Authors: Carrie Karasyov
Imagine a school with endless gilded hallways that rivalâ¦
“These are the West Stables, where you can board upâ¦
The blood slowly ran out of my face.
I awoke to the sound of a violin. As myâ¦
“You're late,” said the man in a brusque German accentâ¦
“Um, this seat is saved,” said Antigone, putting her handâ¦
I walked down the hall toward Sofia's room and wasâ¦
The next day, after lobbing steady shots at Sofia inâ¦
I brought Sofia into my room, and we both satâ¦
Over the next few days, I steered clear of discussingâ¦
“So what high school has a white-tie thing, anyway?” Iâ¦
As the three-hundred-year-old grandfather clock in the dorm hallway struckâ¦
The thrill of victory wore off at about three inâ¦
That Saturday after hoofing it on the court in scramblesâ¦
I wore the blue dress anyway. And guess what? Itâ¦
I could hardly contain myself when I got to theâ¦
Club Platinum had dark banquettes all around the perimeter ofâ¦
A few days later, Antony called me for brunch, andâ¦
“So are you with Antony now?” asked Iman, her armsâ¦
I awoke to the sound of a little ping fromâ¦
That night, while the gals hit Club Platinum, Sofia andâ¦
I was nervous. I mean, sweating bullets. It was ourâ¦
“There is something about that here,” said Sofia, pulling outâ¦
I was reeling, chest throbbing, head aching, and brow perspiring.
After our third shared bottle of Coca-Cola to wash downâ¦
The next few days were the worst in my life.
I waited until I heard the last door close. Iâ¦
“I know you're mad, but we have to work throughâ¦
Antony valiantly fought to retrieve me from my wallowing state.
The next afternoon at tennis, Coach Sachs ran through theâ¦
Oliver walked me all the way back to my dorm,â¦
Practice went well. It was weird, a whole different vibe,â¦
The trio blew out of my room, on an Oliverâ¦
“Okay, so we owe you an apology.”
I was stressed about Oliver. Why was he being weird?â¦
But I didn't get a chance to see Antony theâ¦
There had been a lot of flux in the friendshipâ¦
“Hurry up! You're gonna make us late!” snapped Antigone, whoâ¦
Oliver was friendlier at practice the next morning. He saidâ¦
I was perusing the racks of leather-bound notebooks embossed withâ¦
It was the night before my match and my heartâ¦
When I rolled over the next morning I thought Iâ¦
So, after my graveyard-in-a-box debacle I exhaled and gave inâ¦
The tradition was to walk through a receiving line, whereâ¦
Back at the table, the main course was being served.
I wandered gingerly down the solitary footpath in my heels,â¦
magine a school with endless gilded hallways that rival Versailles. A chandelier-filled dining room with a painted ceiling that echoes the Sistine Chapel. Thirty-foot-high arches as you walk into the mahogany library. Priceless collections of rare books and illuminated manuscripts. Art worthy of the Louvre. Marble from the rarest quarries. Picture a majestic castle nestled into a lush green mountainside next to a glistening river, and inside it students hailing from around the globe.
It ain't Hogwarts, people. It's my new school: the elite Van Pelt
Academy in Switzerland. And while there aren't wizards, wands, or dragons, there is plenty of magicâthe storied history of generations of royal alumni, a network of global power hatched from friendships struck at age fifteen, and an air of mystery that shrouds this private school that is, without a doubt, the Who's Who of the world.
My classmates are a kaleidoscope of the world's aristocracy. The son of a Russian coal tycoon, the daughter of the deposed king of Italy, an Indian princess, a Texas oil billionaire's son, the son of an Arab emir, a jewelry house heir, a fashion empire scion, and so on. I don't know how to say the phrase “over the top” in Latin, but if I could, I would have nominated that to be the school's motto. Families had decorators flown in during the summer to design their children's rooms before September's arrival day, which was today, my first day of tenth grade. There were personal porters with piles of Vuitton steamer trunks, safes on dollies, and standing garment racks (lest the couture frocks get wrinkled accordion style in a suitcase).
