I distinctly remember the day I gave my admittance exam to one of the most (if not the most) prestigious all-girls private Catholic schools in the country. My sisters attended the very same school, so it was only natural for me to follow their paths. I'd also attended kindergarden next door to said school, and my friends and I would stand on top of the slide to get a look of the school girls standing in line before class. I knew I was going to be on the other side of the wall some day.
I was four or five years old when I gave the exam. I remember the room and the test in my hands, and a teacher was giving instructions. She'd later become my very first teacher, and in a few more years she'd be the new inspector for everyone between kinder and the eighth grade. I was accepted, and on my first day I realized everything was in English.
I should probably mention that my school was founded by American nuns. They were from Philadelphia, and they all spoke Spanish, and none of them could roll their r's. Some were insanely nice, like Sister Christine. She loved baseball and sports, which was kinda sad because Chile is a soccer country. Sister Eileen stunned me with her kindness. She was already old when I had my first class with her, and she looked very intimidating. Cranky, that's the word. She looked cranky. Until you looked into her light blue eyes, and you realized she was a sweetheart. Curiously enough, there was a bitch of a teacher who kissed her ass constantly, and she was seriously mean. But they were friends, the kind nun and the crazy teacher. Maybe Sister Eileen was more forgiving, and she tried to see the bright side of things.
Sister Jane was scary as hell. She was of Irish or Scottish decent, I can't remember, but I could see her read hair through her habit. She once caught me throwing wet toilet paper to the ceiling. She appeared behind me, hands on her back, and said, "You'll have to bring a ladder tomorrow to clean that up." I can still remember how scared I was. I though they were going to kick me out of school. I ranted to my friends about how I was going to ask my parents to transfer me to another school, because I just couldn't deal with the crazy nuns anymore.
Wet toilet paper later turned me into a hero of sorts. We were all standing in line before class, and a few teachers spoke to us about how the bathroom's ceiling was completely clogged with wet toilet paper. They asked the guilty students to step forward. There was a long silence. I moved my foot, but hesitated. I did it again. Finally, I stepped forward, hands on my back, and stood next to a teacher. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, "This is a brave girl." More people stepped forward, and we were taken to the principal's office. The principal was Sister Jane with the red hair and the ladder threats.
Discipline was tough. During Kinder and First Grade you had to freeze when the bell rang the first time. If you were running, you had to hold the position you were in until the nun rang the bell again. Sometimes she'd walk around, making sure we were all human statues. Once she was satisfied, she'd ring the bell again and we'd all have to walk to our place in line, hands behind our backs, lips tightly pursed. You were only allowed to wear red, white or blue headbands, and your pencil case had to be the one the school gave you. Your backpack had to be blue. If you chose to wear a scarf during winter, it had to be red, white or blue. Everything was red, white or blue in that school. You weren't allowed to speak Spanish during class, except for Religion and, well, Spanish class. Everything else was in English. Art, Music, Social Studies, Science class. I learned the Star Spangled Banner before learning Chile's National Anthem. But we celebrated both countries holidays, so we didn't have much classes during the year. We had lots of presentations and recitals that took lots of rehearsing hours, and there were father-daughter dances for the high school students. We had actual cheerleaders, and the Pink Panther remains the school mascot to this day.
It was a good school. It was too big for my tastes, but it was good. Some teachers were literally insane and some were very violent. One of them hit one of my sisters, other pulled my hair because I didn't understand something (I was 6), and other locked up a girl in a closet. I think it was the same teacher who hit my sister.
I was in that school until the fourth grade. My little sister and I were transfered to another all-girls private Catholic school, but it was very different. It was founded by Chilean teachers, and there was only one class per grade, unlike my other school, where there were three and sometimes four classes per grade.
My first year there was a revelation. We could use any pencil case we wanted, our back packs could be green or bright yellow, and English was seriously amateur. Fifth grade English in my new school could be compared to Kinder English in my other school.
But most important of all, we were small. Two hundred students in total. Nothing compared to the thousands of students in my other school.
I finally felt like an individual.