into School. Posters, their favourite duvet cover, books, pictures of friends and family and ornaments may help them make their space feel more like home.
Being able to express how you’re feeling may help release some of the tension students often carry around with them.
Talk to someone
It may be helpful to talk to someone about how they are feeling. This may be through a friend, or through family members. Sometimes talking to someone who is not so close to the situation is helpful. The support offered at Pickering College is diverse; it could be the Family Head, Guidance Counsellor, Advisor, Nurse or any other adult with whom the student might feel comfortable.