Sixteen-year-old Condobolin farm boy Seamus Stuckey initially struggled with boarding at Canberra Grammar School, but is now flourishing, and living in the UK as part of an overseas exchange program.

Story Jasmine Kimlin

Vikki and Peter Stuckey farm wheat, oats, barley, canola, beef cattle and sheep on a 4450ha property at Condobolin, in central New South Wales. Condoblin is a small town of 3500 people, where everyone pretty much knows one another. 

Their son Seamus went to a local primary school, where he had just 15 students in his class. As his time for high school drew near, the couple worried about where they would send him to board. “We initially assumed that Seamus would attend school in Sydney, simply because that was what so many families in our district did and because we believed only a major metropolitan city could offer the educational and social opportunities we were seeking,” Vikki says. “However, while at a boarding school expo, we visited the Canberra Grammar School [CGS] stand and suddenly Canberra became a contender.”  

They attended an open day at CGS, which seemed to confirm that the 2100-student school was a great choice for Seamus. “The students who showed us around the school treated Seamus as if he was already a part of this close-knit community,” Vikki says. “Their enthusiasm, manners and lack of pretence put us immediately at ease. The campus itself, with its combination of heritage-listed buildings and modern architecture, reflected both the school’s pride in its past and also a focus on the future.”

But when it actually came time for 12-year-old Seamus to start school, all three of them were unhappy, Vikki says. “On the drive home after leaving our son for his first night at the CGS boarding house, my husband and I were in tears asking ourselves, ‘What have we done?’ He was far from family and friends, and everything he had ever known. Our first week was filled with long and frequent phone calls laden with tears, both his and ours, and he begged us to come home.”

“My first few weeks were hard as I missed home a lot and didn’t like living in the city, away from all my mates,” Seamus says. “I started to feel comfortable when I started playing rugby and started meeting new people from the day school.” 

Fast forward three-and-a-half years, and Seamus is flourishing socially and academically. The desperate phone calls from a homesick boy have been replaced with a mother often desperate to speak to her son in between his busy school and social life. 

Now, in year 10, he’s moved even further away from home, participating in a three-month overseas exchange program with Shebbear College in Devon, UK – one of three students in his school currently on exchange. “CGS has an outstanding student exchange program, offering students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” Vikki says. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #128

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2020