Interview with an old Etonian30.04.2012
Eton College is undoubtedly the most famous school in the UK, however opinions towards it often vary. Whilst for some, admission into Eton is a dream come true and will guarantee them success in their future careers, others are more wary- some parents fear that the school’s reputation may count against their sons when they apply for higher education. Etonians are regarded by many as being among the brightest students in the UK, whilst others perceive them to be snobbish and arrogant. At Lucullus we are very lucky to have one of the school’s former pupils working for us here in Moscow, and he was happy to dispel any doubts we might have had about his alma mater.
Lucullus: What brought you here to Russia?
J: I should probably start with explaining slight difference between education in the UK and most other countries, such as Russia: your university course and subject often have no relevance at all to your career. So in the UK, for example, you can study history, and go into finance; you can study philosophy, and go into mining; you can study religion, and go into management consultancy - whereas in other countries, there is not so much flexibility. Accordingly, people often choose to study what they think would be interesting at university, rather than what they want to do afterwards. I will probably work in finance after university, but I decided that Russian history and literature would be more interesting so study for four years than finance. The likelihood is I will not use my degree at all after I leave university – I may, and would really like to use Russian in work, but my Russian certainly wouldn’t be much use for work at the moment!
Lucullus: Do you think being an old Etonian has helped you in life? For example when applying for jobs or even when just dealing with people?
J: Sometimes it helps you, sometimes it hinders you. Most people are sensible enough not to judge someone by the school that they went to, but some do - and as I said, sometimes this can work in your favour and other times it can work against you. This ties in slightly with the first question – Eton has a reputation for producing arrogant boys. Whether this is justified or not, it is a widely held preconception, and some people inevitably form an opinion about you before they know you, which can be frustrating.
Lucullus: What did you especially like about Eton?
J: Well, I think Eton is similar to most schools in the UK in this regard, in that you are encouraged to study what interests you, and what you are good at. In the UK, (as opposed to, say, the American or Russian systems) you only have to do three A levels, which allows you to really focus on what you want, rather than being forced to study what you consider dull or boring subjects. So I didn’t study any sciences after 15, and by 18 I was only studying economics, history and French. It’s a cliché, but Eton (as with other schools) enables and encourages boys to develop whatever interests they have, whether they be academic, sporting, artistic, dramatic, musical or whatever.
Lucullus: What would you change about Eton?
J: I would move Heathrow Airport – why did they build a school so close to an airport?! Apart from this I can’t really think of anything that serious to change that isn’t superficial or cosmetic – occasionally people have suggested making Eton co-educational (i.e. for girls as well as boys), but I can’t see this happening, at least in the near future and I don’t think it should. 50 years ago co-educational schools were considered the odd-ones-out, but now the opposite is true, with only Harrow, Radley, Winchester and Eton left - now we are considered the freaks, and are the targets of the inevitable and predictable (but nevertheless occasionally funny) jokes! If most people in the UK find single-sex education strange, I imagine people from other countries without all-boys schools, like Russia, must see it as extremely weird! However, whatever some people may say about single-sex education hindering a student’s academic and emotional development, the reality for schools like Harrow, Winchester, Eton etc is that they are limited on space for further expansion. Besides, why should a school like Winchester change a formula that has worked very well for them for over 600 years?
Lucullus: Are you still in touch with your friends from school?
J: Yes, of course – I think it’s inevitable that people you effectively spend 24 hours a day with for 5 years of your life will become very strong friends. Of course, this is true for day-schools, but I think boarding school in particular leaves you with very close and loyal friends who you know back-to-front.
Lucullus: How did you find life at Eton? Many people worry that boarding schools and especially Eton are very restrictive, almost like prisons, and that you need to be very confident and self-assured to be able to make an impact - how far do you agree with this opinion?
J: Not at all - I don’t think it’s any different in this regard from other boarding schools in the UK. Perhaps, for Russian families the idea of boarding is strange – certainly when I met people out here in Russia and tell them I was a ‘boarder’ people assume I am either an orphan or have graduated from some kind of military academy! Boarding schools have moved on from what they used to be like (or at least what people think they used to be like) fifty, one hundred, or two hundred years ago – I found boarding very comfortable, and enjoyed every minute of it from my prep school when I was 9 until I left Eton at 18. Many of my friends started at 7 and loved it. But of course for some people boarding schools are inevitably tough places, especially when it’s an all-boys environment, as boys will be boys and there will always ‘disagreements’. However, this is universal, and furthermore I see it as entirely natural and necessary – while some of my friends may not have enjoyed boarding at the time, I know of few who regret it with the benefit of hindsight.
Lucullus: Are you proud to have gone to Eton?
J: No, I’m certainly not proud – I would say that I am very happy that I studied there – but not proud. I did not personally choose, qualify or pay so there is no reason for me to be proud of myself. I am grateful to my parents for sending me there, but no more so than I would be had they sent me to any other school.
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