Hello from a rainy Richmond!
As you might know, we sometimes interview pupils that are currently at a boarding school in the UK. Usually this is in form of a podcast. Today, we propose a somewhat different format: pupils who've recently left a boarding school, whom we ask to reflect on their experience.
First up is Max Hall, who spent a year in the Lower Sixth Form at Framlingham College in Suffolk. His unusual story began six months earlier, however, while in Year 10 at the Ernst Abbe Gymnasium in Berlin, when he spent six months on a sailing ship, the "Pelican of London" crossing the world's oceans, managing to squeeze his schooling in while on board.
The Pelican of London, Max's ship. Max up there somewhere
Max and his school trip on the Atlantic Ocean
Max, please introduce yourself and tell us how you came to go to school on a sailing ship.
My name is Max Hall, I'm from Berlin and I'm 16 years old. During the Coronavirus pandemic, when classes were not conducted in person, my father sought out alternatives. He came across an article about Ocean College, which was the only school where classes were
still being conducted in person at that time. The whole thing sounded
incredibly interesting – six months on a ship and two Atlantic crossings! So my father made an appointment and we were invited to an interview in
Berlin. Among other things, we discussed whether I would get homesick
easily. Since I have been going to summer camp every year since I was
eight years old, I fortunately don't have a problem with it. About a year later, I got the acceptance letter. Then everything happened very quickly, and it started in the middle of Year 10.
Sometimes a frosty business...
Could you describe what school on a sailing ship was like?
The focus was not so much on individual school subjects. Regular lessons in the core subjects took place only three hours a day. It was more about working in a team and the many experiences on board and when we docked. Living in a confined space with 35 pupils and teachers, along with 12 people from the ship's crew on a 45-metre-long sailing ship was tremendously challenging for some. We lived together in four or six-berth cabins. The lessons themselves were in German, but the ship's crew only spoke English.
What was the biggest difference to a school on land?
The daily routine! On the ship, the "Pelican of London", you'd be woken up by the waves and sleep was often interrupted. Life on board followed the motto: "Sleep when you can, eat when you can, work when you have to." Depending on watch times on board, you'd be on duty from midnight to 4 am.
Max hard at work: navigating!
Would you recommend attending Ocean College and what stood out to you the most?
Yes, absolutely! My classmates have become friends who I will probably know for the rest of my life and the time on the ship was a great character-building experience. We visited places and met people I would never have seen and experienced otherwise. For example, in Antigua, we saw people living in extreme poverty while luxury yachts dropped anchor around them. I only became aware of these stark differences during my trip. It was while I was there that I made the decision to do my bit later in life, to use my knowledge and work for the benefit of poorer people. The only downside was that when we got back to Germany, we all struggled a bit with the school curriculum because we were a bit behind the others.
Framlingham College in all its beauty
When Max started at Framlingham College
What made you think of attending boarding school in England?
The crew on board, with whom I always spoke in English during my watches, said that a year abroad at an English-speaking boarding school would be a good idea and the logical next step. My parents were also thinking about whether a year abroad would suit me after Ocean College. I was then only really faced with deciding between the USA and England. Since I could learn "proper" English in England, and schooling there is also better than in the USA, I chose England. My father was familiar with von Bülow Education and its director, Ferdinand Steinbeis, and after a few Zoom meetings I had a couple of school suggestions that might suit me.
What made you choose Framlingham in particular?
Many of the schools were already full and I only had a short window of time after my sailing trip until the new English school year started.
My choices were Framlingham, Giggleswick and another school – I don't remember which one. Framlingham appealed to me immediately. Everything seemed so friendly and there were an incredible number of options. The wide range of subjects – which don't even exist in Germany – almost knocked me out. Computer Science, Theatre... anything you can imagine. There were also lots of sporting activities, such as rugby and in particular tennis, which was another draw for me at Framlingham.
How was your first day at Framlingham?
I arrived the day before I was due to start and the Housemaster was kind
enough to show me around part of the school and my future house and room. That was already quite overwhelming and strange. The next day, however, all the other pupils arrived and even though I was still a little apprehensive at first, curiosity and anticipation far outweighed this.
A corridor at Framlingham College
Max's life at Framlingham boarding school
How was your house and bedroom?
