If there is one word to describe boarding life universally, it is consuming. This is not necessarily negative; in fact, the consuming nature of boarding life is often what makes it so successful. Living with the people you go to school with fosters stronger relationships. Seeing your teachers during meal times makes communication easier. Being around a community of people engaged in various activities, with concerts and games and performances happening constantly, makes it difficult not to find yourself involved in such activities.
But engagement in boarding life can come at a cost. Having strong relationships with boarding school friends makes it harder to maintain relationships with people outside of school. Being engrossed in studies and activities is beneficial, but it leaves little time to go out with friends, hang out in your room, or just waste time. Being far from one’s family may teach independence, but it also leads to missing out on quality time.
As a weekday boarder (I go home almost every weekend), I have no excuse not to be engaged in the outside world. I can easily plan to go out with friends outside of school on the weekends or spend more time with my family. But because of the consuming nature of boarding life, I often don’t. It’s much easier to simply hang out with the people that you see five days a week than to make an effort and reconnect with old friends. It’s more tempting to stay at home and finish the pile of work you have than to go to a family gathering or birthday party.
I’m especially sensitive to this problem, because Jordanian culture is rooted in familial relationships. It’s odd to most people that I only see my extended family once or twice a month, or that most of my neighbors don’t know me. It’s hard for me, too, when I see family and friends checking up on each other, when I know little about their lives.
This problem certainly does not apply to everyone—I know many people who manage to maintain relationships and stay close to family even while boarding—and it also isn’t a boarding school’s fault. Nevertheless, it seems that, especially in my school, there is little effort to keep students engaged with the outside world. Simply going to the nearest town requires a set of permissions, and boarders have a limited number of times when they can leave campus during the week (and even on weekends for full boarders). Students have little interaction with other schools, and when there is, be it a basketball game or a debate competition, it happens at a time when other activities are also running.
Boarding life is almost always engaging, but more effort needs to be put in to prevent that engagement from turning into isolation.