I enjoyed middle school (J.S.S.) in Ghana. The friends I made are still friends today. Secondary School, or boarding school in Ghana, in my opinion, was just an extension of J.S.S. in some respect, though in S.S. you spend every waking day with, if you’re lucky, familiar friends from old, and hopefully some new ones.
In my case, they were all new friends. My first-choice school was one that most of my middle school girls chose too; one of Ghana’s top girls schools, but I didn’t get accepted—so I went to my 2nd choice school, Mfantsiman. I knew nobody.
Which brings me to my first lesson: Work hard to position yourself for the best opportunities when they come knocking. But if for some reason you miss your boat, you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be anyway. So don’t sweat it.
Not knowing anyone in Mfantsiman was hard, especially since I had heard horror stories of boarding school. Stories of seniors terrorizing and hazing first-year students. I was afraid of being singled out, and not being able to blend in with the rest of the form one girls. What if they don’t like me? What if seniors picked on me? What if I got assigned the most disgusting chores? What if my eczema flares up? What if I’m not able to hand wash my clothes properly? What if my stuff got stolen, or the seniors confiscated my food?? These questions plagued me daily.
My suspicions were valid. I arrived at school on the first day with all the other form one girls. We unloaded our cars, packed away our trunks, said goodbye to our parents and they left. An hour later we were herded into the dorm’s outdoor courtyard and asked to kneel down. The hazing had begun. Bewildered, I looked left, then right, into faces of strangers my age. Their fearful expressions mirrored mine.
2: People are just as nervous as you are, have the courage to break the ice. Friends are waiting on the other side of “hello”.
The friends you’ll make in boarding school will be unlike any other friends you’ll have. You’ll bond over unforgettable memories. Boarding school is like boot camp where you rely on your friends, your wit, and your God to get by. Think of it as a school for hard knocks where some of life’s grayest areas present itself on a daily basis. Life lessons like, how to juggle various personalities, balancing self-interest with empathy, working smart versus working hard, and figuring out how to get out of tough situations. In boarding school, you’ll learn that who you’re friends with carries you further and gets you out of more trouble than you could ever image.
3: Who you know can take you further than smarts and hard work combined.
Boarding school taught me that people are complex, with different motivations. I learned that you can be loved by many and still be hated by others. Everyone won’t like you all the time. Some folks will hate you just because—and you’ll have to be okay with that.
One way to nurture relationships is by genuinely enjoying the company of others. Listen to their stories, relate to them with your own. When you’re with someone, they should feel like they always have your undivided attention. Try to by a helpful friend; the person people can rely on to help them—something your mom does so well and that I’m sure you’ve learned from her—but at the same time, be smart; know your limits and when to pull away.
4: Cultivate personal power by nurturing relationships with other people and draw people in with kindness.
Boarding school was hard. The 5 am wake-up bell was hard. Morning chores scrubbing the bathroom was hard. Fetching water was hard. Putting up with seniors was hard. Everything I knew about myself indicated that boarding school was the place where I would unravel, knee-deep in tears and self-pity. But I didn’t cry there—a rather unfamiliar strength blossomed.
What seemed like the furthest outpost at the end of the world taught me the most important thing in my life; the lesson that pays lifelong dividends, the mantra I tell myself each morning:
Beautiful girl, YOU can do hard things.
And this, my dear little cousin Nhyira, is the gift I leave you with as you go off to boarding school. I hope you discover an open heart to enjoy the sweetest things and the strength deep inside you to endure the hardest.
This post is dedicated to my dear Nhyira, as she heads off to boarding school.