I have had a grand total of nine ‘first days’ at school. Some are just a fog of teachers’ names, confusing rules and long corridors, others form some of my most vivid memories.
Arizona 2008, Canyon Springs Elementary school in the scorching heat. Crouched under my desk peeking at the desert though the barred windows. A siren was screeching as the doors slammed shut and all the security grilles locked to the ground. My new teacher, crammed into the stationary cabinet, warned us not to move an inch or make a sound. I was eight and presumed this was the standard daily American school drill, along with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Later, I discovered that there had been an intruder roaming the school with a 10-gauge shotgun. My parents removed me shortly afterwards.
South Carolina 2010, Low Country Prep School, located near marsh land infested with alligators. My class consisted of 16 pupils and our daily routine of watering the class plants and rotating library duties became a gentle formality, along with lessons on the beach and Easter picnics. Our school trips included aquarium adventures, scavenger hunts and regular McFlurry pit-stops. Once a month the school would gather in the gymnasium to engage in what was known as a “pep-rally”, with inter-year screaming competitions, flash mobs and a lengthy performance from the over-enthusiastic cheerleaders. Parents were heavily involved in school activities, they took part in charity fundraisers and drove students to countless science fairs and spelling bees. I was heartbroken to leave.
Devon, England, 2012. I was eleven. I walked into a building resembling Hogwarts and was stunned by the smell of ageing hymn books and dusty brass organ pipes. The other girls glided up the steps in their full-length kilts as I just managed to prevent myself from face planting onto the stone floor. That same day I was thrust onto my first netball court and told to play ‘wing attack’, whatever that was. The hour consisted of leaping, snatching and total confusion – why was everyone screaming when I ran with the ball?
Buckinghamshire 2013. My ninth and current school) and my ninth first day. I remember noise. Being surrounded by thousands of people as I walked down the crowded corridor towards my tutor room. It reminded me of a London tube station at rush hour. My initial anxiety at the sight of the police car parked outside reception only increased as two menacing year 11 boys walked towards me and the feeling of impending doom remained with me for weeks. Even now, four years later as I enter Year 13 (Upper Sixth), the sound of yelling and rushing onlookers makes me highly nervous.
So, what have I learnt from these experiences? Other than the fact that I cannot play netball, I’ve learnt to appreciate different cultures and traditions, to respect personality differences and to create a good first impression. All of these are qualities that will help me later in life when moving into university or applying for a job, as they have given me the communication skills to interact with all kinds of people and handle changes in life.
I have navigated the waters of transition in different cultures and countries, and to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t get much easier with time or experience. I can’t pretend to know all the answers about how to survive school; the friendship dramas, the cafeteria stampedes, or the scary teachers. However, I can offer a few suggestions for students adjusting to change and also tips for teachers dealing with new students.
Izzy is 17, and studying for A-levels in Buckinghamshire.
Dont forget to nominate a school, teacher or student for a National Happiness Award 2017.
There are over £5000 worth of prizes to be won for the winners and runners up. The awards also receive national coverage which helps to raise the profile of your school and puts wellbeing and happiness at the heart of your curriculum.
Nominations close at midnight on Friday, 20th October. Winners and runners up will receive their prizes at a happiness-studded ceremony in London on Friday, 17th November.
Don't delay - vote today!