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15 December 2023
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

What's Stonyhurst Like, Charlotte?

A grey hello from Richmond!
After Max Hall, who attended first Ocean College and then Framlingham College, started off our new blog series with testimonials from students, Charlotte Schüle is next. Actually, we'd been planning to only interview students who had been placed at boarding schools in England, Scotland or Ireland by us and whose time at school was already over. Charlotte is currently still a student at Stonyhurst College, but she can already look back on an entire school year and use that to offer valuable insights and tips.
Charlotte with friends on Stonyhurst's campus
Charlotte's start at Stonyhurst College
Charlotte, please introduce yourself.
So, I'm Charlotte and I've just turned 18. I come from Staufen, which is a small town near Freiburg, and I attended the state grammar school (Gymnasium) there. I had already reached 10th grade there before I decided to attend Stonyhurst College about a year ago, to go to school there for two years. I started in September 2022 and in July 2024 I'll complete my IB degree.
What gave you the idea to attend a boarding school in England?
When I was in the 7th grade, the daughter of one of my neighbours was at a boarding school in England and she said this would also be the thing for me. I wasn't convinced at first, but the more she told me about it and the more I read about it online and in books, the more I was interested. Besides being a cool experience, it's also something that will help me in the future. My English is getting better, and in Germany I had quite a lot of absences from school. I thought a good boarding school in England might be ideal. Then, when I was in the 9th grade, I looked more intensively into the idea. A few of my friends were already at a boarding school in England at that time after being placed there by von Bülow Educations, and they were very satisfied. I just called the office and asked if they could help me.
Why exactly did you choose Stonyhurst?
Von Bülow gave me some catalogues and introduced me to specific schools which might suit me. Then I visited them, and I just thought Stonyhurst College was the best one. The other boarding schools told me about how great their school was and how beautiful the location was. Stonyhurst treated me like a person. In my motivational letter I wrote that I like art, I'm interested in economics, and I like to play tennis. During my visit to Stonyhurst I met the art teacher and the tennis coach I have now. I also talked to the Head of Higher Line Mr Edward Allanson about which subject combinations would be perfect for me. The fact that everyone treated me like this and that everyone was incredibly friendly made me feel like I was in good hands at Stonyhurst. I then registered and, after finishing 10th grade in Germany, I registered for the IB there for the two years, which is roughly the equivalent of the Abitur in Germany.
How was your first day at Stonyhurst?
My parents came with me and I was very excited. But the welcome I received from my housemother, the teachers and the other students was very warm. Later in the day I also wanted to be "alone", just with the other students, and I said to my parents: "Okay, bye, see you again during the holidays!" I was then led around and introduced to everyone, but not like, "Look, here's the new girl", just openly and sympathetically.
Charlotte chilling with friends in her boarding house
Charlotte's life at the boarding house in Stonyhurst
How were your house and your room?
I was in the girls' boarding house Poetry, because at Stonyhurst they also give names to the year groups and the 11th grade is called Poetry. In my house there were about 60 girls. The Sixth Form, i.e. the last two years, all have their own rooms to themselves. Because they're all different sizes, the rooms are changed every "term". I've had really big rooms every time. In the last "term" I had a large room with a great view of the wonderful scenery. Before I had a view of the courtyard. We have quite long breaks and during them you can go to your room or even be alone at the weekend to study. At Stonyhurst there are application forms where you can say who you'd like to live next to or what's particularly important to you. For example, I've always said that a large window is important to me. If it's possible, your wishes will be fulfilled. As for the bathrooms, at the end of each corridor is a large bathroom with showers, washing machines, dryers and so on.
When did you start to feel at home at Stonyhurst?
I didn't take much with me at the start, so my room was still quite impersonal. Then I started hanging up photos and decorating it with fairy lights. So from the third week my room was at the point where I could say: "Okay, this is my home now." But I would say, from the point of view of the people, it was relatively quick. I would say it took about a week or two for me to become integrated. I also got to know some really nice people, I have to say.
When did you make friends for the first time?
Right on the first day. The girl who showed me around immediately became my friend and I immediately found a connection through her circle of friends. My friend from Switzerland was also new and we also made friends straight away. I believe that you're particularly open when you don't know anyone yet, and when you're welcomed with open arms like at Stonyhurst, it's very easy to make friends.
Was homesickness an issue for you?
Yes, early on. I was really sick at the beginning, and that was right after I arrived and on my birthday. School started on the 6th of September, and the 15th was my birthday and I had a nasty cold. The combination was already like being homesick and it wasn't nice. Then my father came to visit and everything was fine again, and we had a small celebration with my friends with cakes and games. Then I just rested, and my homesickness went away along with my cold.
How was your relationship with your houseparents?
Last year we almost had two housemothers, the actual housemother and her daughter. You have to be quite formal and you call her "Miss", and if you want something, you say "Thank you, miss", but our relationship with her isn't like with the teachers, it's closer. I love my housemother and we can always just come to her if we need something or want to talk. She's super caring. If you're having a problem or you're sick, she'll knock on our door and check on you or you can also go straight to the health centre.
Charlotte with her best friend
How do you deal with any arguments?
