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26 March 2024
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

How Was It At Eastbourne College, Sergiu?

In our interview series with boarding school students who have attended schools in England, Scotland, and Ireland, we interviewed Sergiu Croitoru this time. Sergiu talks about his stay at Eastbourne College on the south coast of England from September 2022 to July 2023. He reflects on his beginnings, provides insights into daily school life, and valuable tips for potential boarding school pupils, set for a stay in the UK.

Sergiu's Start at Eastbourne College

Sergiu, please introduce yourself.

I am Sergiu Croitoru. I am 16 years old, and currently attending a high school in Vienna. Next year, I will complete my Matura and have already started preparing for my coursework in the natural sciences. In my free time, I play sports and attend a dance school.

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

First of all, I was very curious about what it would be like to live in another country for a year or even just for some time. Also, I wanted to improve my English since I plan to study abroad later or work for a few years in an English-speaking country. Maybe not necessarily in Great Britain but rather in the USA or Canada. And I wanted to find new friends and meet new people. Those were my main motivations. Von Bülow Education made me aware of Eastbourne College and also provided me with the contact to the school. I applied relatively late, in April 2022, because I wasn't quite sure if I really wanted to do it. But when I had decided, I was glad that everything went so quickly, and I got a place.

Why did you choose Eastbourne College?

Lancing College near Brighton had also offered me a place. I chose Eastbourne College because it is located directly on the coast and the people who conducted the interview with me were very friendly. In comparison, I found the staff of Lancing College a bit less friendly.

How was your first day at Eastbourne College?

My mother accompanied me to England. Before we went to Eastbourne, we had a good time in London. On the first day, I was warmly welcomed, received my student ID, and had a meeting with the headmaster, where I could ask questions. I also had the opportunity to meet and get to know other students from my year. It was a big challenge to settle in and befriend the other students in my house. I managed this gradually through conversations. There were no official "buddies-system," i.e., pupils who could show me the house or the boarding school, but I mostly talked to the people from my class.

Sergiu's Life in the Boarding House at Eastbourne College

Impressive brickwork: Sergiu in front of his boarding house Wargrave

How were your house and your room?

My house at Eastbourne College was called Wargrave, a large house for 60 boys. It was located a bit away but only a seven-minute walk from the school. My house was characterized mainly by sportiness. During the week, we had to wear school uniforms every day, but on weekends, we could wear what we wanted. I personally found the school uniform practical because I didn't have to think about what to wear. Moreover, I like chic clothing. In Y11, I had my own room, which helped me a lot in studying for the GCSEs. Because there was always something going on in Wargrave, as the other boys often played in the corridors and made noise. Sometimes I found this funny and joined in. Sometimes I preferred to go to the library to study or relax in peace. But it was always nice to be among people, and in the common room, you could talk to others or play billiards.

How was the relationship with your house parents?

I had a very good relationship with my Housemaster. I really enjoyed walking his dog Monty, with whom I had made friends. I think this also contributed to this special relationship with my Housemaster. He was there for all the boys in Wargrave, but for me, I think he was there a bit more.
Walking the dog strengthens the friendship: Sergiu with Monty, his Housemaster's very friendly dog.

Was homesickness an issue for you?

Yes, I felt homesick because my family is very important to me, and it was the first time I was far away from home. I missed my family very much. But my mother visited me often, especially on the Exeat weekends when we had to leave the school. Then we went to London to spend time together. And during the holidays, I always went home.

When did you make your first friendships?

After about a month, I had already formed close friendships and developed a certain routine that I liked. At the beginning, it wasn't so easy, especially since many of my classmates were English and already friends with each other. That's why, in the beginning, I made contacts more with other international students from different houses and grades, whom I met during sports or lunch.
To this day, I am in regular phone contact with my best friend from that time, as well as with other residents of my house and neighboring houses, to keep our connection alive.

Were there ever any disputes?

