Cream and sugar?

Here I am with my American friend, Tessa, at…   Take a guess. Where do you think this photo was taken?


A school swimming competition of course! You were definitely thinking that, right?

People here often ask me what the biggest differences are between schools in America and in South Africa. I don’t want to complicate things too much for them, or you. There are plenty of things that are different and plenty the same. I don’t feel qualified making claims given my limited experience here, not to mention the diversity of school settings in America for that matter! Maybe what I notice stems more from a comparison of private versus public school experiences rather than from being in different countries? And how much is our children’s experience here representative of greater South Africa? Very little, as I’m learning more and more.

In any case, from this parent’s perspective one difference is that you can always find a beautifully spread refreshments table at competitions and events. School play, soccer and field hockey tournaments, choir concerts… there will be coffee, tea, and maybe biscuits or sandwiches laid out on a white tablecloth. There’s no charge, not even a donation basket and it is not served in disposable containers!


I commented about this to another school parent recently. She replied, “Of course we are paying for it.” She’s right about that; school fees at this and similar schools are not cheap. But it is still interesting to me that many schools do carry on this tradition of hospitality.

As for the swimming competition, this one was an inter-house event held on a Saturday morning at the school pool. Americans who are not Harry Potter fans may need a little brushing up on the school houses concept, a hand-me-down from the British schooling system. Our school has four houses- Buxton, Rhodes, Somerset, and Athlone- to which students are assigned for their whole school career. Houses function as teams at school-wide events with students showing great loyalty to their houses in the way of chants, cheers, and colorful decorations.

Here, students are preparing with their houses and then parading into the pool area.  Simon and Elsa Ruth are in Buxton which is green.








It reminded me of summer camp in Minnesota.


What I did not expect was that so many of the children would be such good swimmers or that competition would be emphasized this much at a primary school event.  Children had been selected in advance for their particular races and won points for their houses.  The individual and house point results were announced throughout to enthusiastic cheering.  Everyone swam at least one race, but as our kids pointed out, “some of the races are just for fun, you know, for the weaker swimmers.” Ours were among these, though Simon was also selected for a relay (he’s on block 7 below).






I am quite certain I have never seen synchronized swimming anywhere except on television during the Olympics!


Tessa and I shared the observation that there seem to be more sporty parents here than in our American schools, as evidenced by the impressive showing in the parents’ relay race!


What do you think, does any of this look at all like a school experience you or your children have had? I, for one, would be happy if the hospitality table could be added to the regular school events back home in Fargo!  Then again, that would require a committee and volunteers, not to mention fund raising.  I’ll just have to reminisce about the good old days.


5 thoughts on “Cream and sugar?

  1. What a lovely glimpse into private South African schooling, Amy. Your experience looks and sounds quite similar to mine of British “public” (i.e., private) schools, right down to the prerequisite tea, cakes, white table cloths, and real china! In England and Scotland, what (elementary and secondary) school you attended is at least as important as your university in facilitating career and business connections later on in life. The school-connections culture was well and alive when I was living in Edinburgh in the early 2000s. In fact, my boss and I, as fundraisers for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, regularly wined and dined many of her fellow “school chums” (NOT university, but primary school chums) or just fellow school alums of a different generation, with great success for the SCO. It helped us to secure many large endowments and corporate sponsorships. I’m not condoning it, but it seems to help in the Arts sphere! You’re witnessing those instances of establishing long-term alliances first-hand. (I also volunteered at two state-run schools in England, and there was a most definite difference between them and the public schools, although tea was always served at events… just not as lavishly) 🙂


    • That does sound similar Heather! I have seen some hints that the childhood connnection with Epworth follows people throughout their lives. I’ve heard adults refer to their house with affection. And I have no doubt you’re right that the shared school background here can offer opportunities later in life that are foreign to the American experience (at least for most of us in midwestern public schools).


  2. What wonderful experiences for you and your children. I really enjoy reading them on your blog> You are very fortunate to have had this opportunity.


  3. Pingback: Cream and sugar? | leisethfamily

  4. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through your blog today. And yes, I think South Africans are quite sporty. Swimming is big here in most schools – all the private and Model C type public schools (which is sort of an in between). And if we had a parents swimming event it would be fiercely competitive as a lot of parents do club, open water etc swimming and of course triathlons.


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