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What common challenges to children encounter when boarding for the first time?

Moving to a boarding school for the first time is a big step in any student’s life and is an experience that will likely trigger both excitement and fear. For parents too, it is a period that is filled with uncertainty, unsure how their child will get on and, of course, the wrench of leaving your child for the first time. For the most part, students find boarding school very rewarding, and it stands them in good stead for the rest of their lives. However, the majority of students do encounter a few teething problems at the beginning.

As an international school in Hong Kong, we understand the challenges that students will inevitably face in the early days and have support teams available 24/7. We also acknowledge that each student’s experience, fears and concerns will be different, so we never adopt a “one-size fits all” strategy. There are several common and perfectly naturally issues that children face when they go to boarding school, and we have listed some of them below, so both parents and students know what to expect, and know that they are not alone.

1. Homesickness

The most common problem, and one which is experienced by almost every student, is homesickness. From a professional point of view, going to boarding school is often referred to as a “planned separation” as both parents and child know that the event is coming. Of course, for some pupils, this is relatively mild and passes after a few days, while for others, it is something that can present itself immediately or take some days, even weeks to come to the fore.

Homesickness is tough on both the students and often parents. Sympathetic encouragement is the best way forward, but we would advise parents to keep contact to a minimum as this can make the matter worse. However, if you say you will “call tomorrow”, it is vital that you do to build up trust. Heads of house and support teams will offer support and guidance, and we would encourage students to begin to view them as their first point of contact if anything is troubling them.

2. Struggling to make new friends

Some students are naturally more outgoing than others. For those would are shy and introverted, making new friends can be quite tricky. New friendships must be made quickly as it helps to overcome homesickness and makes the students more comfortable in their new surroundings. There will be opportunities to make friends during school time, in dorms as well as during the extracurricular activities that are arranged.

Boarding schools help children to become more confident and independent. Our teams will be on hand to offer support as required, but we do encourage pupils to make their own friendships groups, something that may take longer with some students than others.

3. Feeling that they are “different”

The feeling of being “different” is something that many children experience, especially teenagers. Unfortunately, in a boarding school, where students come from around the world, this feeling can be exacerbated. For many of our students, English isn’t their first language, but usually, within a few weeks, their levels of English have reached a level where it is barely noticeable. If students do have concerns about being different, for whatever reason, they can discuss them in confidence with one of our trained counsellors.

We are a very diverse school, and this is something which we are immensely proud of and indeed encouraged. We welcome students from all around the world of different races, religions, cultures and sexual orientation. Generally, we find that all students mix incredibly well together, and we believe that this is one of the main benefits of boarding schools. Should any child, ever experience any form of bullying, this will be dealt with, and the severest of punishments on the perpetrators will be handed out. Bullying of any form will not be tolerated.

4. Academic challenges

At Harrow International School in Hong Kong, we are naturally extremely honoured by our academic achievements over the years, but this can put pressure and stress on pupils. However, we believe that in our role as educators, we don’t just focus on academia, but also the social, emotional and physical aspects of attending boarding school. Of course, academic achievement is important, but our goal is to help each child reach their potential in whatever field it may be.

We have a relatively flexible learning environment with small class sizes and excellent support teachers. They will provide all the help that a student needs if they are starting to fall behind or if they excel in a particular subject. Each student is an individual, and they will always be treated that way with their health and wellbeing put above everything else.

5. Issues with personal belongings and money

It is quite common for students to have never had to worry about personal belongings or money before. However, we believe that taking pride in your belongings, your personal space and appreciating the value of money is vital, and it is something which we teach all of our borders. Pupils will be responsible for their own laundry and that it meets the standards required by an elite international school in Hong Kong.

Our boarders are encouraged to take responsibility for their own property, and this includes money, with students having bank accounts and cards. We do advise parents to give a “sensible” weekly allowance. We believe that this fosters independence and helps our pupils to become more responsible for their own belongs. Of course, medications, valuables and any larger sums of money will be entrusted to the care of experienced dormitory staff.


Teachers, dormitory staff, parents and other students appreciate that going to boarding school for the first time is a nerve-wracking experience. However, at Harrow International School Hong Kong, we have the right support network to help students overcome the initial challenges and to go on and thrive within the school. They will learn valuable life lessons which will help them throughout their adult lives and in their careers.

We extend the warmest welcome to all prospective families at our virtual Open Events this October. Come and meet our key staff and pupils to learn more about our boarding experiences by signing up here.