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24 May 2024
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

How Are You Doing At Uppingham School, Anna?

Greetings from sunny Richmond,
In the next installment of our interview series with boarding school students from England, Scotland, and Ireland, Anna Dobbelstein shares her experiences at Uppingham School in England. Anna is one of the rare exceptions where we are keen to hear about her experiences while she is still attending boarding school, rather than waiting until she has finished. She has already completed two of the three terms and has a lot to share. In our interview, Anna talks about her beginnings and daily school life, with all its ups and downs. She also offers valuable tips for parents and students considering a school year in England, specifically at Uppingham School.

Anna's Start at Uppingham School

Anna, please introduce yourself.

My name is Anna Dobbelstein, I am 16 years old and I come from Göttingen. Before starting my year abroad at Uppingham School in England, I attended the state-run Max-Planck-Gymnasium in Göttingen. I am now in the 11th grade and have taken up four A-Levels at Uppingham.

How did you come up with the idea of attending a boarding school in England?

When I was 14, in the 9th grade, I started thinking about it. Initially, I was unsure whether to go to England or the USA. I had already spent three weeks in the USA as an exchange student. At first, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to spend the 10th or 11th grade abroad. However, I knew for a long time that I wanted to leave home and experience something new, to make good use of the extra year gained through G9.

Why did you ultimately choose a boarding school in England?

Initially, I applied to an American organization called ASSIST to attend a boarding school in the USA. However, I quickly had doubts, especially because I couldn't choose the school myself. It was important for me to know exactly what I was getting into. I also spoke with various people who had already attended a boarding school and did a lot of research. Through these conversations and research, it became clear that British boarding schools have an excellent reputation and better suited my artistic interests. In the end, it seemed the best option for me.

How did you come across the boarding school consultancy from Bülow Education?

A recommendation from friends led me to Mr. Steinbeis and his team. There are many consultancy organizations, but I was specifically looking for schools that accept students for just one year and from the tenth grade. Mr. Steinbeis was very flexible and quickly found suitable schools for me. With other organizations, this would have taken much longer.
Anna on her first day in front of her boarding house, The Lodge
After visiting schools and taking various entrance exams, which I took very seriously, it was time to make my decision. The excitement grew as it became serious, and I prepared for the adventure abroad. What initially seemed abstract became more tangible over time.

Why did you choose Uppingham School specifically?

Among the shortlisted schools, my top two choices were Uppingham School and Cheltenham Ladies College. Initially, I also considered this prestigious IB school, but then it would have been better to go to England for two years. During my personal visit, I found Uppingham spontaneously more appealing. The reception was very warm, and the surroundings simply beautiful.
However, the main criterion for choosing Uppingham School was the music. Music is very important to me, and I am considering studying music, possibly even as part of a double degree. It has always been significant to me, and Uppingham had the best reputation and music program among non-specialized music schools.

How was your first day at Uppingham School?

Before my school start at the boarding school, I went to England with my parents in the summer. I attended a chamber music course and visited English friends. On my first day, my parents brought me here. It was a special and exciting moment when I arrived, even though I already knew the town. We had coffee together, and then they said goodbye. It was a bit wistful because I knew I wouldn't see them for a long time. At the same time, I was very curious and excited about what was to come.
When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by my House Mistress's husband. There weren't many other students yet, so I had time to talk to him and calm down. After that, everything happened quickly. I was assigned my room, unpacked a few things, and gradually more and more students arrived. We introduced ourselves and got to know each other a bit.
Anna's boarding house, The Lodge, is exclusively for Sixth Form students and is one of 15 houses
The first day was really designed to make you feel integrated immediately and not sit alone in your room and get homesick. Initially, I was a bit overwhelmed with the many places I had to visit and the different routines, but I could always ask people, and they were always helpful.

Was homesickness an issue for you at the beginning of your boarding school time?

In the first week, especially when classes started, and we worked a lot in groups, I sometimes felt overwhelmed and occasionally homesick, which was new for me. Normally, I am not the type to get homesick. But knowing I would spend a whole year in England was different from a short stay at a youth camp. There were many beautiful moments, but also ups and downs. During the first term, there were days when I didn't feel comfortable and longed for home.

How did you overcome your homesickness?

I often called my parents, which helped a lot. The house parents made it clear to all of us that it was okay to feel unwell and that we could always come to them. This created a supportive atmosphere. However, talking to other students or the house parents about my homesickness initially didn't feel right because I hadn't known them for long. Later, I did share my feelings with other students who felt the same. Some were also at a boarding school for the first time, even if they were from England, and it was a new experience for them too. By the second half of the year, my homesickness had completely disappeared. I was so busy with extracurricular activities that I didn't have time to sit in my room and think about homesickness.

