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06 February 2024
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

How was Wycombe Abbey, Elianne?

Hello from Richmond,
The third pupil in our series of interviews with pupils who have attended schools in England, Scotland, and Ireland is Elianne Melber. She shares her school experience at the almost legendary girls' boarding school Wycombe Abbey. She also gives us insights into the daily school routine, recalls her earliest days at the school, and has tips for anyone interested in attending a boarding school in England.
Elianne's Start at Wycombe Abbey
Elianne, please introduce yourself.
Hello, I'm Elianne, I'm 15 years old and currently attending the 11th grade at a girls'school in Karlsruhe Germany. In my free time, I do athletics as a competitive sport, play piano and flute, and whenever possible, I love to meet up with friends.
Elianne after her run at the Baden-Württemberg Championships 2023 © Elianne Melber
How did you come up with the idea to attend a boarding school in England?
The idea already came to me during my primary school years, when I had devoured all the Harry Potter books. I absolutely wanted to attend an English boarding school that was similar to Hogwarts! At that time, I was 8 years old and my parents just smiled. In their opinion, it was clearly too soon – which, in retrospect, was true.
At 11, I was finally allowed to attend an English language summer camp in Sherborne for four weeks to see if I still liked it afterward. To my parents' surprise, I loved it, and it was clear that I could spend a school year in England. My parents then immediately got in touch with educational consultancy von Bülow Education and Mr. Steinbeis. We had a very nice conversation and afterwards, he suggested schools that could suit me. In the end, it was also him who made our first visit to Wycombe Abbey possible. Without him, it would never have worked, as Wycombe Abbey normally doesn't accept girls for just one school year and has very demanding admission requirements.
Why did you choose Wycombe Abbey?
Wycombe Abbey was my dream school from the start. We looked at many schools online, but nothing came close to Wycombe Abbey from my perspective. The short film on the homepage immediately captivated me, and every school that was suggested to me stood no chance against Wycombe Abbey.
When we were invited for a first meeting at Wycombe Abbey to look at the school, everything just fit. Unlike other schools I looked at, Wycombe Abbey did not market itself to us. I got the sense that they were interested in me as a person and wanted to get to know me. Everyone was incredibly nice to me and asked me a lot of questions.
Wycombe Abbey embodied everything that was important to me: I wanted to be challenged at school, do lots of sports, have nice people around me, and a perfectly organized daily routine. The special thing about Wycombe Abbey is that all the girls here always do their best and support each other. Exchange students who stay for only a few months or just one school year are actually super rare here. Probably that's why the sense of community among each other is so special.
Elianne's day of arrival at Wycombe Abbey in 2021 © Elianne Melber
However, my chances of being accepted into Wycombe Abbey were very slim. I was therefore overjoyed when I was simply admitted to the Assessment Day of the school. There, I had to do many tests like a math test, general intelligence tests, language tests, several interviews, and various group tasks. It was very exciting for me back then, but also very exhausting. And of course, when they told me I got a place, I was over the moon! Unfortunately, due to Corona, everything got delayed and I could only go to England in the 9th grade and not as planned in the 8th grade. In hindsight, that was perfect.
Wycombe Abbey and I were, as Mr. Steinbeis would say, truly a "Perfect Match"!
How was your first day at Wycombe Abbey?
Wow, my first day was exhausting! I remember it being very hectic on arrival day. Everyone had to take Corona tests first before going to their respective boarding houses. There, I just dropped off my stuff briefly, but then had to move on to the school building, where we received a very warm welcome.
Like the gate to an enchanted world: the entrance gate to the boarding house Shelburne © Elianne Melber
I was introduced as a new pupil and honestly, I felt rather intimidated. But when everyone looked at me in a really kind way, I felt very relieved. Several girls immediately took care of me. But I didn't talk much on the first day because the speed of the English words coming at me was incredible, and I briefly wondered if I could ever speak that quickly. That first evening, I fell into my bed completely exhausted.
