x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The good and the bad of going back to school

Old friends are a comfort when you go back to school -- if you recognise them.

Post-holiday depression should be a medical condition in its own right. It's evidently a very popular affliction: if you Google "how to cope with post-holiday depression" you get more than 41 million results. The bump back to reality is harsh: one minute, you could be lazing on miles of palm-fringed golden beaches, slurping on a twirly straw in a fancy glass. The next, you've got trillions of deadlines to meet.

I would say it's much more difficult for teenagers than anyone else. Our worries are understandably greater than our older, or younger, counterparts. All the clothes you own have been worn one too many times (they've been worn once) so you need more cash Now, with a capital N, or you will actually, completely, utterly suffer a horrible social death when the year begins.

Asking us to readjust to alarm clocks going off at 6am after two months of being nocturnal is like asking an athlete who's been retired for 10 years to win a medal at the Olympics. There's the guilt factor, too: you've been moping for 60 days about there being nothing to do and how bored you are. It suddenly seems like you wouldn't mind being bored for a few weeks longer rather than haul up the groaning schoolbags.

Back in Dubai, it's hard to creep out of bed for fear of encountering the whirlwind of activity in the real world, and having to look at the 17 to-do lists Mum has arranged strategically all over the house. They're hard to miss. Anyone would be disconcerted if you began to brush your teeth and a Post-it note tacked on the mirror screamed at you in capital letters "I nearly tripped on the Blackadder DVDs strewn all over your bedroom floor, do you want me to fracture something?"

As I slowly return to all the co-curricular activities, though, I've discovered that I don't despise real life as much as I had convinced myself I did on the plane back home. Attending a meeting of the Toastmasters Gavel Club, a public-speaking forum for teenagers I'm a part of, provided an opportunity to get back in touch with all and sundry again.

Being a public-speaking forum, exciting stories of what everyone did over the two-month break we'd had quickly spilt forth. It felt wonderful to see old friends again, exclaiming at their stories of the summer and marvelling at how different they looked.

Prateek, a swimmer and basketball player, had suddenly shot up over the break and now towered over everyone else, gazing down at us lesser mortals from somewhere near the ceiling. After the 15th person had informed him that "Whoa, you've grown really tall!" he took to slouching as much as he could and irritably cut out Anton, who'd turned to talk to him, with a curt: "Yes, I know." Anton walked away mystified, shrugging that he only wanted to ask how Prateek's summer had gone.

Simran was now gorgeously lean and tanned and sans braces, after going diving in Sipadan Island off the coast of Malaysia. Tara regaled us with stories of all the hot guys she had met on a Caribbean cruise. Jenna had lopped off her hair to a bob, and the girls chattered in hushed whispers, putting the debating skills learnt from the club to good use by actively arguing whether this was a wise move or not.

I'd forgotten just how important the most trivial of matters can become when you put a big bunch of gossip-loving teenage girls together. Meanwhile, when Daniel took to the lectern for a speech and opened his mouth, the "omigods!" were clearly audible: his previous squeak had broken into a strangled croak.

There were a couple of new members to the club, too, barely 13, who were standing in a corner shyly. Mr D'Souza, our mentor, asked me to go up to them for a chat, and they nearly died of fright when I asked them what their names were. They finally allowed themselves to be led into a chair where they remained mute, trembling for the rest of the meeting, flinching if anyone talked to them.

So far, I'll have to admit I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and meeting what will hopefully be new ones. The inner voice that wishes it were summer again has grown the tiniest bit less persistent.

I won't tell a lie: I'm not looking forward to the pages of trigonometry homework that constitute school life. But if school, to start soon, means getting another chance to tut at bad haircuts and laugh together with friends again, I'll put up with the most dangerous, unpleasant inconveniences of life. Even trig.

The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai.