The Boarding Experience: Our Students in Their Own Words
We interviewed four boarding students to learn more about their experience living here in Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy's boarding hall. Read on to find out how these four friends solidified their bond during boarding retreats, outings to destinations like Disneyland, baking nights in Ms. Sam's apartment, and movie nights in the boarding hall. They even share a few tips for girls thinking about boarding school!
"I love Flintridge Sacred Heart and being at an all-girls' school. Here we can bond with each other, go out on the weekends and study together. Everyone supports each other and we feel at home together."
Dolly Tong '19: I’ve been a boarding student since I was six, so it was not a new thing for me to live on campus and with roommates. I like being a boarding student because you get to know your friends really well. You have classes with them and you live with them.
Ivian Zhang '19: My situation is a little different. I lived at home my whole life. When I got to high school, I wanted to become more independent. I wanted to learn how to do my own laundry, plan my life out. My mom was supportive, so that’s why I’m here. Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy has given me the chance to become more independent minded.
Valerie Cheung ‘19: I’ve been attending all-girls’ schools since the first grade. FSHA seemed like a good fit. When I went on a tour here, I just got this warm feeling.
Winnie Cai '19: I love Flintridge Sacred Heart and being at an all-girls' school. Here we can bond with each other, go out on the weekends and study together. Everyone supports each other, and we feel at home together.
Valerie: You can feel really comfortable in an all girls' school. You don’t have to worry about being judged by boys because of how you look.
Winnie: As girls, we can’t always participate fully and express ourselves when boys are talking about their ideas. At FSHA, I have the chance to share what I'm thinking and what I want my teachers to know.
Ivian: I like the concept of feminism. It hadn’t come into my life until I attended an all girls' school. Teachers encourage you to think for yourself. They teach us to understand our individual worth. Our sex doesn’t matter. It taught me who I truly am. Now I explore who I am before I set myself into any stereotypes.
Dolly: I attended a co-ed school before so I was afraid to attend an all-girls school. I really like it because the bonds between the girls are unique. You can really feel the connections. When there are obstacles they are here for you. And you can fully express your ideas without judgment.
Valerie: It’s really different from where my family lives. In Hong Kong, it’s more fast paced than here, where it’s relaxing and more chill. I think that’s really cool. There are a lot of cool sights to see, artsy sights like The Broad and LACMA.
Winnie: In LA, most of the days are sunny and the weather is clean. I like to do sports after school and swim in the pool. It’s so nice to do it in the hot sun and feel really good.
Ivian: There are busy and more relaxed parts of Los Angeles. You can experience both. I’ve driven around with my mom through a quiet neighborhood like San Marino to check out the houses. You can also go downtown and have a more fast paced experience. There’s a busy feel to downtown, with the businesses, stores and restaurants.
Winnie: People in LA accept people from all different countries. We can learn about different cultures here.
Dolly: I feel like LA is very inclusive of people from different backgrounds. It feels harmonious. You get to have food from different cultures, like Vietnamese or Thai food, and it’s really good. I like the palm trees and the beach and the sunsets. I love to see the sunset in Santa Monica, the colors. It’s just so pretty here. I love it here.
Winnie: It’s so fun! We go camping, have barbecues, and so much more.
Ivian: I enjoy living in the boarding hall and getting to know the boarding faculty. They are American so they grew up in this culture. They plan American style activities that are different from the types of things I’ve experienced before. They teach us how to bake and cook. They make the boarding hall a family style environment. I like that we have small groups of girls hanging out doing activities like a family.
Valerie: I enjoy the outings we go on. Some are annual events, like Disneyland or Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. We also go on monthly outings to places like The Grove. We really get to explore Los Angeles by living here on the Hill.
Dolly: We go out on the weekends. We live near Pasadena, so we get to explore Old Town Pasadena, shop at the Glendale Galleria. Here I get to know everyone in the boarding hall and explore all of Los Angeles. I also really like the view from the boarding hall. It makes FSHA so unique. We're on the Hill but you can see the whole world, the Rose Bowl, the highway. It’s so pretty up here!
Ivian: We can even overhear concerts at the Rose Bowl, like Coldplay and Beyoncé!
Winnie: On the weekends people cook in the Club Room, which has a small kitchen. We can hang out and chat with each other while we’re cooking. Food is the basis of many friendships here at FSHA!
Ivian: The rooms here are nice because we have our own bathrooms. We don’t have to go down the hall. We only share with our roommates. It helps you prepare for college by sharing rooms. We have the dorm life sharing rooms with each other.
Valerie: Disneyland! We go every year. It’s a lot of fun having that tradition. At night, my room is quite crazy, and I like that. We have so much fun. We listen to music and sing and dance in our rooms. We relieve our stress.