Elianne's Life in her boarding house at Wycombe Abbey
What were your house and your room like?
We had nine houses, a junior house, and a house for the most senior girls. Different colors were assigned to all the houses. You could tell the respective house-membership by the tie color of our school uniform. I lived in the house Shelburne and our color was Royal Blue, which I particularly liked. My house, along with Cloister and Wendover, belonged to "Daws Hill," originally an 18th-century hunting lodge. It was located at the other end of the school grounds on a hill. It was truly idyllic up there.
Boarding house Shelburne in spring © Elianne Melber
We had a longer walk to school in the morning, and running up the hill after school was not always fun. But somehow, it felt like coming home from school. About 45 to 50 girls of all age groups lived in my house. I guess about 6 to 8 girls per grade.
Elianne's long, but beautiful path to school © Elianne Melber
We had a stunning dining hall, a series of music rooms, study rooms where everyone had their own place, cozy common rooms with sofas, and kitchens where we often met for hot chocolate. The bathrooms were new and sharing the bathrooms was perfectly organized so that everyone could have their own morning and evening routine.
The backyard at boarding house Shelburne © Elianne Melber
In the first term, I was in a three-person room and later in a four-person room. The older girls all had single rooms. I loved sharing a room with others. The older ones helped us younger ones with studying. We tried to help the older ones during their exam times and, for example, decorated the room festively for Christmas. The rooms and the composition of the rooms were changed every term, and you were always looking forward to seeing who you would share the room with next. I felt comfortable in every room, and the larger rooms were great for learning English because you always had someone to talk to.
What was your relationship with your house parents?
I had two house mothers and a matron, the good soul of the house, who took care of the organization of the house. She always had an open ear for us. All three took great care of us. Sometimes they even brought me hot chocolate. If things got really stressful or didn't go well, they were there for you immediately – no matter how early or late it was. My house mothers and especially the matron made it feel like home. I was really lucky!
Was homesickness an issue for you?
I was actually never homesick. However, I found the first week at Wycombe very hard. I hardly knew anyone and had to remember many names. In addition, I had to quickly get used to a school that does so much digitally! English was also really a challenge at the beginning, as everyone spoke fluent English here. But the week passed, and afterwards, I quickly felt as if I had always lived there, which was mostly because I never felt lonely. And quite honestly, I had absolutely no time for homesickness.
How long did it take you to make friends?
I actually made my first friendships on the first day. Everyone was very open. I remember one of my best friends today took me everywhere and showed and explained everything to me. We had so much fun and still keep in touch regularly to this day.
Elianne with her best friend © Elianne Melber
When you go to school together, live together, spend weekends together, and do sports together, you just get to know each other much faster than in school in Germany. Language also wasn't ever really a barrier.
Were there ever any arguments with other girls?
No, fortunately never. But I think I'm also quite an uncomplicated person.
What were your weekends at Wycombe Abbey like?
Saturday we had classes first, after which there were various activities for everyone. There was something for everyone. For example, we visited the Cadbury chocolate factory, went to Oxford, London, the trampoline hall, cinema, or amusement park. Some weekends I also went home with friends and spent the weekend in London, as many of them came from there. My best weekend experience in London was attending a Chelsea football game. On holidays or so-called Closed Weekends, when the school was shut, I always went to my guardians and spent the weekend with them. It was always very nice because they did a lot with me and their two children were very sweet.
Sometimes there were socials at the school with other schools like the boys schools Eton or Harrow. At these meetings, you could connect with pupils from other schools. It was always exciting, but real friendships hardly ever arose from it among us younger ones.
And finally, there was the sport, and our competitions often took place on weekends.
How was the relationship between you boarders and the locals in High Wycombe?
We didn't spend much time in High Wycombe, as we usually had a lot of activities. But when we were in town, everyone was very friendly to us.
What was the food like at Wycombe Abbey?
