Boarding schools are quite interesting to work at. I had to let go of everything I thought I knew about schools and relearn it all over when I joined Leysin American School. From relationships with families, to onboarding new students, even to food in the cafeteria, a boarding school is not just a space for students to attend classes, take tests and then get “leveled up” to the next grade. I learned that a boarding school, when done right, becomes a second home for a student. It’s a place where they arrive exhausted from a long day at school to a smiling dorm head who asks how their day went. They then go to their room, hang out with their roommate and proceed to cook in the lounge.

Without a sense of home, boarding schools cannot survive.

A boarding school is a place where a student learns about who they truly are, whether it be in terms of interests, likes and dislikes, hobbies, or their favorite school subjects – and all of this occurs in a space they grow to consider home. So what makes a boarding school a home?

Upon asking myself that question quite a few times, I was able to narrow it down to two important points. The first is feeling safe to be ourselves and the second is being surrounded by people that we can depend on.

Now let us try to recreate that sense of home for 300 students coming from over 60 nationalities. How do we go about it? Simple, we go back to the basics, which come down to empathy and kindness. Having traveled quite a lot and met people from all over the world, I can confidently say that the two qualities of empathy and kindness are universal and when implemented correctly, everyone gets to feel seen and heard, which is what home is all about.

Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as the following: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

On a daily basis, we encounter moments in our lives that require the use of empathy and kindness but at a boarding school, those qualities get tested over and over again. Examples that come to mind for admissions representatives are being empathetic to how big and difficult the decision is for parents to separate from their child so that they can live abroad. Even if it makes complete sense, it is still a very emotional decision. Empathy is understanding the fear of a mother who, living thousands of kilometers (or miles) away from their child when they are sick and her calling you often to ask for more information. Empathy is observing a student accomplishing a big feat in their teenage years and snapping a quick photo and sharing it with their parents. Empathy is asking a family how birthdays are usually celebrated in their home and trying our best to recreate that atmosphere for the student in question on campus.

Empathy requires foresight, commitment and generally being a decent, kind human being. So how do we make sure that we are providing an empathetic environment for our students?

We listen, we observe, we ask questions (over and over again). We step away from assuming we know how to do it and instead become the students ourselves as the students and their parents teach us their unique ways of creating a home – and then we try our best to recreate it for them.

To read the 2022 issue of the International Admissions Bulletin, click here. If you are interested in contributing to our 2023 edition, please email [email protected]
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