Anna's Life in the Boarding House at Uppingham School

What is your boarding house like at Uppingham?

I was able to choose which house I wanted to live in and chose The Lodge. It was built around 1870 and looks like a small castle from the outside. When I send pictures of it to my friends, they are always impressed. It is a tall stone building with many different rooms. Unlike other houses where the rooms are all the same, The Lodge still has the charm of the old. Of course, we have WiFi.
The dining hall in the boarding house
The Lodge is the only house that accommodates only 11th and 12th-grade girls. This has the advantage that everyone goes to bed around the same time and is of a similar age. We are about 45 girls in the boarding house, about 22 per year. Most of them are native English speakers.
The other houses are partly larger, but I think none have as many rooms as my house. At Uppingham, the boarding houses are not just places to sleep but also places where all meals are taken together. It really feels like home and not just a place where you have your room.

What is your room like at The Lodge in Uppingham?

I live in a single room, and even though I am often out and about, I love having a room to myself. When you need some time for yourself or need to study, it's nice to have a quiet place to concentrate. I also like being able to make phone calls whenever I want. My favorite thing is the large window with a view of the big garden. I really like it here. On our floor, there is a communal shower and some bathrooms. I have a sink in my room.

How did you find the adjustment from home to boarding school life?

Adjusting to life in a boarding house with 45 other girls was a big change and challenge. You are always with people, and that can sometimes be exhausting. Sometimes it feels like your social energy runs out, so I was very happy about my single room. I'm not the type of person who constantly surrounds herself with lots of people. Still, it's great to have friends right at your doorstep and not have to make complicated plans to meet up.

Did you have trouble making friends initially?

Not really, but social life was a challenge for me at first. Due to the foreign language, I felt I couldn't be as spontaneous as in German. At the beginning, I mostly stayed quiet in groups and preferred one-on-one conversations. After about a week, I had made some acquaintances. However, it took until the end of the first term to form really close friendships. That was also around the time when the boarding school started to feel like home to me. My friends here are mainly native English speakers.
Anna's friends at the school's Christmas dinner

Are there any disputes?

There haven't been any major disputes, at least none that I was involved in. Of course, there are occasional minor conflicts or tensions, especially when everyone lives so closely together. It usually involves small things like forgetting tasks, which can sometimes cause annoyance. But overall, nothing serious has happened.

How is your relationship with your house parents?

Our relationship with the house parents has changed recently because they changed. Our previous House Mistress unfortunately had a family emergency, which was very sad because we couldn't properly say goodbye to her.
Now we have two new house parents who are also very nice. We chat occasionally during breakfast or in the hallway, but it's not the closest relationship because there are simply too many of us. When I have concerns, I prefer to talk to other students or call my family.

What are your weekends like?

My Sundays start a bit later than school days, but sleeping in is not an option. I am in the choir, and we always meet before the service, where we sing. Since Uppingham School is a pure boarding school, few students go home on weekends, and almost everyone stays at school.
In the beautiful school chapel, Anna sings in the choir every Sunday
After the service, I either meet friends at one of three cafes in town that all students like to visit, or I go running with a friend. Running is a hobby I discovered here. Sometimes I arrange a movie night, participate in concerts or swimming competitions, or visit nearby places. I try to spend as much time with my friends as possible on weekends, as there is not much time for that during the week.

How is the relationship between boarding school students and locals in Uppingham?

Every Friday afternoon, there is an activity called "Up and Out," where Uppingham School students engage in community service. We go to surrounding villages and support, for example, local primary schools or other projects. There are various ways to help. I personally do not participate in this because, as a Music Scholar, I take part in a music program instead.

What do you do on Exeat weekends?

Exeat weekends are mandatory at Uppingham School, and we all have to leave the school. On these weekends, I go to our English friends. That has become my second home in England. My parents' friends are also musicians and have two daughters my age. I enjoy a great break from boarding school life at Exeats, being able to sleep in and leave the school pressure behind.
Anna and her host sister in Oxford at a lacrosse match against Cambridge

How is the food at Uppingham School?

Food is, of course, always a hotly debated topic. Personally, I think it is actually quite good here, even though it is often traditionally English. This means there are sometimes Yorkshire Pudding or Sausage Rolls, which I don't like as a vegetarian. But there is always a vegetarian alternative. In general, food plays a rather minor role in my life. But for a school, I still find it very good. It is freshly prepared and not reheated canteen food. For lunch, except on Sundays, we always have a formal lunch where teachers from across the school join us, and we are assigned to a specific table. Breakfast and dinner, however, are very relaxed.

How is the community between the houses?

I have found that I have made some of my best friends outside my house. Of course, there is a group of people in the house with whom I regularly eat and have close contact. But my closest friendships have been made through music and partly through my subjects. Still, the overall sense of community here is very good. But like in other groups, certain circles of friends form over time with whom you spend more or less time.

