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TGS – This is My Home

Baihan “Kimmie” Zhou casts a lonely shadow as he sits on the bench outside his boarding house, but the Year 12 student is far from alone. A wide grin spreads across his face as his mates eagerly approach; they’re all excited to hit the basketball court for some afternoon fun and relaxation.

Kimmie has come a long way, and not just by plane. Kimmie commenced boarding at Toowoomba Grammar School in 2018 as a shy and nervous Year 9 student from Shanghai, China, after three years of preparation for schooling abroad.

“I wanted to go overseas to go to high school because I wanted to experience a different culture and living style other than China,” stated Kimmie.

“I chose Toowoomba Grammar School because I liked the look of the environment and community in Australia, and Toowoomba is a typical Australian-type town without being another massive city like Melbourne or Sydney.”

Despite spending countless hours in an English language program in China, Kimmie struggled with the language and cultural differences when he first arrived in Toowoomba.

“We didn’t learn about ‘mate’ and ‘sick’ and other slang the boys were saying,” he recalls.

“Everything in this School was totally unfamiliar to me. I was really afraid that I couldn’t integrate into an Australian community which would lead my study-abroad plan to fail.”

Fortunately, the School’s boarding housemasters and teaching staff are well-accustomed to helping boys who experience homesickness and other challenges when adjusting to boarding school. TGS is one of the oldest and largest boys’ boarding schools in the country, and its reputation precedes it. Staff knew what was needed to help Kimmie settle in. Within a matter of weeks, he was comfortable and thriving.

“I live in a boarding house which is a warm and friendly community; a place you can consider as your second home,” Kimmie smiles.

“My Housemaster, Mr (Christopher) McLeod, not only taught me a lot about the culture and living style in Australia, he also guided me through the tough times.”

Mr McLeod suggested that Kimmie become involved in soccer, volleyball and basketball to make new friends.

“And I actually did this and made lots of new friends. He (Mr McLeod) also arranged for me to live in the same dorm with three kind and friendly young men, Tom, Mac, and Morris. They also helped me a lot with both study and life, and we are still close friends.” said Kimmie.

Kimmie’s biggest challenge was being such a long way from his family, unable to see them until the holidays. Last year, COVID-19 took even that opportunity away from him.

“We went through the toughest time in 2020. All the boarders had to go home and study, but the international boys had no place to go,” Kimmie reflected.

“Many of the housemasters and teachers donated their time and effort to look after all the overseas boys who didn’t have a place to live, they made it joyful in this warm community, and I couldn’t feel lonely or homesick.”

Kimmie said he would forever be grateful to the TGS Director of Boarding, Mr James Noble, as well as the other housemasters and staff who opened their doors and their hearts to these ‘stranded’ students. It has now been 18 months since these boys have been able to return to their homes and families.

“I have learnt so much about life coming to TGS, not just education, but friendships and experiences I would never have had. I miss my family sometimes, and I can’t wait to see them again, but I do feel like this is my home too.”

Kimmie will graduate at the end of this year and has taken on the role of Academic Leader to help the younger students with their studies. In this position, Year 12 students offer their time at lunch or after school in tutorial sessions to assist the Years 7-11 students with challenges in various subjects or with homework and assignments.

“It is a great feeling to help people, and I would never say no to help someone because I’ve been helped a lot in the past,” states Kimmie.

“So, in conclusion, I would like to say thank you. Thank you to Mr McLeod, Mr Simpson, Mr Noble, Mr Moore, Mr Lachmund and all the other boarding housemasters. Without you, we couldn’t have a better life,”

“I also want to thank the Headmaster (Dr Kinniburgh), teachers and all the boys who’ve helped me a lot in the past and will help me in the future; thank you.”