Monday 26 September 2001, Language School Year, Warminster, England

Should it be a surprise that in a school that taught English, there would be no native English-speaking students and the students’ English were generally not very good? It was a pity that I had not thought about it that way before I arrived and was shocked to see more than half of the students from the school were from China and the rest mainly from Eastern Europe. On top of learning British English, I found I started to develop the ability to understand English with almost any ascent, what a lovely surprise. But outside class, students tended to cluster in groups based on their native language. A general English-speaking environment was only saved by the fact there were about equal number of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers and very few were able to speak both.

However, the school was very diverse in the way the students thought about education itself and such discussion was always entertaining. For example, one girl firmly believed that intelligence rather than hard work was the sole determination of one’s life. And conveniently, she processed more than fair share of it as well. Therefore, she refused to do any work and could not understand why people like me would be bothered. When I suggested it might be due to me not having as much as intelligence as her, she kindly waived it off and suggested me to relax and save the energy to use when the big moments came. Despite the difference in our opinion, I absolutely admired her courage to follow her belief: as she considered nothing at Warminster was important, she just never did any work.

My difference with the girl, however, would look negligible when comparing with the two other schools of thoughts. At least, the girl and I agreed that we need to do some work, just not on when. The most popular view was that by the fact we were now studying in England, we would naturally become a well-educated gentleman/lady, speaking fluent English, graduating from a world class university and living a happy life forever thereafter. As much as I would like to hope such theory was true, something just didn’t add up. Even if I ignored everything else and just focused on the relatively easy-to-achieve English part, I found I was struggling even when I was working so hard already. Would it really just come naturally without much effort?

Last but not the least, there was the view that school was for boys and girls to meet, have fun and have fun ONLY. Even though our school’s boarding house had separate areas for boys and girls, alarmed doors, and strict sign-in/sign-out systems, it didn’t prove to be enough. Our science teacher never knew, but otherwise he would surely have been impressed. It was discovered that the alarmed doors were operated by the principle of electromagnet. Therefore, if one put a magnet next to it, the door could be opened without triggering the alarm. Thereafter, to the better or worse, having fun was a lot easier.

Looking from this perspective, Warminster looked a lot like my Middle School in China as they faced exactly the same challenge: neither school could pick the students they would like to take. In fact, the students who showed up at their doors were precisely those who could not make into some other more desirable institutions in the first place. Although I was supposed to go to an  English high school the following year, my first Maths class at Warminster had to start with “1+1=?” as I knew neither the “plus” sign or the “equal to” sign in that equation. And I was one of the better students academically already. It was only through the love, energy and patience of the teachers at Warminster that the students could go on to receive a great education and have another chance to compete with their peers elsewhere. My gratitude would be forever with my teachers at Warminster, Mr. and Mrs. McKeown, Miss Provan, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Wolfe!


Score: Me: 1, English: 107 (I had a notebook which I noted down the new vocabulary in the hope of revising them later. But I found the speed of my revision everyday was far outpaced by the speed they would arrive.)

20 thoughts on “Monday 26 September 2001, Language School Year, Warminster, England”

  1. Hello Puzhong!
    I’m really enjoying your account of your educational journey.
    I have many fond memories of WISC and am actually still working at Warminster School. It would be wonderful if you could come back and visit sometime and bring you gorgeous family!
    Thank you for mentioning me in your story and you were a pleasure to teach, with your resilience, determination and hard work you have achieved so much. Well done!
    Plus I will never forget your rain mac which you wore over your school uniform everyday!!
    Looking forward to the next instalment…..

    Ps Do you still have the newspaper cutting about your Maths GCSE? It would be great to get a copy!

  2. Hi, Sarah, I am so happy to hear you like it. It is in your class I first started to write English stories after all. 🙂

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