If you have a problem, you just go and sort it out with each other. If that doesn't work, you can go to the housemother, but I haven't experienced that in my time at Stonyhurst. There also aren't any groups here which are against one another or anything like that. Of course, there are people who you're closer friends with than you are with others, but in general the boarding here is very harmonious.
What does a day off school look like for you?
On Saturday we only have half a day of school. From 12 o'clock I have sports on my schedule, and then free time. I can sleep in on Sundays. Well, almost. I'm in the choir and I have to sing in the mass at 11 o'clock in the morning and an hour before for the choir rehearsal. Before that I have breakfast with friends, and after mass we all go to brunch. This is the culinary highlight at Stonyhurst, because there are pancakes, waffles, ice cream, doughnuts, cakes and other sweets. Until 2 o'clock, then everyone does what they want, and then we usually call a taxi and drive into town. When we stay at school, we play tennis, go for a walk or watch a movie.
What's the relationship like between the boarding school students and the locals in Lancashire?
When we go into town, we usually tell our taxi driver where we'd like to be let out. Most of the time it's at the supermarket in Clitheroe to buy food. Clitheroe is the nearest small town. But you don't really talk to the locals then; you just go to the city and just do the things you want to do. That's all.
When you talk about food – what’s the food like at Stonyhurst?
The food at Stonyhurst is good. Of course, my friends and I complain, but we know that this is just high standards. There is a main course and side dishes like pasta, rice, vegetables, potatoes and things from the salad bar which we can choose for this. There is also dessert and fruit every day. There are dishes like Yorkshire pudding which I don't like at all, and then there are things like apple crumble again.
Is there a special school tradition or events at the boarding school which you particularly liked?
Yes, singing together. Either at the singing lessons once a week or at mass. There are a few songs that we all always sing together, like "Gloria" or "Pater Noster"; they just become second nature to us and it's fun to sing together with the whole community. Another thing I really like isn't so much a tradition as a habit. We go to the ref, which is our cafeteria, with friends from the choir, to have something to eat there after singing. There's a lot more emphasis on shared activities here than in Germany. Another highlight for me is the Creative Weekend "Great Academies", which the parents also come to. It's a weekend in May which we start preparing for months in advance. The choir practices songs, there are sports events, an art exhibition and even a small military parade. What is the community like between the houses? Are there any competitions? No, not between the houses, but between the “lines”. It's a bit like Harry Potter. At the beginning you'll be assigned to a line. These are made up of students from all the year groups and houses. Each line has a captain and once a week there are small competitions between the lines. Sometimes it's a race, sometimes a chess game or something like that. At the end of the school year, the line with the most points gets a trophy.
Charlotte's cozy single room last term
England vs. Germany - Charlotte compares
Was there anything about boarding school life that surprised you?
All the academic support! So I don't know if this is anything to do with the fact that I was at a normal state school before, but this surprised me quite a bit. It's a nice feeling to know that you can go into an exam as prepared as possible. Another thing which hasn't surprised me as much as it has my friends in Germany is that actually, no one here is spoiled and superficial, which is the preconception people always have about boarding school students. I actually think that everyone is a lot more open, much nicer and they just have a different joie de vivre. I can't say exactly what it is, but I actually feel more comfortable at Stonyhurst than I did at school in Germany.
Are your friends at Stonyhurst more from Germany or England?
My closer friends are more German, but I'm also friends with a few English people. My best friend here is from Switzerland. I didn't deliberately make friends with Germans; it was more just because we took the same subjects. In February I went on a trip to New York, where I was travelling with just English people, who are now my friends. It just always depends on what you do, and then it just happens.
What were the differences between the teachers in Germany and those atStonyhurst College?
If I need or say something at Stonyhurst, I can get the exam papers, just to practice or whatever, and they'll give it to you. I also recently took part in a Biology Olympiad because my teacher asked me and trusted me. Our team also won the first prize. This is completely different to how it is in Germany. Here the teachers approach you because they believe in you.
For you, what were the biggest differences between Germany and England in terms of education?
The language. At first I thought in German and translated it into English. I kept mixing German words in. Now what happens is that sometimes in Germany I can no longer thing of the German words, because I often think in English.
Charlotte shortly before attending a school ball
The Academics: Studying at Stonyhurst College
How did you cope with the lessons in English?
Well, I started reading specialist articles in English even before I came to Stonyhurst, to become more familiar with the jargon. Maths, Biology and so on weren't a problem. Out of the six subjects I took, I found English as a second language to be the most difficult. It was just much more demanding than it was in Germany.
What are your English skills like now, after a year?
If I had to rank my English on a scale of 1 from 10, I would say that it was a 6 to 7 before and now it's a straight 10. The difference is really stark.
What does a typical timetable at Stonyhurst look like for you?
Monday was always my longest day. I got up at 7 am and then I had a choir rehearsal at the church at 8.30 am. At 9 am was double Art. After that there was a break, and then before lunch was Maths. Afterwards I had Biology, German and then the last lesson was Economics. Then I had Model United Nations. That was a very long day from morning to evening, and then homework. But Friday was always very chilled. That day I had half an hour with my tutor in the morning, then Biology and Maths and then Sports. After lunch I had two "study periods", which is a time for relaxed study in your room, and at the end another hour of German.