I was lucky enough to have a room all to myself in the first term. After spending a whole day with lots of people and speaking English, it was nice to be able to retreat into my own private space. But I didn't have my own bathroom; I had to share it with the other boys on my floor. The bedrooms in the other houses at Framlingham at least had a sink and mirror, but we didn't. But it was fine. There was even less privacy on the ship, so I was pretty used to it. Including the day pupils, there were around 60 pupils in the house during the day and 40 to 45 boarding pupils overnight, some of whom were international students like me and others were English. Later on, in the next term, I shared a triple room with two other pupils: one who also lived there overnight and a day pupil who went home in the evening. Although it took some getting used to after having a single room to myself, I quickly came to terms with it. In the last term, I had a single room again. My first roommate was German, but we only shared a room for a month because his time at Framlingham was coming to an end.
After that, I shared the room with an English boy who went home on weekends, so I had the big room to myself again.
How well did you get on with your house parents?
House guardians, including the Housemaster and his deputy, also lived in the house with us. They were always approachable and as long as you behaved yourself, we got on fine. The Deputy Housemaster was always friendly; the Housemaster was more of an authority figure for us. We also had a tutor that we'd meet twice a week and we could really talk to him about anything.
Framlingham's dining hall
How long did it take you to feel at home and make friends at Framlingham?
Four to five weeks, I reckon. After a few weeks, I was able to understand people better and started to make some friends. Mostly Germans, at first, because I was able to communicate with them better. But the better my English got, the more I made friends with English boys. Then I started making friends with pupils in other houses and classes, because I did sports and other activities with them.
How did you handle quarrels?
Well, we rarely had any, thankfully! Whenever there was an argument, I would usually stay out of it because I was so tired after a day at school that I didn't have the strength to get involved. I'd just go to my room and chill out there for a bit. But there weren't really any heated arguments in the house. They'd manage to resolve things among themselves, and if that didn't work, the Housemaster would step in to mediate and de-escalate everything, so everything would quickly get straightened out. I didn't always get along with everyone, but I could just stay out of their way and hang out with the others. You can't force people to like each other.
Tell us about what you did on your days off from school?
We would also go to school until 12 noon on Saturdays and after that we usually had training or sometimes we'd play a game. That means you leave at 1 pm, go somewhere for an hour and a half, play and come back at 6 pm.
And then we'd have dinner, maybe do some homework, but there wasn't much going on. We were pretty tired by then anyway. On Sundays, everything was always very relaxed. We usually slept in until 10 o'clock and had breakfast in peace. To begin with, the Housemaster would organise a lot of activities, such as cycling, swimming, trips out et cetera. Then he started to run out of ideas, so we'd go into Framlingham town centre and go shopping, or have something to eat and drink. We'd often stay in the house and watch a series or chill out, there wasn't much else going on.
How did the locals in Framlingham react to you?
The funny thing was, most of the people who worked at Framlingham school also lived in the town. There were some other local schools, but we rarely did anything with the kids who went there because they saw us as the
"rich kids" from the boarding school.
Framlingham College when its sunny
You mentioned eating out in Framlingham Town... How was the food at Framlingham College?
"Oh God, yes!" (Max laughs heartily.) During my interview with the headteacher, before I chose Framlingham, she said that the food would be very good. Well, I can say from my experience that the breakfast on Sundays was great. Sometimes we'd have a delicious dessert, but that's about it. I usually only ate a few mouthfuls at lunch and dinnertime, but we still had to go there anyway. There were a few specialities that tasted good, such as fish and chips.
Apart from that, I didn't really enjoy the food.
How did you cope, in terms of cuisine?
We'd go out to eat on the weekends and buy food at the supermarket for the coming week. There was a kitchen on each floor where we could cook for ourselves. Sometimes, however, it was locked as a punishment because someone hadn't put their dishes away.
Were there any special school traditions or events at the boarding school that you particularly enjoyed?
Yes, a few. We had chapel twice a week, a kind of church service. That was always the first period in the morning and the whole school would gather in the chapel. The headteacher would bring us up to date on any news, or would tell us about particular pupils' special achievements. Then we would sing and often someone would play the piano or the choir would sing.
It may not sound like it, but it was really cool and fun. Singing was a real favourite of mine. Each house would sing together, and then there would be performances where eight people would stand at the front and sing a song for the rest of us. I was in one of these groups and we even came second in the house competition.
There were lots of house competitions – in sports, quizzes and other areas.
The school's cafeteria
England vs. Germany – Max compares
Was there anything about boarding school life that surprised you?
