Constantin, 20, went to boarding school in England from the age of 14 to 19. He is now reading Eastern European studies and German at Nottingham University.
School Britannia: Where were you at school before you came to England?
Constantin Dwernicki: I had been at day school in Paris for 3 years and before that I was at school in Poland. I am a quarter French, three quarters Polish. We speak both languages at home.
S.B: How good was your English before you went to England?
C.D: It was OK. It took me about 3 months to get used to the language when I arrived.
S.B: What made you decide to go to school in England?
C.D: I didn’t adapt very well in France; the contrast between Poland and France was so big. I had always wanted to go to an English boarding school as I had heard so much about them; I thought it would be a good place for me. England just seemed the next place to go and the easiest to adapt to and live in.
S.B: Did you miss your family? Were you homesick?
C.D: Actually, I didn’t miss my family at all. I made very good friends very quickly, so that made it a lot easier. I don’t think I had a time during my five years when I was homesick. Another thing was that we went home quite often. The half-terms were quite short: 6 weeks and then we went home for 2 weeks, and there wasn’t time to miss my parents with all that was going on. I thought it was a bit of a shame that my two younger brothers didn’t want to come to England, because it was such an amazing place. They missed out on a lot of fun.
S.B: How did people in France react when you said you were at boarding school in England?
C.D: At the beginning it was a bit weird, because it’s not a common thing to do in France, or at least it wasn’t at the time, although I think more and more people are starting to do it now. Some people were very taken aback at my decision. The funniest reaction was to the amount of holiday we had. People also seemed to think that I didn’t do anything at school. They were very surprised at the difference between English schooling and the French schooling.
S.B: Coming from abroad, were you treated as an outsider?
C.D: No, not at all. There was the odd joke about me being French or Polish, which I think is bound to happen, but I felt at home from the first day I got there. Everybody was very welcoming. I always thought that the people who had been at the prep school previously might be quite hard to become friends with at the beginning because they already had their tight group, but there was absolutely no problem with anybody. I felt very welcomed – by the teachers as well. In my first months, the teachers did everything possible to help me learn as much English as I could and make me feel welcome.
S.B: How did you find the lessons?
C.D: At the beginning it was quite hard because of the language barrier, but then it got a lot easier. There was less work than in France, but what I found really good is that in France you concentrate on stuff like maths and French and sciences, whereas in England I was able to choose my subjects and take the direction I wanted. I found that very good and helpful and I think this is why the English system is so popular.
S.B: What did you get up to outside the classroom?
C.D: Obviously rugby; that was the big thing. I tried cricket: once, which wasn’t a success! I played lots of tennis and football, swam and went to the gym. I also took part in the CCF (Combined Cadet Force), which is excellent. I am not very musical or arty, so I tried to make the most out of the school in the ways that suit me: sports mainly. Golf played a big part in my school life. When I first arrived and was told that there was a golf course within the school grounds I thought, ‘this can’t be true’. The school library was also amazing.
S.B: What about the method of teaching?
C.D: The teaching was much more personal in England than it was in France. There was more contact with the teachers, so I think that made the actual lessons a lot nicer. I always looked forward to going to them.
S.B: Would you recommend British boarding school to other children from overseas?
C.D: Yes, I think going to a British boarding school for a young person is very forging character-wise. I think living with people you don’t really know from a young age is very good for your future life. I made my best friends at school; I met some absolutely amazing people. I would recommend it to anyone.
S.B: Do you have any moments you particularly remember?
C.D: One of my best memories from the five years was after the Leaver’s Ball, going to my favourite part of the grounds with my four closest friends and watching the sun rise. But then, every day was special in a way. I didn’t have one moment when I was sad or upset. The five years were just one big, happy time. It is still great to see my friends today; I have such a tight bond of school friends.
S.B: What are your plans for the future?
C.D. I am very happy to be learning a new language (German). I think it is important to learn as many languages as you can. I will spend next year in Munich, and then spend my fourth and final year of university back in Nottingham. I might take a gap year afterwards, as I didn’t take one after school, and do some charity work. Then I may do a Masters degree in Business in Poland.