Honestly, I had to get used to what was served at breakfast. Of course, we had a large buffet at all meals and you could help yourself freely, so everyone usually found something they liked. Many girls ate baked beans, bacon, and sausages at breakfast. I never got used to bacon and sausages, but ended up absolutely loving baked beans!
Were there any special school traditions or events at Wycombe Abbey that you particularly liked?
There are too many traditions at Wycombe Abbey, so I can't list them all. But here's a nice example: during the Christmas season, there was the tradition that the oldest girls in the house would decorate everything festively overnight. In the morning, we younger ones were woken up and could marvel at their amazing decorations! Each house also had its own Christmas tree, decorated by the youngest girls. But especially the lighting of the Christmas decorations on the large tree, which was ceremoniously initiated by the headmistress every year, was super special. Another tradition was that we often met with girls from the next higher grade to spend an evening together and drink hot chocolate. Also on Guy Fawkes Night, on November 5th, something special happened every year: Each house crafted a fantasy figure out of cardboard, each in its own house color, which was then burned in the fire. The most beautiful figure won. Also there was a huge fireworks display.
A colorful festival: Colour Run at Wycombe Abbey in 2021 © Elianne Melber
My favorite tradition, however, was the so-called Dove Day in honor of the school's founder Dame Frances Dove, where we all picnicked together and there were various performances, such as a choreography by my gymnastics team and the Colour Run.
Elianne's gymnastics routine on Dove Day 2022 © Elianne Melber
How was the relationship between the boarding houses? Were there competitions?
We had House Games and many activities that were specifically tailored to the individual houses. It was fun to fight together as a house for something. There were sports competitions, but also communal singing or dancing. For example, each house prepared a song that was sung in church service from time to time. Afterwards, it was decided which house had won.
Elianne and her house at Sports Day © Elianne Melber
There was also House Dance, where each house had prepared a dance, and here too, the winner was decided in the end. These competitions greatly strengthened the sense of community in the individual boarding houses. And everyone won somewhere at some point. I never experienced unpleasant competition among the girls – but of course, one's own house was always the best.
England vs. Germany – Elianne Compares
Was there anything about boarding school life that surprised you?
Actually, most things were pretty much as I had imagined. You spend the whole day with your friends! What surprised me, however, was the really strong sense of community and solidarity in the individual houses.
My house Shelburne really became my second family much, much faster than I thought. No wonder, since you spend so much time with everyone in the house. There was always someone there, I was never alone. At the beginning, it was a bit unusual, especially when calling my parents, as there were always people around. But I quickly got used to it. Of course, you have to like always being around people – which I did!
You also have to get used to the fact that the day is completely structured. In Germany, my day was always very full, but in the boarding school, it was even more extreme because there were schedules for everything. It was an adjustment at first, but ultimately I really enjoyed it.
What were the differences between teachers in Germany and those in England?
I also go to a girls' school in Germany, so the differences weren't that big, but the teachers at Wycombe Abbey were extraordinarily approachable and helpful. It was much more personal, but maybe that's also because you go jogging with the teachers on weekends. We submitted all our homework digitally, and it came back corrected the next day, we could ask questions around the clock, and emails were answered within a few hours.
What I particularly liked was that they never stingy with praise! That was very different to what I was used to in Germany for sure.
Academically, what were the biggest differences between Germany and England for you?
I liked the school system in England much better. It may sound silly, but I consistently felt that performance was more recognized in England. Everything that was particularly good or extraordinary was praised and rewarded.
And we all tried to get as many commendations, or praise, as possible. The teachers' praise was not only personal recognition but was also made visible to everyone, for example, by being published on a kind of honor board. There was not only praise for school achievements, but also for helpfulness, polite behavior, and more. There were even competitions between the houses to see which house had collected the most commendations in the end.
The language and math classes were also different, as we younger ones were divided into different sets. This made learning so much easier because everyone in your set was on the same level. There was no one who was worse or better, but everyone was about the same which made classes so much more enjoyable!