Did you have a favourite subject?
Actually, I like all my subjects. I currently have four Higher Levels which are Maths, German, English and Biology. Next "term" I'll reduce it to the normal number of three. At Standard Level I have Art and Economics. At first I wasn't sure if Economics was the right thing for me, but now it's probably my favourite subject. This is thanks in part to my Economics teacher, who is just great. She inspires me and she's incredibly supportive. I also want to study Economics after my IB and she's already given me a list of books to deepen my knowledge.
Was there a subject you had problems with?
In the first "term" my marks weren't so good yet, because I still had to settle in. For example, in biology I had 4 out of a possible 7, which isn't good. Then I visited the "clinics". This is a kind of tutoring which is available for every subject after school. Also, my tutor, who is also my art teacher, helped me. She's just the best and she's really helped me to work towards my university goal. Now I have 7 out of 7 and I perform at a high level in all my subjects.
Charlotte at one of Stonyhurst's parties
Sports and extracurricular activities at Stonyhurst
You said that, among other things, tennis was a deciding factor for you at Stonyhurst College. Have you tried any other sports?
Yes, the sports offer at Stonyhurst is very comprehensive. As well as tennis, I played netball, did yoga, and also tried hockey and swimming. But those two sports weren't really for me.
You mentioned that on Mondays you always had Model United Nations. Have you participated in any other extracurricular activities?
In addition to Model United Nations, I've also worked on a Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award. For this I had to prove myself in various disciplines: volunteering, sports, expeditions and an internship. I did netball as my sport, volunteered for the military service, i.e. the CCF, and helped out in the library. The expedition is just done in groups with other people and it’s organised by the school. For the internship I still need to have my time in Brazil recognised. When it's recognised, I'll get the Gold Award. In Brazil, I lived with a host family who I met through a colleague of my father's. The family owns coffee plantations, where I worked as an intern for a few days. I also did research there for my Extended Essay in Economics, which is part of the IB. The study dealt with the topic of how a specialisation in coffee production could improve economic wellbeing in Brazil.
This is how birthdays are celebrated!
Charlotte's highs and lows at Stonyhurst College
What did you like the most about Stonyhurst so far?
I think it's the normal everyday school life and the fact that I still get challenged again and again. At Stonyhurst I can get out of my comfort zone and do things I'd never have done otherwise. Like taking part in a Biology Olympiad or conferences with Model United Nations, for example.
What has been the most significant experience so far that you'll tell your grandchildren about?
I'd probably tell my grandchildren about the expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. It was tough, but exciting. We had to walk 20 to 30 kilometres every day for several days, plan everything ourselves as a team and find our way with just a compass and a map.
What were the best excursions?
We took a trip to New York in February. That was great! Apart from that, we went to the zoo for Biology, to the museum in Manchester for Art, and we had a look around Oxford.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
I think that at the beginning, just not putting so much pressure on myself was the biggest challenge. Just giving myself time to get used to everything.
What do you like the least about Stonyhurst?
If you're not careful and you don't plan everything properly, you'll quickly get overwhelmed. The range of extracurricular activities is really very broad. But even if you try to do too much, there is help available at Stonyhurst. So actually I can't name anything I don't like, except maybe the food.
Charlotte on a Duke of Edinburgh excursion
Charlotte's experiences and advice for new students
Would you do everything the same way again or is there anything you'd change?
I would put less pressure on myself at the beginning.
Did the time you spent at boarding school in England influence your life and career goals?
Yes, definitely. After getting several introductions to different professions, I really think that economics is the one which is most important to me. It's great that I can now apply to good universities. In the meantime, I'm also considering studying economics with sustainable development.
Has the school changed anything for you in terms of values and personality development?
In Germany, people tell me that I've become more serious, more grown-up. I would say of myself that I've become more open, and also more self-confident and bold. The Stonyhurst school motto is "Quant je puis", i.e. "As much as I can". You kind of take that with you.
What do you think about school uniforms?
We wear suits and I think that's great. You feel more professional and confident, because only the sixth form are allowed to wear suits.
What do you recommend to students who are interested in attending Stonyhurst College?
Stonyhurst doesn't just help you at school and for your further professional life. You'll find real friends there. There's no such thing as a typical Stonyhurst student. Anyone who goes there basically just has to be curious and interested, and also to get involved in extracurricular activities. At Stonyhurst we always say that if a club we want doesn't exist yet, we just start it. Stonyhurst becomes more selective in terms of grades and achievements. My advice is to enjoy the time before you go with family and friends at home, because you're about to be separated from them for quite a long time. Then when you're at school, just let everything come to you and don't put too much pressure on yourself.
Bonus question: Is there anything that von Bülow Educations can do even better?
No, all of that was really very good. I was recommended the school which was most suitable for me. I was able to take a look at the school and they helped me a lot with my motivational letter. After half a year or so, they even checked up on how I was doing at Stonyhurst. And they're always there for me, in case anything happens. I think that's great.
Thank you for the interview, Charlotte!

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