Yes, there were disputes in my house, which stressed me quite a bit. Sometimes I felt like everyone was against me. In such moments, I set clear boundaries, especially regarding my privacy and quiet times. Initially, these boundaries were not always respected, leading to conflicts. I talked to my Housemaster about it. He didn't intervene directly but was an important person of trust for me. However, the conflicts quickly subsided once the other boys in the house realized how important my boundaries were to me and accepted them.

What were your weekends like?

On exeat weekends, I often did something. I traveled through England with my mother or father and visited various places like Brighton, Manchester, and Liverpool. In London, we watched musicals, walked through different neighborhoods, visited museums, and dined out – typical tourist activities.
Exeat weekend in Bath: Sergiu with his father in the city's ancient Roman baths.
On weekends spent at the boarding school, I mostly slept in. In the second half of the year, I often went jogging early in the morning to prepare for a half marathon in Vienna. After brunch around 10:30 AM, I went to the gym, then either studied or spent time with friends in the city. We ate together and went shopping. In the afternoon, I often played football in the boarding school's garden, maybe did a few homework assignments, and spent time with my roommates, whether playing games or just chatting.
A radiant morning greets Sergiu during his jog.
The early bird... does a morning workout in the boarding school's gym.

What was the relationship like between the boarding students and the locals in Eastbourne?

I had very little contact with the surrounding community in Eastbourne. However, I noticed a significant social difference between the boarding students and the local youths. It was like two worlds colliding.

How was the food at Eastbourne College?

The food at the boarding school positively surprised me. There was a wide selection of dishes, including vegetarian and vegan options. In comparison, the food at my school in Vienna is rather mediocre, and the vegetarian selection is disappointing. There was always a dessert and many soups and salads. My personal favorite was fish and chips.

Were there school traditions or events at the boarding school that you particularly liked?

A highlight was the Boarders’ Ball, an elegant ball just for boarding students, where we danced and wore beautiful clothes. I also really liked the many activities offered after school in the afternoon. Donations were also collected for charitable causes.
With suit, smile, and smartphone: Sergiu before the Boarders’ Ball.
Ready for the Boarders’ Ball: Sergiu poses in front of his boarding house's crest.

What was the community like between the houses? Were there competitions?

I found the inter-house competitions very entertaining. The different houses competed against each other in various disciplines, both in sports challenges and evening house concerts. I remember a great concert after dinner in the school cafeteria. You could sing, play instruments, or dance. It was an opportunity to present your creative talents to parents and other students.

England vs. Austria – Sergiu compares

Was there anything about boarding life that surprised you?

It was unusual for me to be constantly surrounded by others, but I liked it because it was important for me to have friends around me. What really surprised me, though, was the rule that we weren't allowed to go out on weekends. This only applied to us younger ones, not to the older ones. Even on weekends, we had to be back at the boarding school by 6 PM. During the week, there was no possibility to go out. Comparing that to now, back in Austria, it's hard for me to imagine not being allowed to go out, not to drink or eat something with friends.

What were the differences between the teachers in Austria and those in England?

In England, the relationship with the teachers was much more personal than in Austria. This is because, in Vienna, contact with the teachers is mostly limited to the classroom. In England, you could also spend time with the teachers after class, ask questions, or prepare for exams. Thus, the overall relationship with the teachers was much better, and the support was significant. I noticed this not only for myself but also for other students.

What were the biggest differences for you academically between Austria and England?

The atmosphere at Eastbourne College was much stricter. The expectations were high, and the students were very keen to meet the expectations of authority figures. Personal freedoms were also more limited. For example, boys were prohibited from having long hair or growing a beard. This could even lead to a suspension! For instance, mobile phones were not allowed to be used during class.The classes were more intense, with more material covered in less time, and the required concentration was much higher. The variety of subjects and the quality of teaching were much better, which I really liked. For the GCSEs, for example, you could choose subjects like art or even theatre, which were taken seriously, unlike in Austria. Attendance was also strictly monitored. Here in Vienna, students often miss classes for various reasons, not only due to illness but also to study for exams. In England, constant attendance was expected.
Returning to the boarding school after a beautiful Exeat weekend.

