A WARM reception for a student from Chile was enough to convince him to stay on at school when a term-long study placement turned into a two year secondment in the North.
In fact Tomas Valdivia Araya immersed himself so deeply in life at Barnard Castle School he secured the prestigious position of head boy in the face of stiff opposition from his peers.
As he collected his A Level results, the 18-year-old, of Concepcion, Chile, also recalled how arriving at the top independent school, 7,500 miles from home, was a bit of a culture shock.
“I live in a million population city in one of the longest countries in the world,” he said. “When I looked at the map, Barnard Castle seemed to be so close to Newcastle that I thought it was going to be a suburb.
“Then when I got here it was in the middle of the countryside and there were more cows than people. But the welcome I received was so warm I decided to make it my home from home.”
Tomas had always wanted to spend time in an another country and also considered Australia and Ireland, where they also speak English and play top-flight rugby.
“But my old rugby coach knows Barnard Castle School’s second master Martin Pepper so I thought I would give it a shot,” Tomas said.
“I should have gone back home the first Christmas but decided to stay to take my A Levels and when I was chosen to be head boy it was such an honour. Barney has been amazing and is a real community which actually lives by its school values and ethos.”
While his aim was to develop his language and rugby skills, Tomas soon threw himself into a range of activities, including choir and drama, as well as his coursework of maths, sports studies, Spanish and economics.
After securing his results, Tomas is returning to Chile to study a degree in sports medicine hoping one day to work with the national team in professional rugby, a sport which is growing rapidly in popularity in his country.
Headmaster Tony Jackson said: “We strive to help all of our students maximise their potential and we are delighted that Tomas chose Barney to develop his academic, sporting, language and social skills, gaining so much from the experience.
“Our international links continue to grow, as does the number of students opting to board with us from cities, recognising the quality of life available in Barnard Castle and the North.”