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Study Abroad : Dropping a year

【明報專訊】One thing I didn't realise when I applied to schools in the UK was that Hong Kong students are a year older than their British counterparts. Although we all finish secondary education at 18, we start primary school at six in Hong Kong and at five in the UK. As a result, there is a year's difference in age in corresponding year groups. For example, I joined Oundle in the Second Form, which is the equivalent of Secondary 2. But I was 13 when everyone else was 12.

Technically I didn't quite take a drop, since there was still much to learn from the syllabuses, especially that for the Sciences and History. The time I wasted was on Maths, as I had already been taught the whole syllabus in Secondary 1. Nonetheless, the real problem wasn't so much the course as my maturity compared to that of my classmates. Even though a year's difference doesn't seem like much when you're older, say 18, it is a much wider gap between 12 and 13. I was already considerably more mature, studious, and independent compared to my fellow 13-year-olds, so fitting into my new, even younger, year group was quite awkward at first. If I was a teenager, my English classmates were still children. They would hide behind curtains when teachers looked for them, among other sillinesses. Some of them were whimsical, irrational and stubborn, which made life a bit more difficult sometimes. I also felt like I was cheating the system; if I ever did well at school, it was only because I was older, and not because I was smarter or more hardworking.

On the other hand, children are also generally kinder and more welcoming to newcomers. The fact that you join the UK system at a younger age would also mean that you adapt to the curriculum earlier on and ultimately you would fit in better culturally and socially. So I guess my advice would be not to drop a year, unless you have to.

■Writer's Profile

Alice Sze is 17 and has been boarding in the UK for four years. She loves languages. Apart from Chinese and English, she studies Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Latin and Ancient Greek.

Email: sze.ayw@gmail.com

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