The Things They Bring Home From Boarding School

By: Rachel Pieh Jones

Seventh grade twins bring surprising things home from a three-month term of boarding school. I was prepared for some things, surprised by others. Here are seven things my twins bring home from boarding school and how I handle them.

  1. Hollow stomachs. Not physically hollow, they do eat at school. They even eat food three times a day plus chai breaks and snacks. But none of it is mom’s lasagna or mom’s tacos or mom’s brownies. And when these preteens come home, they are hungry for what only this mom can make. I’m not saying I make the best pancakes on the planet, or that my hamburger buns will win any cooking awards, but they taste like Djibouti to my family. And Djibouti tastes like home. So, I cook. A lot.

  2. Boarding school slang. What’s the cafo? Oh, cafeteria. What’s vac? Oh, vacation. What’s chow? Oh, food they can keep in their dorms, food that comes in packages from grandparents in the United States or from mom via someone traveling to Kenya. So, I catch up quickly, learn to speak their language.

  3. Lice. A dozen girls with meters upon meters of flowing, luscious hair, living in close proximity. This is lice paradise. Two term breaks now, two term breaks spent delousing. Shampooing, combing, checking. So, I’m thankful for an hour of lice-ridding to talk with my daughter.

  4. An extra inch or two. By the second or third term, it seems most of the kids in boarding school have outgrown their blue jeans and ankles stick out on everyone. So, I expect they will keep on growing and next year will plan ahead with larger sizes.

  5. One pair of socks and two t-shirts. At least my son. I don’t know what he expected to wear while home and I don’t think he cared. Djibouti is too hot for socks but he wore holes through the sleeves and back of the t-shirts. At least the clothes he left at school will be fresh. So, next year I will keep a stash of clothes in Djibouti and at school.

  6. Stories of kids I don’t know. I’m used to knowing all their friends, having them over for play-dates, making chocolate chip cookies together, shopping for birthday gifts for them. Now I can’t picture the people who fill my kids’ daily lives. So, I took a trip to school during the term, I photographed friends and teachers, and I memorized names.

  7. Time. They are on vacation. They might have some homework or some sports training requirements, but mostly, they have time. Time to sleep, read, watch television, play games. Time to come to the grocery store with mom, time to camp at the beach, time to play dress-up or sword battles with their younger sister. Time to sit with mom and dad and tell stories or flip through photo albums. Time to listen to mom tell them how much I love them, miss them, am proud of them. So I set aside my schedule and make time. Time to play, shop, watch, camp, sit, talk. Together.

What do your away kids bring when the come home? Even kids at the kindergarten down the street bring things home. What’s in your Third Culture Kids’s backpack after school?

About the author

Expat Blog ListingRachel Pieh Jones is an American expat living in Djibouti. Blog description: Writing at the crossroads of faith and culture. Raised in the Christian west, now I live in the Muslim east. I write, run, raise three children. I pray for peace.
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Contest Comments » There are 18 comments

Lyla wrote 10 years ago:

You need this: With three girls in school in America, we used this too often for 2 years... It is the best. It gets those stupid eggs out like nothing else. Great Article Rachel.

Heather wrote 10 years ago:

We're in the midst of making a decision about sending our oldest to boarding school for high school - 1.5 years away. I'll have to keep these things in mind! For now, I'm most concerned about the things my boys DON'T bring home from their international school in town. That includes school announcements, homework and thermoses!

Esther Aspling wrote 10 years ago:

Leave it to a boy to forget clothes! I love your list, well maybe not the lice, lol.

Jacqueline Joseph wrote 10 years ago:

Wow! My mom was raised going to boarding schools as a missionary kid in Japan. I know she struggled a lot with loneliness and feelings of abandonment that affect her even to this day. But its stories like this that let me know there is a wrong and right way to do boarding school. Thanks!

Barb wrote 10 years ago:

I think the hardest part is not being able to put faces to names. What a blessing you gave to your kids that you made that effort and took the time to join them in their environment with the purpose of getting to know who they hang out with and discover what interests them.

Anita wrote 10 years ago:

I think stories about kids you don't know would be the hardest one on the list. Glad you got a chance to visit them there.

Ruth wrote 10 years ago:

I love this article and can relate to it as a former boarding school student myself.

Sherri wrote 10 years ago:

I can so relate to this article. My son does not live a country away, but a couple hours. When he is home, he loves to eat my cooking and spend time with us.

Elizabeth wrote 10 years ago:

Lice. Got lice a couple summers ago with my four sisters. It turned into lots of quality family time! Have fun with it! :p

Marilyn wrote 10 years ago:

Love.Love this post! Sending it to all the adults that I grew up with in Pakistan. And definitely to my mom. As a mom you have given me a taste of her side of the story.

Mandy wrote 10 years ago:

My kids aren't away at boarding school, but a lot of their time right now is spent at school, doing extra-curricular activites, homework, etc. Just 16 more days and they will be on summer break...and I'm looking forward to lots of relaxed, unscheduled TIME together! As always, thank you Rachel for your unique perspective and your always-fun-to-read words. :-)

Helen Holder wrote 10 years ago:

Another great post. You have the gift to make anything enjoyable....even lice!

Hilary wrote 10 years ago:

My daughter has brought home a new language...French songs that she is learning (and that I have to google to understand), books with lots of new vocabulary for me, Wolof words that she learns from her friends. And sometimes her new language is English spoken with French grammar. I just love it!

Richelle wrote 10 years ago:

they can also bring lice home from the clinic... and since i've essentially got my own girls' dorm, well... sigh! my kids aren't in a dorm, but we've had the privilege of hosting dorm kids to give dorm parents a weekend off... or having the dorm to our home for donuts on a saturday morning... or my kids hanging out at the dorm with their buddies there... we think dorm kids are pretty wonderful!!!

Dan wrote 10 years ago:

that was a cool glimpse into boarding school life. My dad went to boarding school and so did some of my cousins but i must confess I didn't know too much about it before Rachel Jones went to boarding school and she started writing about it. rock on

Georganne Thomas wrote 10 years ago:

When my granddaughter got head lice I found Clearlice on the Internet. They make a shampoo that kills the lice by affecting the exoskelton or some such. Also conditioner, detergent, and spray for bedding. Somewhat pricey, but effective I think, and safe. Georganne

Georganne Thomas wrote 10 years ago:

The address is I have no association with the company except having purchased their products. Georganne

Dawn wrote 10 years ago:

I loved your blog. My daughters attend/attended boarding school in West Africa. I could identify with the slang: we've got vacay (vacation), devos (devotions), cantina (snack shop) and some weird word for the public transport buses!

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