Were there subjects at school that do not exist in Austria?

Some subjects were new to me, like Design and Technology, where we learned to be creative and find practical solutions to problems by designing and manufacturing products with modern technology. PSHE was a subject focused on personal, social, and health education. We learned to take care of our physical and mental health, build good relationships, and resolve conflicts. We also learned a lot about important social issues such as diversity, respect, and responsibility.

How was the pastoral care at Eastbourne College?

The support from the teachers was exceptionally good. Especially my Housemaster helped me with many organizational matters or whenever I had difficulties anywhere. The subject teachers were always willing to offer additional support, not only in class but also before, after, and even on weekends.

Were there also significant differences in terms of everyday life between Austria and England?

There were hardly any differences. I did not have to take on much more responsibility than at home because, for example, my laundry was washed and the meals were cooked. Everything was taken care of.

The Academics: Learning at Eastbourne College

How did you manage with the English language in all classes?

In the beginning, I had to get used to some technical terms, especially in mathematics and the natural sciences. But generally, I had no major problems with instruction in English since I was already good at speaking it. Since I was new to England and only going to stay for one year, I was initially placed in a lower learning level group where I was actually the best student. After two months, I was moved to a more challenging group. Although I was one of the weaker students there, I preferred this group because I could develop faster. In the end, I had better grades than many English classmates in some areas, which I was extremely proud of.

What did a typical school day at Eastbourne College look like for you?

Typically, I got up early to work out in the gym for half an hour before class. Then I had breakfast, took a quick shower, got dressed, and went to my Matron, who was next in the hierarchy of the house after the Housemaster. She took care of organizational matters and medications, among other things. I had to take acne medication every morning, which I could only get from the Matron.
I had two lessons in the morning, then a break, and two more hours before lunch. In the afternoon, I usually had one more hour of class, followed by sports, and on Wednesdays, CCF, the Combined Cadet Forces. In my year, these military exercises were mandatory. You could choose between different branches, and I chose the Navy. There were also options for the Army and Air Force. For the GCSEs, I had to take six compulsory subjects: English, Mathematics, Geography, and the three natural sciences Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. My elective subjects were History and French.

Did you have a favorite subject?

English was very interesting, especially literature and the works of Shakespeare. We read "Othello," which I really liked because of the profound explanations and interpretations of our teacher. I also really liked history. Unlike in Vienna, where we mainly learn about the Habsburgs and Europe, in England, we covered history from all over the world. We talked about the USA, for example, about the civil rights movement, Nazi Germany, China, and the Vietnam War.

Was there a subject in which you struggled?

My school in Vienna focuses on foreign languages and is somewhat weaker in the sciences, so it took me a few months to catch up in those subjects. Especially before the GCSE exams at the end of the year, I studied a lot. I could mostly cover the languages with what I had learned in Vienna, but the sciences were really a challenge for me.

Did you have a favorite teacher?

I particularly liked my history teacher because he was really good. My maths teacher, who started at Eastbourne College the same year as I did, was also very nice and popular with everyone. I even joked with him that he has a friend in Vienna and we all will go out for a beer when I'm over 18.

Sports and Extracurricular Activities at Eastbourne College

What sports did you participate in?

Sports played a big role at the boarding school, especially the traditional sports like rugby, hockey, and cricket. Most boys chose these three sports and participated in games against other schools. I myself did not choose any of these sports. My mother was concerned about the risk of injury, as I had already had problems with my arm twice. She found rugby too dangerous, so I tried basketball before deciding on soccer and sticking with it. I was in the soccer team and participated in tournaments. A major difference to Vienna was that you had to focus on one sport per term at the boarding school and fully commit to it.
Ready to win the trophy: Sergiu in his football jersey

Did you participate in any other extracurricular activities?