Are there any school traditions or events at the boarding school that you particularly enjoy?

I love all the school traditions and events at the boarding school, especially those related to music. I sing in three different choirs - I discovered singing for myself through Uppingham School - and play in two orchestras. In Germany, I made music in my free time but almost never at school. At Uppingham School, there are often concerts. I particularly enjoyed the symphony orchestra concert and a concert for all music scholarship holders. Recently, there was also a folk music concert where we got to know Irish and Polish songs and where I participated. I play the violin and piano, a passion I developed in Germany.
The Uppingham School Symphony Orchestra: Anna plays the violin here

England vs. Germany – Anna compares

Was there anything about boarding school life that surprised you?

What surprised me the most was the tight schedule of boarding school life. Although I was used to having a full timetable, the incredible intensity here was a new experience. The barely existing breaks and constant involvement in activities were unfamiliar, especially in the sports area. I expected sports activities to be optional and maybe take place once a week. Instead, I found myself in a program that takes place three times a week and is very demanding, which I now appreciate. Unlike in Germany, where you can relatively freely choose your activities, everything here is pursued with greater intensity.

What were the biggest differences between Germany and England in terms of schooling for you?

The school spirit here is truly unique. In Germany, you go to school, attend classes, and that's it. But here, the school becomes much more of a focal point of life. Because everyone is always present, we can do much more here. There are incredibly impressive plays, a great art area, a wide range of sports, and many opportunities in music.
However, the teaching style in England is also very direct and focused on quickly covering the material, unlike the often more detailed explanations in Germany. I had to get used to this style. But you learn a lot more new things here, seemingly many times more compared to my old school. I am particularly impressed by the willingness of teachers to offer extra hours after school and to stay longer in the afternoons to help with problems.

What differences were there between the teachers in Germany and those in England?

Here, you are not only noticed by the teachers as you are in class but as a whole person. The atmosphere here is also much more encouraging than in Germany. Talents are recognized and fostered, and new ones are discovered. I have become much more skilled and better in many areas, and I really enjoy that. We have two teachers for each A-Level subject and very small classes of about 12 students on average.
I chose Chemistry, Math, English, and Philosophy as A-Levels, and the teachers really make a difference here. For example, I now read about the topics in my free time. One of my chemistry teachers recently lent me a book that he found exciting. Such things didn't happen in Germany. My interest in natural sciences has increased significantly since I started school here, so I will probably study it later.

Academics: Studying at Uppingham School

How do you cope with classes in English?

Adjusting to classes in English was surprisingly easy. Especially in subjects like Math and Chemistry, it didn't take long before I was keeping up well. Maybe I had to get used to the mathematical terms in Math, but that happened quickly. In Chemistry, we learned new terms during class, which made learning easier. Other subjects also went smoothly. Even in Philosophy, it worked surprisingly well, as I also learned the technical terms directly during class. Nowadays, Chemistry and English are my favorite subjects. The only subject I don't always enjoy is Philosophy. I wish we could go more in-depth and have more discussions instead of just learning many philosophers with their basic concepts.

Did you need support from the school with your studies?

Although I occasionally asked questions, I never really needed tutoring. I am quite well-organized, so I could deal with the material myself when I didn't understand something. Only English literature was a bit challenging for me. This was mainly because we started with Shakespeare's Othello, which is difficult even for native speakers. I often spent a long time trying to find the best words for essays. This sometimes stressed me out. I solved this by reading a translation in parallel, looking up words, and understanding a lot from the context.

What does a typical school day at Uppingham School look like for you?

My school day is really packed. At school, I have chosen Chemistry, Math, English, and Philosophy as A-Levels. I also considered taking Latin, as switching from Latin to German and then to English might have been an interesting challenge. But since I could only choose four subjects, I opted for other options. Most students here only have three A-Levels, but I already have four, which significantly increases my workload. A fifth subject simply wouldn't have fit into my schedule.
The breathtakingly beautiful library of Uppingham School is part of England's National Heritage
Right after school, I usually have sports and then orchestra and choir rehearsals.
I play the violin and piano and am in two orchestras and sing in three choirs. After that, I spend late into the evening on my homework. There's always a lot going on.

How is the creative offering at Uppingham School?

Although I don't have a direct comparison with other schools, I think it's particularly good here. As mentioned before, Uppingham is one of the best schools in England for music. As for the other creative areas, I have seen some theater performances by students and was impressed. The drama students are excellent, and the productions are very professional. It's also impressive to see how much work and training go into the set design and lighting.
The Arts Centre also impresses me again and again. The students are very talented and create great artworks. I am especially fascinated by the textile works. A good friend of mine spends the whole day working artistically. I am really proud to be part of a school that produces such high-quality artistic projects.