But the big difference for me was that all students at Wycombe Abbey were just really motivated to give their best at all times.
Were there school subjects that don't exist in Germany?
There was Computer Science. I particularly enjoyed the drama classes or the subject Wellbeing, which was about the physical and mental well-being of the girls. It was about everyday things, for example, how to deal best with stress, or we discussed what happiness means. For us younger ones, there was also the subject Cookery, in which a Frenchwoman tried to teach us cooking. I could list many more things, like construction engineering, project design, debating, and much more.
How was the Pastoral Care at Wycombe Abbey?
If I had had any problems, I would have immediately known a dozen people I could have turned to. For example, once I injured my finger and knew that I could go directly to the school's own health center and have it looked at. Or when I had Corona, I was taken care of super well!
Every Friday, the venerable Wycombe Abbey Chapel fills up with girls and their singing © Elianne Melber
I hardly dare say it, but I always felt like Wycombe Abbey was a little like a 5-star hotel where everyone always takes loving care of every guest, no matter how difficult they might sometimes be.
Were there also significant differences regarding everyday life between Germany and England?
I've already mentioned that the daily routine was very structured. New to me was the Tutor Time before school, where we met with our tutor in small groups. Twice a week, we also had church service with the whole school; I wasn't familiar with that either. In England, there are simply many more traditions and additional activities around school life. And one more thing: In England, I've found everyone is just much more polite and friendly!
The Academics: Learning at Wycombe Abbey
How did you manage with classes being in English?
At the beginning, it was really challenging for me. I was still very young and my English at 13 years old was very far from perfect. But after the first half of the first term, shortly before Christmas, it was no problem at all. Thanks to my many subjects, my hours doing homework, boarding school life in general, and the many hours of sports and activities with other girls, I learned English incredibly quickly. I was immersed in the language around the clock! 24 hours, seven days a week. Today, back in Germany, this is a great advantage for me in my advanced English course. Everyone also immediately notices that I was in England and not in America, because of my British accent.
What did a typical timetable at Wycombe Abbey look like for you?
My typical day started at 8:20 am with my Tutor Time. Then I was in school until at least 4:35 pm, sometimes even until 5 pm. After that, I had sports until 8:30 pm. Then it was time for homework. At 10 pm, the lights were always out and then I always immediately fell asleep.
Did you have a favorite subject?
At Wycombe, the younger girls all took lots of subjects, and I thought I would do the same. My favorite subjects were always foreign languages. In England, I had French, Spanish, Latin, and Ancient Greek. That may sound like a lot, but I just really enjoyed it.
What I also really liked was Cookery. I could have chosen the subject German, but that struck me as a waste of time. As I said, languages are my favorite subjects and it was great that there was such a wide range available. Otherwise, I also liked biology and chemistry at Wycombe Abbey.
Were there subjects you struggled with?
I'm not a big fan of math. But even that was fun there.
Did you have a favorite teacher?
Oh, I had many favorite teachers because I pretty much liked almost all of them! Unlike in Germany, you could ask questions at any time here. Even if you had asked a question in math for the tenth time, my teacher would answer patiently and kindly. My house mothers were also my teachers, so I especially liked them, of course. But also my sports teachers and coaches, who were with us in all weathers at the competitions, were great.
Sports and Extracurricular Activities at Wycombe Abbey
Which sports did you participate in?
I was lucky to get into the lacrosse team. Lacrosse was mainly played in autumn and spring. Since I was new, I was allowed to try out different positions within the team at first. In the end, however, I played as Center, someone who stands in the middle of the circle and is the first to touch the ball at the start of the game, and Straight Attack, the position of forward. I loved lacrosse!
Elianne and her lacrosse team © Elianne Melber
Besides lacrosse, I was also in the gymnastics and athletics teams. Now and then, I also played a bit of tennis and netball.
