While the academic side of boarding is undoubtedly important, the social dimension is just as vital.
An isolated child is rarely a very successful one. Schools with substantial numbers of international pupils will invariably portray life as multi-cultural heaven, a glorious melting pot where nation speaks unto nation and pupils leave with their ideals intact, their horizons and tolerance vastly expanded and a lifetime of reunions all over the world to look forward to.
In many cases, when a school selects a blend of nationalities, such as at UWC Atlantic College, this is exactly what happens. Good Schools Guide reviewers regularly hear of enduring friendships that span religious or cultural divides, or of lessons enriched by pupils on opposite sides of wars, sanctions or economic policy.
It works less well when a school operates a monoculture policy. A large number of pupils from one nation in a single year group may help fend off homesickness but can also reduce the motivation for pupils to immerse themselves in their host countrys’ way of life, an opportunity lost rather than gained. It is always okay to ask admissions staff for numbers if you feel at all concerned.
Similarly, a school where the number of overseas pupils is so small that they are swamped by the prevailing culture can also lead to a miserable experience, particularly if they are the only full boarders in the place at weekends while everyone else goes home.
Immersion is one thing, invisibility quite another, so it is also always essential to find out just how many pupils of your child’s age are actually around over the weekend.
Many schools start off with a packed house for Saturday morning lessons or matches but empty out seconds after the final whistle (or bell) sounds.