Sports and Extracurricular Activities at Uppingham School

What sports do you practice?

Currently, I am swimming. Our school offers a wide range of changing sports to choose from each term. The most popular sports at the school are lacrosse, hockey, rugby, and football. Cross-country is also very popular. However, it is not so easy to try out new sports because you commit to one sport and then practice it for the entire term. I personally only recently started cross-country. It began with the whole school participating in an 8-kilometer run called "The Routh." That's when I realized I really enjoyed running. Since then, I often go running with a friend on weekends.

Have you participated in any other extracurricular activities?

Yes, we have participated in various extracurricular activities. At the beginning, we went on a get-to-know-you trip to Cambridge, where we could explore the city. We also went punting, which is very well-known in Cambridge. Punting is similar to canoeing, but you propel yourself along with a long pole. Steering was surprisingly difficult, and we often went zigzag. On the river, I felt a bit like in Venice.
Once, we went with the choir to a neighboring village to give a concert. The villagers were very happy that young people had come to sing. Personally, I wasn't afraid of public performances, so it wasn't more exciting for me than singing at school. But it was nice to have a different environment.
There are also often trips outside the school. I personally haven't participated in them, but many have gone to London to see exhibitions or attend a play.
The large theater at Uppingham School has 280 seats
This term, I also signed up for the Science Club and the Anatomy Society. In the Anatomy Society, we can work more closely with animal organs and do a bit of anatomical work. However, I haven't had the opportunity to participate yet, as my schedule was quite full last term. But I plan to join this term.

Anna's Highs and Lows at Uppingham School

What do you think is the biggest advantage of a boarding school like Uppingham School?

I think the biggest advantage is that Uppingham School really motivates you to do what you want to do and fully commit to it. If you have interests, the school encourages you to pursue them and do your best. At a British school like this, you don't feel like you have to organize everything yourself. The school offers a lot of support, and you often get swept up in it. It's important to take advantage of everything the school offers. This is something you should experience during your school years, which is different from later studies.

What are your best experiences?

The best moments here definitely include the great conversations I can have. I also really enjoy the concerts. It's just a great feeling to be on stage and play. Last Friday, we had another concert at the school, where many parents were present.

What was the biggest challenge for you?

There were moments that were less pleasant, such as the sudden departure of my house mother, which came as a surprise and shock to many of us. Personally, I found it challenging at times when various commitments piled up, such as many activities, homework, and tests, especially when the conversations at formal lunch didn't go so well. But such moments are only temporary and quickly pass.

Anna's Reflections and Advice for New Students

Would you do everything the same way again, or would you change anything?

Looking back, I would have focused more on building social contacts at the beginning and maybe less on trying to manage everything at once. Especially at the beginning, I put pressure on myself to practice music a lot and do my homework very thoroughly, as I was used to at home. This often led to me staying up late at night and having less time to talk to others.
The main building of Uppingham School
As for the subject choices, I would focus even more on natural sciences and maybe choose biology instead of philosophy. I think the combination of chemistry and biology would have been more beneficial for me. Overall, though, I am satisfied with my decisions.

Has your time at boarding school in England influenced your life and career goals?

Through Uppingham, I have become even more interested in natural sciences. I will probably study something related to natural sciences later - maybe medicine, but I'm not sure yet. In my last two school years, I will certainly explore other career fields as well.

Has the school changed anything in terms of values and personal development for you?

The school has definitely helped me become more independent. Although I was often on my own before, I have now learned to make decisions on my own without always asking my parents for advice. In terms of personal development, I have also thought more about who I want to be and with whom I want to surround myself. It was about developing my identity independently of my parents. My core values haven't necessarily changed, but I have thought more about how I treat others and what role models I choose. The school has helped me get to know myself better and work on my values and goals.

What advice do you have for students considering attending a boarding school in England?

I think it's really important to visit the boarding school in person, take a tour, and talk to people. It's not enough to just look at the website because often the school looks very nice there, but that doesn't necessarily reflect reality. You should also ask yourself if you would feel comfortable in a boarding school. Some might prefer a host family, others the company of many students and a busy schedule.
Uppingham is a good choice for active people interested in various things, be it music, sports, or art. You should be open to new experiences and not cling too much to a fixed routine. I also recommend not just going to England for one term. A whole year offers a much more comprehensive experience. The longer you stay at the boarding school, the better it gets.

Do you have any final words about Uppingham School, Anna?

I would love to stay at the school longer. Although I am, of course, looking forward to seeing my family and friends again, the last term is the best for me. If I had the opportunity, I would like to extend it a bit. At the moment, I am not thinking much about what it will be like when I return. I just want to enjoy the time and make the most of it.

Thank you for the interview, Anna!

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