Dolly: My favorite experience was during the boarding retreat, which took place over a weekend. All the girls participated, and we did lots of cool activities. One activity in particular stands out. We played a really fun game that helped us get to know girls from different grades. Also, the boarding hall was a hotel, so it has a long history. It’s neat getting to live here and play games like that while living in this place of history
Winnie: I loved celebrating my birthday here. My friends remembered the date and gave me a big hug that day. They said happy birthday over and over, so I felt celebrated. We went out to a boarding student's house and had hot pot (an easy to make Chinese cuisine), everyone danced and sang.
Valerie: The class sizes are smaller than I've had before. The teachers here are really open to you asking questions in or out of class. They are willing to help you.
Winnie: This year we have two teachers living in the boarding hall. I’m lucky that I have both as my teachers. I can practice my French in class and in my daily life with my teacher. If I have an essay question, I can just chat with my teacher when I see her in the boarding hall. It helps us get to know them better. They really know us and our strengths and weakness.
Ivian: They are really willing to help us. Mr. Lau comes to the boarding hall to help us study and get to understand the math concepts better. They don’t have to do it, but they care about their students.
Dolly: I really like learning Spanish. I like my teacher's approach. She wants us to acquire the language rather than just memorize it. We read articles and learn the vocabulary from that experience, rather than just studying vocabulary words.
Dolly: For me because I play tennis, I get to know the girls in tennis in different grades, like a freshman who is from Japan. We got really close. From joining lots of activities you get to know students from across the grades and also the day students.
Valerie: Participating in activities like tennis, I also get to know girls in other grades. You don’t usually have classes with freshmen when you're older, but I am friends with them now. You spend lots of time with your roommates. When you’re sad, you can express it in your room. They can see it and help you. While you wouldn’t probably talk about it in class, we can talk about it in our rooms.
Winnie: You can get to know girls from different classes. You start out talking about school work, but it evolves from there into friendship. They can see you be emotional. There might be a girl who isn’t your best friend, but because she happens to be there, she can support you through the tough times because you get to know each other. You share so much because we’re living here together. Older girls give suggestions on life and how they have dealt with things.
Ivian: One cool thing is that we know people from different countries – including Mexico, America, South Korea, Japan. When you travel the world, you will find your friends around the world.
Ivian: Plan ahead. When you live in the boarding hall you should plan your weekend time wisely. You’ll have time to have fun and go out with friends, but you also need to balance your school work with all of the activities that are available.
Winnie: I didn’t live with students my own age before, so this has been a totally new experience for me living with roommates. I have learned how to respect people’s private space and how to deal with the relationships and support each other better.
Valerie: Open up yourself, and be who you really are. By doing that you can get to know people from different grades and build strong relationships.
Dolly: My tip is to bring a laundry bag, and wash your clothes on the weekends. When you have a chance to do laundry, take advantage. You don’t want to end up wearing dirty clothes to tennis practice or something!
The Boarding Experience: A Parent's Perspective
by Song Liu (Joy '19)
You may wonder what it's like to attend attend an all-girls' high school and live with girls from the United States and around the world. My daughter Joy’s experience is a fascinating look at life as a boarding student at Flintridge Sacred Heart.
Before coming to FSHA, Joy attended a large high school with 800 students. She did not know all of the 180 students in her grade, and the class sizes were larger than at FSHA. She was very shy and had little confidence in herself. Her math teacher did not have much time to meet with her outside of class during school hours. In addition to developing academic strength, we wanted our daughter to become a virtuous person who can tell right from wrong in our complicated world. Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy offers exactly what we were looking for. Its small class sizes and Catholic values have helped form her faith and encouraged her to develop into a moral, committed and responsible person who is also an excellent student.
This all began with orientation before she started her first year at FSHA. It was a fun and engaging week. On her first day, the boarding staff and senior students hosted a variety of activities to help students get acquainted quickly. Joy was happy that she made a couple of friends on her first day at FSHA! I find the one-week new student and boarder orientation very special at FSHA, while most other schools only give two or three days. It is not only full of fun activities, but also allows them to build life-long friendships, show respect to different cultures, and develop a strong sisterhood with each other.
Throughout the school year, the boarding staff arranges many trips and retreats for boarding students. They also look carefully at each girl's cultural background and mixes them up into different groups, so groups may differ by background but share similar hobbies and personalities. Joy’s group has girls from Vietnam and Japan. She enjoys living with them as if they were family.