I had a brief passion for playing the drums and took private lessons for a while. But then, unfortunately, I gave it up. Maybe I will pick it up again later, now that I know the basics. I also remember a trip to Brighton in December, just before the winter holidays. This trip is particularly memorable for me because it was the only time it snowed in southern England, which otherwise never happens. The streets were completely snowed in, and the English didn't know how to handle it. Our bus got stuck five kilometers from the school, and we had to walk the rest of the way. Then, there were many opportunities to travel to other countries and gain new experiences. However, few participated because these trips were very expensive. A particularly interesting offer was a trip to South Africa, but it would have cost about 4,000 euros. I could also have joined various clubs or the Model United Nations (MUN). But like many of my classmates, I didn't do this because the schedule was already full with other activities.

Sergiu's Highs and Lows at Eastbourne College

What did you enjoy most about Eastbourne College?

I really enjoyed the time with my friends there. The Exeat weekends with my parents were also great because I got to know England and visit different cities. Traveling is generally a lot of fun for me.

What were your best experiences?

As mentioned before, I was in the soccer squad and participated in home or away games. Winning trophies at some tournaments was really nice.

What was the biggest challenge for you?

Being alone was a big challenge: being in a foreign country without my parents, who support me when I have questions or don't know what to do. Moreover, I had to deal with the pressure that existed not only in school but also in sports. This pressure was in stark contrast to the relaxed school life in Vienna. Unfortunately, the school year was overshadowed by a tragic event when a girl from our school took her own life at the beginning of the A-level exams. This was associated by many with the exam pressure. The affected student was a year older than me, and although I only knew her briefly, the incident affected me deeply. It left a strong impression on both the students and the teachers. The school, especially our Housemaster, immediately reacted and offered us all help to deal with the situation. I was able to get over it relatively quickly.

What did you like least about Eastbourne College?

I especially didn't like the high academic and performance pressure. I also didn't like the curfew and other strict rules.

Sergiu's Reflection and Advice for New Students

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

In retrospect, I would do some things differently. For example, I would have wished for more leisure time to enjoy the time there instead of focusing so much on studying. I would try other activities like rugby, cricket, and hockey and maybe spend more time with English students to get to know the English culture better. I let myself be influenced too much by others and the pressure. The exams were important for the CV and look good, but for me personally, they were not as important as for my English classmates. But I do not regret my decisions because I learned a lot, and it was overall a positive experience for me.
At Eastbourne station: The school year is over, and it's time to head home.

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

Yes, definitely. Especially through biology classes and my great teacher, I have completely redefined my career goals. I used to want to be an engineer, but now I'm aiming for a career in healthcare, possibly as a doctor in neurology or psychiatry. The human brain fascinates me greatly, and I can imagine helping people in non-surgical ways. At the moment, the thought of performing surgeries still deters me, but who knows how this will develop in the future. I think the knowledge I acquired at the boarding school has also improved my professional opportunities, both for a job and for studies.

Has the school changed anything about your values and personal development?

Becoming more open is an important personal change that I attribute to my time at the boarding school. I used to be more reserved and spent most of my time with my close friends, but now I'm much more approachable for other people, quickly make new friendships, and also interact with people I don't know so well.
I also see my openness as an advantage for my professional life, as it's important as an adult to build a network. At Eastbourne College, I got everything, even more than I expected. My English has improved significantly, and my knowledge has greatly expanded. I've also learned what it's like to live alone. Once I finish school, I plan to move out, either into a shared apartment or my own apartment during my studies. This experience has made me feel much better prepared for the future than if I had stayed at home.

What would you recommend to students considering attending a British boarding school?

My first tip would be to plan everything early and think carefully about what you want and what you expect from this experience: Do you want to improve your English, gain knowledge you can't get at home, or get an idea for your professional future? You should also be clear about criteria such as the location of the school or whether you want to live with a host family or in the boarding school. In addition, you should acquire the necessary language skills in advance. And then you should enjoy the year to the fullest.

Do you have any final words about Eastbourne College, Sergiu?

Eastbourne College far exceeded my expectations and gave me everything I hoped for, and even more. It was a unique and formative experience for me. I not only improved my English but also made close friendships and learned lessons for life that I am very grateful for. I would recommend it to anyone who has the chance to have such an experience.
Thank you for the interview, Sergiu!

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