“The narrow path had opened suddenly on to the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets towers.”- J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
So I don’t know about any other Americans, but this image is the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear the words “boarding school”. Idiotic as it may seem, I’ve never run across a real one in my life, that is until this year.
When I found out I was going to have the opportunity to come live in France for a year, almost the first thing I did was asked about housing.
“Where do you recommend I live?” I asked my professor.
“There’s an internat at one of the school’s you’re going to be teaching at and you can live there.”
Doing a quick wordreference.com translate, I soon found out that internat is in fact the French term for…boarding school. I immediately began to get excited.
I have since learned what the Internat is for. See, schools in France are specialized. You want to become a teacher, then you’re on a certain track. You want to become a plumber then you’re on a certain track. So some students might choose a specialty, especially a “professsional” (vocational school) one that is not readily available at the high school in their town. The example I was given was upholstery. You want to study upholstery you go to a bigger city. Now the next town over has what they want to study. However, it’s a long drive and finding an apartment or some other form of housing could be expensive. Enter the internat.
This provides students with an easy way to live on campus and study during the week without having to do a long commute every day or try to find elsewhere to live. Very practical.
Now don’t get my wrong, it’s cheap and very convenient accommodation. I can probably make it to my class in five minutes time and more than 3/4 of my salary now get to go to travel instead of a fancy apartment. However, my Hogwarts assumptions have quickly been thwarted and here’s why.
It’s nothing glamorous: Substitute the castle with a grubby mod building, tapestries with peeling mint green paint, fireplaces with rattling radiators, and four poster bed with a thin pad of foam in place of a mattress. Although the school grounds themselves are lovely, the building here is nothing short of hideous.
How do you sleep!?!: Well, after living in a cupboard for years, Harry’s beds likely felt luxurious (well and magic private school might account for some of that too), but my bed left me with a sore back my first week until I finally went hunting for a mattress pad. And even then it’s not great because French mattress pads are more to protect the mattress than to actually give comfort. And don’t even get me started on the round sausage shaped pillows…
Teenagers are idiots: Oh wait…I think Harry Potter does cover that one… but it’s one thing to read about Neville melting Seamus’s cauldron and having to go to the hospital wing, and quite another to have to evacuate the building in the middle of the night because some teenager was smoking in their room. Well at least my room is in a separate wing so most of the time I don’t have to interact with them other than during potential evacuations. Oh Harry, I imagine how much your fellow classmates must have gotten sick of you, you little trouble maker!
I wish house-elves prepared my food: I’m sure Hermione would lament, but I’m so ready for a delicious meal that I might even condone the service of house-elves. Just plain old cafeteria meals for me. I thought it might be manageable due to how good the meals were in the college I studied abroad at. However, high school cafeterias < college cafeterias…even in France. I’m just lucky I’m not at a middle school I suppose (middle school<high school). The good news is it’s cheap, and usually fairly filling…just not…delicious…
Goodbye cooking: Harry probably doesn’t think about this one, but as a young adult it’s much more troublesome. Well, my friends and family will tell you I’m not much of a cook. Much of college consisted of spaghetti and hotdogs or rice and vegetables… but when you remove all forms of heat and leave me with only a fridge…well the options become even more limited. I never thought I’d be one to complain about not having a kitchen, but let me tell you it’s sad. I broke down and bought a coffee pot at least… and they say a microwave is coming, but I’d give anything to be able to bake a few cookies or make a good hot meal!
Candles might just be brighter: Hogwarts might not have electricity, but that almost sounds better than the flickering lights that make me think I’m in one of the episodes of Stranger Things. My poor little wasteful American heart can’t take this one dim little light! What is this nonsense? Bring out the big bulbs!
I’ll take Peeves any day: Did I mention teenager boys are idiots? Music blaring at seven in the morning and loud shouting to one another in the stairwell. Oh yes, bring on the poltergeists… at least when they go through the door it will be quiet.
So yes, not quite the beautiful fantasy I imagined, but I’m holding tight to the advantages. I don’t have to take a long commute to work every day. I’m saving money to go travel and enjoy myself (which is why I’m here incidentally, not to have a nice flat). I don’t have to go argue with someone in French about a problem with my utilities or worry about paying a nasty tax or anything of the like. I even get to live with three other assistants!
So here’s what I’ll say to any fellow assistants who might be considering a “boarding school” setting. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It will simplify a lot of the process that is already quite complicated and frustrating in the process.
But you know, Harry finds a home in Hogwarts, which I don’t blame him for at all now that I know how much worse it could have been for the poor guy. However, what I have always taken from Harry’s situation is that home doesn’t have to be where your family is. It doesn’t have to be a traditional house. It doesn’t have to be the place you’ll live for the rest of your life. It can be where you make it. The place you make connections. The place you accept, regardless of all it’s problems.
As someone who loves traveling, if I am staying anywhere for more than three days I always unpack first thing. Get my things put away and set up and you know what? After a little bit it starts to feel just a little bit like home.
Still missing everyone, of course, but it’s good to know that even if I haven’t been whisked away to a castle in Scotland, I can still find some happiness in what I have.