Do I sound bitter? I wasn't, hand to God, I swearâI knew I was truly blessed beyond measure to be here. I just felt a tad pauperish given the illustrious backgrounds of my fellow students. Take the school store, for instance. Yours may have pens, paper, letter sweaters, the like. We had a huge glass-domed room like a London gallery, filled with booth after booth of satellite storesâa mini Chanel, Versace, Vuitton, Tiffany (and others I had never heard of)âall with bursar billing so some dynastic darling could
scribble her signature, charge a fur vest to Daddy, and be off to enjoy her new purchases. So, as you can tell, it's not your normal institution. I mean, New England prep schools may be fancy, but they don't have 300-count sheets or maid service. Or room service. Or dry-cleaning service. If you went to some ivy-covered Massachusetts institution and you happened to get hungry late at night? It's called a vending machine, people. Van Pelt has a leather-bound hotel-style menu in every dorm room, listing every food you could ever dream up. Too bad there wasn't much I could afford on itâ¦. I was offered a small monthly stipend with my full scholarship, but it wasn't enough to keep me afloat in this Monopoly land. People don't even bother to lock their doors here because they're all so rich, why would they need to steal anything? Safes are provided for all the royal jewels, of course.
Let me clarify how I fit into this picture. My dad is a lifelong military man, which means my family has constantly moved from place to place. But I have always been the Good Girl who did what she was told and adapted seamlessly. Being the dreaded “new girl” at school wasn't actually that bad for me; I generally thrived in academic environments, and I always had the structure of a team sport with my tennis playing. Killing on the tennis courts has been a huge feather in my Nike visor.
I had just started ninth grade when I knew I couldn't move again. I desperately wanted roots. I had been playing scholastic hopscotch too long, and my parents had promised me that I could go away to boarding schoolâ¦if I could get myself a scholarship.
I browsed catalogs for schools in the United States dotting the Eastern Seaboard from Connecticut to New Hampshire. But something about being so far away from my family kept me from filing my applications and writing my essays, which wasn't like me. I'd never been much of a procrastinator and had gotten straight As, geek style, pretty much since they started giving grades, albeit in check-minus/check/check-plus form. I knew this would be a huge decision, and I was agonizing over where to apply when I was walking down the street in my most recent hometown (Munich) and bumped into the older sister of a friend from my school in Spain. She had just graduated from Van Pelt and raved about it with stars in her eyes, saying wistfully those years had been the best years of her life.
Hmmâ¦a boarding school where I could stay for three straight years and be on the same continent as my family? I knew of a few in England but they were all single sex and supposedly all legacies. Intrigued, I logged on to the website to register my request for an application. I was emailed back a password for the private pages of the website so I could surf the myriad images of Prince William look-alikes dressed formally for class and brandishing stacks of old books, even switching to the famed Gstaad campus for the winter term, where instruction is in the morning so students can ski in the afternoon. For real. How many schools in the world switch campuses midyear to accommodate choice slalom time? One. Mine. Yeahâ¦crazy.
But what really attracted me was the image of row after row of
tennis courts. They had cement courts, they had clay courts, but most important of all: grass courts. The rarely seen nature's courts were the definition of high maintenance, with thrice daily mowings that made a golf course look overgrown. In all my life I had never played on grass. It had been a dream of mine, and I couldn't imagine going to a school where they would be readily available to me. I was sold. My parents were sold, my dad especially, who was determined that I get a top education and go to a top school. He thought Van Pelt was a great idea. I just needed to sell the school.
After slaving over my not one, not two, but three essay questions and fineâtooth combing my lists of extracurricular interests and aspirations, plus culling recommendations, school transcripts, and standardized test scores, I sent in the almighty application packet, which rivaled the phone book in thickness. I applied for financial aid and corresponded with the tennis coach who came to watch me in a tournament. Luckily I played the match of my life andâpresto!âweeks later I received a hand-delivered acceptance letter on a calligraphy-written scroll! Maybe the other applicants hailed from schools where that kind of grandiose gesture was par for the course, but all I'd known were metal lockers and fluorescent-lit hallwaysânot manicured lawns and parchment mailings. I was euphoric and convinced that my years of adapting chameleonlike to school after school would help me fit in, even though I had so little in common with my glittering classmatesâor at least the alums who graced the Van Pelt site.
It was only when I arrived that the nervous pit in my stomach
did a flip. You know, the whole “be careful what you wish for” idea? I had wanted so badly to stay in one place for the next three years and not jump around, but now I couldn't imagine what I was thinking. I was throwing myself into the highest echelons of society that only about .5 percent of the world enjoy. In theory, I could see myself pictured in the brochure for the schoolâstudying with them, playing tennis with them, on the lunch line with them. But in practice, would I really be able to socialize with them? They had rules that I had no idea about. How could I have thought it would be just like transferring to a school on another army base?
Okay, okay, it was only my first day. I had to remember to stay positive. And to breathe.