Did you participate in any other extracurricular activities?
Besides sports and music, there were a whole variety of other activities. But as a member of three sports teams, there really wasn't much time for anything else. My favorite extracurricular activity was visiting the amusement park with my friends. We had so much fun!
Elianne's Highs and Lows at Wycombe Abbey
What did you like best about Wycombe Abbey?
Everything was simply amazing. I had the best time ever!
What were your best experiences?
There were always various events at school. I was lucky to have been there the year the school celebrated its 125th anniversary. The day was incredible. We had a Colour Run, there was a ferris wheel on the lawn, cotton candy stands, we all danced – there was a huge party all day long. I will also not forget Dove Day.
The 125th anniversary of Wycombe Abbey with a carousel, Ferris wheel, and Colour Run © Elianne Melber
It was also great that my house Shelburne won the House Games at the end of the school year for the first time after many, many years.
But my very personal highlight and unforgettable moment was the moment on my last day in England. During the closing church service, everyone received their medals for Sports Day and I received the trophy "Victrix Ludorum", meaning "Winner of the games". I couldn't have imagined a better end to my stay! So I was even more sad when departure time approached.
Winner of the games: Elianne receives the trophy Vitrix Ludorum on Sports Day © Elianne Melber
What was your biggest challenge at Wycombe Abbey?
My biggest challenge was the subject Ancient Greek, which I had never had back home back in Germany. I still remember my first lesson, where I didn't understand anything at all. Everyone else had already had a year of lessons and my first test was really bad. I think I only got about 30 percent and that annoyed me and challenged me to do better next time. So, I focused on it and studied a lot. I also asked people from higher grades for help and tips. In the end, I actually managed to achieve 98 percent in the summer exams. That was a big personal success and I was really proud of myself. But learning at Wycombe in general was definitely a challenge, since time was always quite tight. You really had to make sure you worked efficiently. Fortunately, it all worked out.
What did you like least about Wycombe Abbey?
That I had to leave. I would have really liked to stay there and I was so sad when I had to fly home. The departure was really tough.
Elianne's Review and Advice for New Students
Would you do everything the same again, or would you change anything?
I would definitely do everything exactly the same again, but I would stay until graduation today. Not that I don't like my German school, it's also special, I have many friends, and the teachers are nice, but English boarding school life is just much, much better.
Did your time at the boarding school in England influence your life and career goals?
Not really. I wanted to study law before, and I still do today, but definitely with semesters abroad and internships in England, just to be closer to my friends.
Did the school change you in terms of your values and personal development?
Definitely. The time at Wycombe Abbey really shaped me. I became much more independent through my time at the boarding school. My parents are always surprised that I do my school stuff completely independently from them. At Wycombe Abbey, I had to plan my school things all by myself, do my chores, hand in laundry neatly, keep things tidy, and much more.
Elianne with her athletics team after the County Championships 2022 © Elianne Melber
I think this experience simply did me good, and I came back from England much more independent and confident.
What was the biggest advantage you gained from attending boarding school?
My English definitely improved, I learned a lot, and I made friendships that will hopefully last a very, very long time. Ultimately, the world has just become a bit bigger for me.
What would you recommend pupils considering attending a British boarding school?
They should definitely do it! However, they should really choose the school very carefully, so that it's a good match. Because I believe, the worst thing is if the school doesn't fit you. For example, if you don't love being constantly challenged at school, a highly academic school would simply be a mistake. I think you would definitely not be happy there.
But early planning of the stay is also important, because the process is quite lengthy. I was only 11 years old when I applied and had the first conversation with the school. I was accepted at 12 years old. And until I was finally there, I was already 13 years old. But the planning is definitely worth it!
Do you have any final words about Wycombe Abbey, Elianne?
For me, Wycombe Abbey is simply the perfect school, the "Perfect Match", the most beautiful time in my life!

Thank you for the interview, Elianne!

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