Since I rarely or never have any ideas about things ahead of time, there were few surprises. The degree to which we were expected to self-organise, perhaps. You have to make sure you get to class, lunch, activities and dinner on time and go to bed on time so that you are not completely exhausted the next day. The school day starts early in the morning at 7 am and ends at 10 pm. If you lie awake for an hour or so, you'll be dead the next day. In Germany, the school day starts at 8 am and between 2:30 pm and 4 pm you're back outside and maybe still have sports training at your club. But I already had some experience of this on the ship, so it wasn't so hard for me to adapt.
Which school model do you prefer?
For the most part, the English model is certainly better, as there are support services available at all times. There's always someone there to help you if you need it. You always have someone on hand to motivate and encourage you in the classroom and in sports training. Since my parents were good at helping me with all of my subjects at home, I found the model as it is in Germany suited me more. That said, I liked both the German and English systems, although I have to admit that I would put off my homework in Germany because I'm actually quite lazy and never had to study much after school to get good grades. I was more diligent in England. But I think that will change when I study for my secondary school diploma. You're also expected to organise yourself in Germany.
What differences were there between the teachers in Germany and those at Framlingham College?
The teachers were all very nice and were much better at conveying their teaching material, compared to those in Germany. If you as a pupil are able to understand and learn everything faster, it gives you a sense of achievement and the lessons are much more fun. I felt more of a bond with the teachers in England than those in Germany and none of us were afraid to ask questions. My Scottish physics teacher, Mr Phaup, was actually my favourite teacher. He had a great sense of humour and was just a great teacher.
Framlingham's fabulous Design and Technology
For you, what were the biggest differences between Germany and England in terms of schooling?
The incredibly wide range of subjects on offer at Framlingham, including sports and creative activities, was not comparable to the range of subjects on offer in German schools. Unfortunately, you had to decide beforehand and I chose Theatre and Computer Science. Design and Technology was also offered there, which would have appealed to me very much. There were also many clubs and societies I could have joined, but I preferred to do sports.
Great photography and art!
Academic Learning at Framlingham College
How did you cope with lessons being taught in English?
In the beginning, I could hardly understand anything. Since some of the
teachers were not English, but Scottish and Irish, it was quite challenging. My physics teacher was Scottish and I really struggled to understand him at first. But it took a surprisingly short amount of time for me to get used to his accent and soon I was able to understand everything fine. I spoke and heard English all day – that makes learning easier. In addition, I also had lessons in English as a foreign language, along with the other international pupils. During the first term, the teachers were very considerate of the fact that we were new and English was not our first language. In the second and third terms, however, the "honeymoon period" was over!
Were you able to perfect your English skills?
At the very end we did one of those Cambridge exams and I passed. I wouldn't say perfected, but what is perfection? But I can express myself well, I can write, speak and listen. So, I think that's enough. And if you can do that at C1 level, which is also recognised at all the universities, then that is quite enough.
Could you describe a typical timetable at Framlingham for us?
On Tuesdays, for example, after the daily morning assembly with the whole house at 8:15 am, we would begin with three class periods. First we would have chapel and then we'd have a double period of physics. Then we'd have a half-hour break. After that, there were two more periods and then we'd go to lunch, followed by a one-hour break.
There were three more periods in the afternoon. Then I would have an hour to take a break and change my clothes for sports training.
Dinner was at 6 pm and then at 7 pm we'd have the evening house assembly. After that, we would have two hours in the house for homework or other things.
At 9 pm, there was another house assembly and then there was another hour to go out, play games or hang out before it was time for bed at 10 pm.
Did you have a favourite subject?
Physics was my favourite subject. But I also found history very engaging, as well as drama class. In the beginning, I found theatre a bit stupid, because they still had to finish some things from the previous year, but as soon as the acting started, it was a lot of fun.
The school library
Did you have problems in any of the subjects?
I wouldn't call them real problems, but in Computer Science, for example, the rest of the class had started in Year 10 and I joined them in Year 11. Because I missed this first part, I was a bit overwhelmed at first.
Did you have any support from the school to help you with this?
We had lots of apps and modules, for example Seneca. You can use these to catch up. If you still had some questions, you could always go and ask the teacher.
Framlingham's sports hall
Sports and extracurricular activities at Framlingham
You mentioned that the sports activities were a deciding factor for choosing Framlingham College. Which sports did you choose?
