“I travelled to a boarding school on the other side of the country to enrol in class three. I was only 9 years old when I left the safety, comfort and familiar territory of my home & parents. The journey only took two days, but the physical and emotional change that took place was quite severe and permanent. It was common in the seventies to go to a cross country boarding school to continue education, in fact, to get a wholesome education with fellow students from all over Bhutan. The opportunity to learn, interact, make friends with boys and girls from various communities and cultures of a diverse Bhutan is truly a blessing. The classroom education of a boarding school was always said to be good.

However, it was the other activities, experience and pressure beyond the classroom that shaped us into maturity from a young age. Living in a dormitory, time regimented activities, having to bath in cold water, tolerating aggressive bullying at times, eating radish curry for almost a whole year, walking bare-feet for weeks when your slipper straps break off, being sick & alone in a huge hostel room, and being perpetually hungry are some of the big lessons we carried with us. The hostel days also gave us lifelong friendships, initiation into another language & culture, opportunity to pursue games and sports, play musical instruments and try our feet in dancing.

There are countless advantages and merits of boarding schools. But the fact is I went into a hostel as a child of 9 and came back with moustache at 23, having lived there for at least 9 out of 12 months, every year. I realise now that it took away the emotional bonding, love, and time of together with parents and siblings. I feel this estrangement is irreversible and all the familial love lost can never be actually recovered in this lifetime.

This story reflects an ordinary student’s life in the yesteryears. But such stories continue even today. While as parents we want the best education for our children, normally in distant and foreign locations, it is perhaps best to let them study near home until they complete secondary school. After that, the child is expected to ‘go away’ from home anyway, to pursue college or higher education. Believe me, the love, togetherness, closeness, confidence, safety, cultural values and etiquette the child learns at home would be a big complementary asset to their formal degree. They would learn everything under the universe, without necessarily severing the roots of their origin.

The circumstances I encountered were quite extraordinary – sometimes crippling, sometimes uplifting. The key message for me has been to take it one moment at a time – moving always the best foot forward, with a genuine wish to be the change that I want to see around.”

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