Namita Mehta (S03), President of The Red Pen, a leading independent education consultancy, talks about how the boarding school experience at Charterhouse set the stage for her future. Namita says that the true essence of belonging to a community came to her at Charterhouse.
As we prepare for the inaugural The Red Pen World Boarding School Fair, my mind drifts back to my time as a student at Charterhouse, a British boarding school, where I embarked on a journey of academic growth and self-discovery. Here are a few experiences that left an indelible mark on my journey and continue to shape my life.
I grew up in a close-knit Indian joint family in Hong Kong. Even as a child, the thrill of adventure and the desire to do something different always exhilarated me. So, I was overjoyed when my family decided to send me to a boarding school in the UK for grades 11 and 12. While growing up, I had devoured every book in the Malory Towers series, which depicted life at an English boarding school. In my mind, I was already Darrell Rivers, the story's protagonist. Besides that, I grew up in British Hong Kong, so adapting to life in the UK would be a breeze. Little did I realise that my life was on the brink of a 360-degree transformation.
The first thing to take me by surprise was the sheer variety of British accents—some nearly impossible to comprehend. Understanding the 'beaks' (our term for teachers) became a challenge, and for the first month, I was homesick. However, despite their incomprehensibility, the beaks were kind and supportive.
The house system at Charterhouse played a pivotal role in building connections. My housemates and I spent our breaks, meal times, and homework sessions together and created bonds that have endured to this day. I learned to manage my time efficiently, academically and in extracurricular activities. Whether staying up late to study or indulging in late-night conversations with the girls in the dorm about Club night or weekend plans, I was in charge of my choices. This newfound independence was empowering. That feeling remains with me today and inspires me as I strive to elevate The Red Pen to new heights.
The true essence of belonging to a community came to me at boarding school.
The true essence of belonging to a community came to me at boarding school. From singing in the chapel choir to participating in water volleyball battles at the Queen's Sports Centre, every activity taught me something new. I plunged headfirst into theatrical productions, earned the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, and joined a Scottish dancing club.
Amidst all these incredible moments, one chapter stood out. I represented my school for the "Inner Cities Young People's Project”, a two-day workshop of conversations with peers from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. My voice, a tapestry woven from my Indian heritage, childhood in Hong Kong, and current life in a British boarding school, resonated with participants. I found my voice at boarding school and learned to plan effectively. When challenges arose, as they invariably do, I discovered an innate knack for problem-solving.
The community engagements at boarding school also paved the way for my career as an educational counsellor. Drawing from my experiences, I now guide and support students on their educational journeys, helping them navigate the world of academia.
Paving the way to Oxford
I embarked on a formidable academic journey at Charterhouse, tackling a staggering 4.5 A Levels. My subjects included biology, chemistry, mathematics, and German, with history playing a cameo role at the A/S level. My decision to tackle biology, chemistry, and mathematics wasn't because I loved science. It was a visceral response to my FOMO. I knew bypassing these subjects would narrow potential career paths, so I chose them to pursue them.
During this time, I stumbled upon an unexpected love affair – with chemistry. My chemistry mentors, Dr Hoskins and Mr Shuttleworth, catalysed my newfound passion. Before I knew it, I received an exclusive invitation to partake in extra Oxbridge classes in chemistry and biology. To further stoke the flames of my newfound passion, I eagerly participated in the biology and chemistry Olympiads at school to push the boundaries of my scientific understanding. Boarding school set my course towards the University of Oxford, where I delved into molecular and cellular biochemistry.