Ice-skating, a trip to Gettysburg and some fantastic teachers made Thomas Tennett’s Secondary School Exchange a year he’ll never forget
Thomas Tennett tells us about his Secondary School Exchange
‘As soon as I heard about the Secondary School Exchange (SSE), I knew I wanted to go. The chance to spend a year in America was amazing in itself, and then there was the opportunity to travel, to meet new people, and – having been shoehorned into just three or four A levels – the chance to study a bit more broadly really appealed to me, too.
My school in the UK was an all-boys grammar school right in the middle of Salisbury. It’s a very middle-class school, everyone’s there because they’ve done the 11 plus, and it’s very rugby orientated. The Governor’s Academy – a liberal, co-ed boarding school an hour away from Boston with every facility you could possibly imagine (apart from a swimming pool) – was clearly very different but it could not have been more fun and exciting.
Thanks in part, perhaps, to my English accent, I found it easy to make friends and by the end of the year I reckon I could name 99% of the 406 students. The teaching was fantastic too. I always thought my politics teacher in the UK was the best teacher in the world until I had Mr Satow for my Advanced Placement (AP) class in government and politics who made every class so interesting. Likewise my AP world history class with Mr. ‘Hot Rod’ McLain – a former Olympian canoeist – was an absolute bellyful of laughs; we got on like a house on fire.
Every class was amazing but the single highlight was learning to ice skate through learning to play ice hockey at the school’s own rink. Every time I stepped onto the ice it became the best day of the school week and I’d never done anything I fell in love with so much – and I’d never have known if I hadn’t done the SSE! Even though we were pretty terrible, the headmaster, Dr Quinby, came to play with us four or five times. Being in a school where you have such a great relationship with the teachers that the headmaster would do that is what made Governor’s so special.
My year in America also completely changed the way I see the world. I was shocked by the number of homeless black people in Boston and I think one of the most moving points of my life was going to the site of the battle of Gettysburg. Learning about the terrible things that happened on both sides made me realise that there’s good and evil but there’s also so much grey in the world.
I can talk to anyone now too. I visited Charleston with my brother and the bus stop by our hotel was basically the smoking shelter for the nurses from the veterans’ affairs hospital opposite. We had some fascinating conversations with people just waiting for the bus and everyone – not just there but throughout the whole year – was absolutely lovely. I never met a bad egg.