SSE alumnus Rob Black tells us about one of the best years of his life, spent at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Canada
I feel fortunate to have graduated from two world-class schools—from Lancing College in 1998 and from Ridley College in St. Catharines, Canada a year later in 1999. I got to repeat my final year at school, but this time in another country, experiencing a different culture and with all the highlights of the first year and many, many more!
Several of my friends in England couldn’t understand why I was going back to school to take extra lessons, ‘just for fun, and why I was doing it on the other side of the world. They said it was like being let out of prison and then volunteering to go back inside. However, the thought of getting to spend a year over in America was intriguing to me, and after being told about the SSE Scholarship Programme at my English school, I knew I had to apply.
During my application for the SSE programme, I was asked where in the U.S. I wanted to study, and I suggested on the eastern seaboard, close to cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago. Upon being told I had won the scholarship, I had been awarded a place at Ridley College, in Canada…. not America! I wasn’t sure what to expect; what was the difference? How was it going to affect my plan of spending my Gap Year in America? I need not have worried, as Ridley was just 20 minutes from Niagara Falls and set on a lovely Victorian-era campus akin to traditional English boarding schools.
As the time drew closer to the start of term, I have to admit I was more than a little nervous—I used to get home sick staying at my friend’s house down the road, and here I was about to study abroad! What was I thinking?
After a few weeks at Ridley, I had settled in and found myself loving life over in Canada and fully involved in all aspects of school life. The benefit of the SSE programme is that you have the opportunity to shape your year and develop yourself in a variety of new ways. Without the pressure of A-Levels, I could enjoy classes more, picking topics I was interested in and get involved in a variety of different sports and societies. Coming back to school after Christmas was very different, there was several feet of snow on the ground and it was -10C outside—this is when I also got to experience ice hockey and realised how useless I was at skating compared to those who had been skating since they had taken their first steps.
As the year came to a close, I was as sad to be graduating Ridley as I was when I finished my time at Lancing College. My SSE year had had a big effect on me and I realised that I had gained a range of life skills, such as public speaking and an increased sense of community service, and a new found self-confidence ready for returning to the U.K. for university. My SSE Gap Year had been a brilliant experience, I had made many new friends in classmates and teachers, many of whom I am still in touch with today through the wonders of social media and whenever we get the chance to meet up in person we do. I had travelled and toured around America over the holidays in addition to much of Ontario and Quebec. I had lived in and appreciated a different culture and fallen in love with Canada. To this day, Canada has a special place in my heart, as does Ridley. I am still involved in the Alumni
Association at Ridley, championing the U.K. branch of the alumni association and have been back visiting Ridley on many occasions since my graduation – the last time for my 20th year reunion in 2019.
Now, as a university lecturer here in the U.K., I recognise how valuable and transformative the SSE opportunity is and I am so grateful to have experienced life overseas. I am proud to call myself an SSE Scholar and hold a Ridley College diploma. Graduating from Ridley, having created the year I did for myself as an SSE Scholar, is one of my proudest achievements.
The SSE scholarship is a fantastic opportunity and a brilliant way to spend your Gap Year, immersing yourself in another culture, developing yourself as an individual and coming home with broader horizons. Not only would I have no hesitation recommending this experience, I would actively encourage anyone interested to apply. Your SSE year is one you will not regret and was easily one of the best years of my life!