At FSHA, girls can comprehend their value and capabilities in ways that have nothing to do with how they look or whom they date. FSHA nurtures individuality. As a result, the girls are more likely to express themselves and share their feelings in such a close-knit community. The teachers here are all loving and caring mentors. This prepares the girls to be self-disciplined, engaged, upbeat and dedicated to what their passions are. I found Joy becomes more and more confident, comfortable making her own decisions and determined in guiding her own course of life. We are excited to see this change in her over such a short time. We know it is FSHA that makes the difference for Joy!
The Boarding Experience: A Local Guardian's Perspective
by William Cheung (Cynthia '19)
FSHA asks that each boarding student have a local guardian unless their own family lives nearby. The core responsibility of a local guardian is to perform the parental obligations in the absence of a boarding student’s parent(s), such as being able to sign the permission forms and other school-related documents, becoming a liaison between the school and the student as well as her family, and serving as the host family for the student during the holidays and school breaks. Since most of the boarding students at FSHA are international students, their parents might not be available physically. A local guardian is vital to the overall quality of the boarding experience and the well-being of the students.
I am the local guardian for Cynthia, who is from Shanghai, China. When I first met her two years ago, I thought she was a pretty mature young girl with a warm personality that exuded a certain self-confidence. Her smile was sweet and radiant. My first task, of course, was to support her adjustment and transition into the new environment at Flintridge Sacred Heart. We invited her to spend weekends with us, sharing our family’s American way of life—shopping, dining, hiking, attending Sunday church, volunteer work, watching football games, movies. Her favorite movies are from “The Fast and Furious” series. She also enjoyed the variety of dining experiences Southern California has to offer. She came to our neighborhood parties; there she met a few boys attending the various local high schools. We hoped gradually she would be connected to our community outside the school, and our home would become her home away from home.
Her first serious challenge came when she was put on the waiting list for the dance program. She was disappointed, as she is a passionate dancer and the dance program was one of the main reasons she chose to come to FSHA. She didn’t know what to do. We encouraged her to take the initiative to make an appointment to see the director of the program so she could introduce herself, present her case, and describe how she could contribute to the program. She adhered to our advice and followed through. The director of the dance program accepted her into the program because she demonstrated initiative and strong interest. This experience stuck with her and has had a positive impact on her interactions and relationships with teachers at FSHA.
During Cynthia’s freshman year, the first topic of the health class was about depression— what is depression, the symptoms of depression, how to detect signs of depression and what to do if your friends or fellow schoolmates have depression or, at the worst, suicidal thoughts. While Cynthia found the topic enlightening and important, her parents were bewildered that depression was the subject matter in her class. We explained to them, other than the formal studies, FSHA, as well as many other American high schools, would not hesitate to incorporate the topics that are socially relevant and personally meaningful to the students into their curriculum or class discussion. And, depression is a real, widespread problem among American youth. They appreciated this perspective.
The high school years are critical not only for personal growth but also for shaping the value system for a young girl like Cynthia. One can imagine the extra difficulties that a foreign student can face when their family is not around for support and guidance. Cultural dissimilarities, value conflicts, language barriers, individual family backgrounds and different personalities, all these factors can be daunting and confusing. We have opportunities to discuss with Cynthia how she wants to build and shape her value system so that she knows what is important to her, and so something can back up the decisions she makes, and so she can find a way to reconcile the conflict of her family values and American values. We do not make any specific suggestions but hope that she will explore and find her own way. One thing we had mentioned to her was to think about the goal of a FSHA education— to empower young women for a life of faith, integrity and truth. Perhaps, she can build on these values and feel empowered by them.
Cynthia’s beloved grandma died before she had the opportunity to go back to see her during spring break. Her parents struggled whether to let her know or not, because they learned she had the Dance Concert coming up, in addition to the exams and papers she had to complete. They knew the news would be devastating. We suggested they should be honest and upfront with her; we believed she had the maturity and strength to deal with it, even though she would feel very sad. More importantly, holding back the news might have a negative impact on their relationship with Cynthia. We promised to stay with Cynthia when they told her grandma had passed away, to support and comfort her. The whole incident drew us closer to Cynthia, especially emotionally.
I only have a grown up son, who graduated from college and is working. Being a local guardian to Cynthia is like re-living my early fatherhood again but this time with a daughter.
Boarding Student Blog Posts
Blog posts by and about Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy boarding students.
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is an all girls' Catholic, Dominican, independent, college-preparatory day and boarding high school in the hills of La Cañada Flintridge. Overlooking Pasadena, FSHA educates girls from Los Angeles, Southern California and around the world for a life of faith, integrity and truth.
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy
440 St. Katherine Drive La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011 High School Office: 626-685-8300 Admissions: 626-685-8521