LIFE in the small, ancient cathedral city of Ripon, in rural North Yorkshire, might initially appear something of a culture shock for those students who have previously been educated or lived abroad, especially those who arrive here from large cities.
But, without exception, our five interviewees, who have all experienced schooling in foreign countries, have found Ripon to be a great place to live and be educated in.
Felicia Amao,who was born in Lagos State, Nigeria, and Wonu Logun-Leko, who attended secondary school in Nigeria, say they love the location.
Close to the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey, the school is in a great position, they point out, just ten minutes’ walk from the market square and close to rural areas and rivers, with routes which are good to run on.
As termly boarders, they especially enjoy fortnightly trips out. In recent months they’ve gone trampolining, shopping in Leeds, out to restaurants and explored Yorkshire by foot. “And the direct bus service from Ripon to Leeds is great for shopping and eating out,” adds Felicia.
Brianna Dale, whose family live in Qatar, wasn’t used to living in the countryside when she arrived here in 2015: “But I have learned to appreciate it,” she says. “I especially enjoy running in the surrounding woods and cycling to the deer park.”
Dipraj Jimee, who was born in Nepal, adds: “Everything you need is nearby. Most of my mates are walking distance away and if you are sporty, the gym and local sports clubs are also very close.
“Yorkshire is a beautiful county and living near the countryside makes a refreshing change from the hecticness of living in a city.”
Ishwar Koppu, whose family lives in Dubai, agrees: “I love how easy it is to travel and get from place to place from here.”
Most of these boarders discovered Ripon Grammar School online, with some prompted by personal recommendations - but what was it that made them choose RGS from all the schools on offer?
Felicia, who moved to the UK when she started secondary school and whose family are now based in London, was looking for a grammar school with a good academic reputation for sixth form. She also wanted to board, in order to help develop her independence.
“I wanted a school environment that would get me out of my comfort zone, both socially and academically,” she explains.
The 18-year-old, who plans to study engineering at university, looked at a number of schools online: “I found Ripon Grammar School was the best option.”
Ishwar, who previously attended a private school in Dubai, says he and his family also turned to Google: “I wanted to be able to have fun and learn, a chance to play football, an environment which would make me want to work, but which would also give me a balanced lifestyle.
“We looked for strong academic boarding schools around the UK and Ripon Grammar was the best in the North,” he says.
For Dipraj, who wanted the stability of boarding school life combined with excellent teaching and exam results and a wide range of extra-curricular activities, RGS was initially recommended by family friends.
When the aspiring engineer did his own research online, it was the obvious choice: “It came up as quite high ranking in terms of results,” he says.
Wonu, who plans to study medicine, and Brianna, who is applying to study history and politics at university, were also looking for a boarding school with a good reputation, so were pleased to find out about RGS through word-of-mouth.
In many ways, choosing to board at Ripon Grammar School took a huge leap of faith, but, in hindsight, they are all confident they made the right decision.
The students all say they have developed close, lifelong friendships as boarders at RGS, with both peers and teachers providing the sort of motivational and supportive social and academic environment to help set them up for life.
Felicia and Wonu say the tight, welcoming boarding community at RGS made settling in easy, with their current year of girl boarders especially close and supportive.
Ishwar, who wants to work in marketing after university, says the boys in boarding are like one big family: “Everyone here is so kind and helpful. I love boarding, it’s very entertaining being part of it. I wouldn’t want to go to any other school as I’ve got everything I need in RGS.”
Dipraj agrees: “I’ve made friends I consider brothers, ones I won’t forget. Also, relationships with teachers, especially in boarding, builds mutual respect. You have 24/7 support from those around you.”
A keen rugby player, he particularly appreciates having access to the excellent sports activities on his doorstep: “I discovered rugby here. Before joining RGS I hadn’t known of the sport. I got myself involved when I joined RGS, and the rest is history."
He also enjoys the food: “In the UK, the food isn’t based around just one country. Kitchen staff offer lots of different cuisines, including Chinese, English and Indian. It’s nice to have so much variety.”
For Brianna, living in a supportive, close-knit community is important, while the academic and social environment RGS boarders enjoy has proved to be a huge benefit.
“I love boarding, it has been the highlight of my school life, providing me with incredible friendships and a sense of community. It’s what I will miss the most when I leave. Being a termly boarder has also allowed me to develop my independence and prepared me for university, while school has driven me to achieve the grades I need to get there.”
While RGS hasn’t proved to be as culturally diverse as previous schools Felicia and Wonu have attended, both enjoy close friendships with a wide range of students. Although the Nigerian community here is small, Wonu points out: “We have a strong relationship and support each other.” Felicia has even discovered that two third cousins who also attend the school and both have enjoyed home-cooked Nigerian food, made by the parent of a fellow-pupil.
Being a part of the Ripon Grammar School community has been an enlightening experience, says Wonu: “The school has given me a different type of exposure to the world, has encouraged me to develop tolerance and I now believe I’m more able to interact with a wider range of people.”
Felicia sums up her experience: “Ripon Grammar School has really helped me grow emotionally and academically, and I believe it’s prepared me well for the outside world. I’ve grown a lot whilst I’ve been here. It’s different, but we learn new things every day.”
Community spirit: pictured top (l-r) in the girls' boarding house Ishwar, Dipraj, Felicia, Brianna and Wonu