What’s it like to board? We asked a Hong Kong-based expat family to share their experience of a boarding school in Sydney: Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview.
A day in the life of a Riverview boarder
Tom Bull, Year 9
I usually wake up to the boarding house bell at 7.15am and have a shower. I then get changed into my uniform and we are out the door for breakfast at 7.45am. We sit down together as a year group and eat at the breakfast hall (or, as we call it, “the ref”). We also pick up recess and lunch from the ref. We then go to school.
At 3.30, when school finishes, we return to the boarding house to get changed out of our uniform and play either ping pong or pool or just chat with mates for the afternoon.
At 5.15pm, we have a 55-minute study period with tutors walking around, which I find really helpful. At 6.10pm, we go to the ref to have dinner and then return for another 45-minute study. Next, we go to the Gartlan centre (the sports centre) to play around; we can play basketball, touch football or other games with mates. We then return to the boarding house and have showers and free time.
Next, we have another 30-minute study before going to bed at 9.15pm, where we can read for 30 minutes.
A parent’s perspective
Justin Bull, Tom’s father
How long have you been in Hong Kong and what brought you here?
My wife Angela grew up in Hong Kong and she still has a lot of family here. When an employment opportunity came up for us to relocate, we moved here to pursue that opportunity.
Was boarding always the plan with Tom, or decided on after becoming expats?
Boarding was never necessarily in the plan while we were living in Sydney, however as my career led to us relocating a lot with my work, we wanted some stability for the children’s secondary schooling. Having lived in such a wide ranging and diverse number of jurisdictions, we also wanted the boys to have some exposure to their homeland and an Australian identity.
What made you choose Saint Ignatius’ College?
We have a long family history at Riverview. Tom and Charlie are the fourth generation to attend – their great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncles were also boarders, albeit from country NSW. I personally had a very positive and fulfilling experience there, along with my two brothers. The school has wonderful grounds and facilities but also a great international focus and feel. Four other boys from Hong Kong started in Year 7 with our eldest Tom. Others have subsequently joined the school in following years.
What’s been the toughest part about having Tom at school in Australia while you’re in Hong Kong?
Obviously, we miss having both Tom and Charlie at home, and there has been a significant change to the family dynamic for sure! At times, we feel very far away but we try to get down for a weekend over the course of each term – at least once each over separate weekends to try and ensure it’s only ever a few weeks between one of us seeing them.
There’s a large Australian boarding community here in Hong Kong and an established WhatsApp group with other parents where we can ask questions and advice.
What’s your communication routine with Tom?
Tom and Charlie both call us most days as the school allows a couple of periods after school when they can access and use their Phones to get in contact. WhatsApp is great as it allows free international calls and video calls, so this is our primary method of communication. We also email a lot.
Tom and Charlie come back to Hong Kong every holiday. Hong Kong is our home and they enjoy catching up with old primary school friends. It’s important they maintain those relationships.
Would you recommend Riverview to other parents?
Without hesitation and very strongly. Our personal experience so far has been very positive but I would qualify that by saying, boarding is not for everyone. While it’s challenging and at times distressing for us as parents to be away from the boys – sometimes (though rarely) for months at a time – the advantages and experiences they’ve been exposed to far outweigh any negatives – perceived or otherwise.
I guess the most compelling validation for our decision was when I recently asked each of the boys separately if they would remain boarding if we moved back to Sydney at some point in the future, despite having no such plans. Without hesitation, they both answered in the affirmative. This was the ultimate confirmation for us that we had done the right thing in choosing boarding at Riverview for our boys.
A student’s perspective
At what age and school year did you start boarding?
I started boarding at the age of 12, at the start of Year 7. I’m now halfway through Year 9.
What’s the culture in the boarding house?
There’s a huge culture! The camaraderie we have between one another and of the boarders as a whole is exceptional. One example is during winter sport season when everyone from the boarding house goes down to the fields to watch every game in the age group, especially rugby. The mateship it brings to everyone is something that no one will ever forget.
Which adult have you turned to when you’ve had a problem? And how did they help you?
I can turn to many people if I have problem in the boarding house – especially the boarding masters with their experience and knowledge. I’ve found that the tutors, who are normally quite young, have good advice as they were once in the same position and they can help very easily.
When you first started boarding, what helped you settle?
Having friends around and all in the same boat was helpful. Also, the advice from the boarding masters.
If you’d like to learn more about boarding at Riverview, join the school’s Hong Kong information session.
Where: JW Marriott Hotel, Conference Suite 3002 (Level 3)
When: Friday 18 October, 6 to 8pm
The school will also host a Riverview Cocktail Reception at The American Club in Central on Thursday 17 October from 6 to 10pm. Book for this event at trybooking.com/523893.
See more in our Kids section
This article first appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.