In my first term, rugby was on the timetable, but I'd had a few bad experiences before, so I only did fitness training. In the second term, I played hockey and tennis; in the third, I only played tennis because I was the best at it. When I was a child, I used to play in a tennis club and at summer camps.
Did you participate in any extracurricular activities – other than sports?
Yes, I took part in Framlingham's CCF programme, the Royal Air Force's Combined Cadet Force. This took place every Wednesday. We had real military uniforms and had to do different drills; sometimes there was a field weekend. On Sundays, we'd drive to a kind of military camp. It was compulsory for the first one and a half terms or so, but then I continued voluntarily after that. Alternatively, you could work in a garden or volunteer in the community if you didn't want to have anything to do with the military.
The school's astroturf
Max's Highs and Lows at Framlingham College
What was your most memorable experience during your time at Framlingham College that you will tell your grandchildren about?
I would probably tell them about the field weekends with the CCF, the military. First we were issued our equipment and then we had typical beginner drills. What hand signals mean, how to walk in formation, among other things. Later in the day there is a programme where you are dropped off somewhere with two other pupils and you have to use the things you learned in the drills. You had to find your way back without being seen by the 20 people who were supposed to spy on you. It's really challenging.
Tell us about the best excursions.
We went on trips to London and Cambridge. We were also able to do a term abroad, such as in South Africa. For me, that wasn't relevant because I was only at Framlingham for a year, but for students who plan to be there for two or three years, that's certainly a great opportunity.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
The new school rhythm, with these incredibly long school days.
What did you like least about your time at boarding school in Framlingham?
Apart from the food, I didn't like some of the rules because they made little sense to me and were carried out quite strictly. For example, the entire house was a "nut free zone" and we were not allowed to eat any nuts in the house. After a while, I realised that it was about possible allergic reactions, and accepted it. But I thought the way it was handled was rather strange. If you bought some cereal that had nuts in it, it was immediately taken away. There was probably a warning too, but I'm not sure, because I never did it. I also found it rather excessive to lock the kitchen if someone left a dirty plate.
Communal space in Max' boarding house
Max's experiences and advice for new students
Looking back now, would you do it all over again or would you change anything?
I would definitely go back to Ocean College and then Framlingham. But if I could turn back time, I would try to make friends with English people sooner. I did make a lot of friends there, who I still know today, but they were mostly Germans.
Did spending time on the ship and at boarding school in England influenced your life goals and career aspirations?
Absolutely! Before that, I wanted to be a lawyer or an actor. Now I know that I prefer engineering. While I was still on the ship, I was able to do a kind of mini- internship in engineering for a few days. The great physics classes at Framlingham have made this even more clear to me. In retrospect, Design & Technology classes would have been ideal for me, but I didn't know that at the time and I couldn't even imagine it because we don't have that in Germany. My goals have also changed with regard to school and university. I'm currently switching from Ernst Abbe Gymnasium to a private, bilingual school for my secondary school leaving examinations, where some subjects are also taught in English. As far as subsequent studies are concerned, apart from universities in Germany, my options now include England and the USA. But no decision has been made yet.
Learning about values and personal development is always high on
the list at English boarding schools. Have you noticed any changes in yourself?
Definitely! It was a huge period of development for me. I learned a lot about mutual respect. In terms of character, I definitely became more tolerant and open, and much more independent. But I think the time I spent on the ship brought me even further, in terms of personal development. Something I've also noticed is that I now know my strengths and weaknesses better, and I know how to deal with them. Even my body language and posture are different now. The fact we all wore a uniform at Framlingham, it just makes you walk more upright and prouder somehow.
Framlingham Castle, as seen from the school
What is your opinion on school uniforms?
School uniforms are mandatory at Framlingham and most other British schools. I thought that was very good, because you don't have to worry about what to wear. It also makes everyone the same and no one gets teased about their clothes. It also gives you a stronger sense of community and belonging.
What would you recommend to young people who might be interested in attending Framlingham College?
Try to take full advantage of every day there – even if you think you need a chill day to relax. When you're back home after attending Framlingham, you start to think about how much more you could have done. Try out all the types of sport and all the other activities you might enjoy. And find out exactly what each subject entails! Don't be like me and end up not choosing one because you don't have much of an idea of what it is. You might miss out on a subject that would be ideal for you.
Thank you very much for the interview, Max!