Life after efterskole: how the world opened up for Miss England finalist

Beauty pageant contestants are known for scraping the barrel for things to say, but for Rheanna Cartier, that isn’t a problem, as aged just 14 she attended a boarding school near Viborg, which she credits with changing her life

Rheanna Cartier would appear to have it all. She’s young, beautiful and charismatic, and right now the 17-year-old from Oxfordshire in England is busy preparing for the finals of the Miss England beauty pageant.

But appearances can be deceptive, and that has always been a problem for Rheanna, as many people choose to assume she has had it easy and go out of their way to make life hard for her.

Her confidence hides a troubled past that compelled her to leave England in 2018 to attend an efterskole near Viborg in Denmark. 

Maturity and empathy
The problems at school started with the growth that invariably comes with puberty. She stood out from the crowd and became an easy target for older girls to target.

On one occasion, a boy deliberately sliced open her hand with a knife during a class, and the teachers did next to nothing to defend her. In fact, she was the one who ended up getting punished.

Having now attended efterskole in Denmark, she credits her experience with making her far more  mature and empathetic than before – qualities that she contends are sorely missing among English school-children.

A future Miss World?
Rheanna’s story has been doing the rounds in the English media, and who knows: perhaps more English children will follow her example  in the future.

In the meantime, she has Miss England to look forward to, and potentially Miss World.

It would be an apt ending to an arc that began with her seeking a more worldly perspective in little old Denmark.


Can you remember the first time you heard about a Danish efterskole, and what was the context?
I had really bad bullying in school and my mum was so stressed about what to do that her Danish friend Rikke recommended I should go to an efterskole. My mum talked with me and I instantly wanted to go. We ended up choosing Skals Efterskole.

Were you surprised you could attend a boarding school in Denmark for a year, and that compared to British private schools, it is not that expensive?
Yes, private schools in my part of England can be very expensive.

Nevertheless, as the child of non-residents, you didn’t qualify for a subsidy. Do you remember how much it cost in total for the year.  
I think we end up paying 10,000 pounds [back then, around 100,000 kroner].

How would you compare the teachers and your fellow students to what you were used to in England?
The teachers in Denmark treated me more like an adult which made me grow and made me ready for the real world. I think in England the schools discipline students too much, which causes behavioural problems and makes them unhappy. I remember in my English school I had to wait outside a lesson for half an hour because I forgot my pen. In Denmark they would probably tell me to bring it next time, but they would never make me miss out on learning. The students were nice and respectful to people. My amazing Danish friend Maja helped me so much because after my time in English schools I needed help. She helped me to mature and made me a better person. Also in England, students have to wear uniforms and I really enjoyed wearing my own clothes in Denmark as I felt more mature. In general, I always felt positive during lessons in Denmark, but in England it felt so negative because most of my teachers had a negative attitude.

In Danish schools, a huge emphasis is placed on empathy and teamwork. Could the English system learn from this?
The English system could really learn from this. Bullying in England is a major problem and something really needs to change. English schools don’t have a proper system in place for bullying. Teachers heard people shout horrible names and they didn’t even report it or acknowledge it, and I was only 13 years old at the time.

Did your year at the Danish efterskole fit in with your studies in England, or did they make you take an extra year to replace the one you’d missed.
They fit in with my studies because Skals Efterskole did an international IGCSE program, which is the exam we take in the UK.

Did you learn much Danish; what was your favourite expression?
I tried to learn as much as possible. I had a really good Danish teacher called Anna; the lessons were so fun and she was my favourite teacher. I think my favourite expression was ‘Vi ses’.

BULLYING

You credit your experience at the efterskole with giving you confidence and raising a self-esteem that had been battered by bullies at English schools. How did it succeed in doing that, and how has it impacted the life you’re leading today?
It made me mature and also fixed my behavioural problems. I didn’t like the person I had become due to attending schools in England, and Denmark changed me for the better.

Some of our readers won’t know how bad it can get, as bullying is much rarer in the Danish system. Could you give us some examples of what you were subjected to?
I would be excluded from everyone; people called me vile names. It wasn’t just a group of people, it was lots of groups. I was only 13 years old at the time. The people who called me names were 14-17 years old. A boy got a knife out in a textiles lesson and slit my hand. I would have fights daily. We have a thing in England called isolation and the teachers made me sit in a small room from 8:30-3:05 at a desk against the wall in complete silence. I was put in there most days. When I returned from Denmark I didn’t go back to English schools but a group of five people assaulted me. They hit me over the head and kicked me and videoed it.

Why do you think bullying is less common in Danish schools?
In England if a student doesn’t fit in, people bully them and the mentality is to follow the example like sheep. People fear being different or expressing themselves because people will bully them.

As a young woman, you might be better equipped to focus on the difference between English and Danish women, and why one group might be more likely to bully.
I feel like in Denmark women have lots of friends, whereas in England they tend to have one group and they don’t mix with other people. 

SINCE GRADUATION

How much attention has your year in Denmark received? For example, when somebody sees it on your CV?
It’s a big talking point in interviews. I think interviewers pick me because they are intrigued by it and they want to know more. Also because I was only 14 at the time that I moved, they are really impressed by it.

Your story was picked up by the owner of the Daily Star and Daily Express, so it appeared in both newspapers, but don’t you think the British tabloid press must bear some of the responsibility for face-to-face and social media bullying, and particularly the bullying of women, in Britain today?
I think bullying is a problem in all areas. Not just in school but in the media and workplace, so I think something large-scale is needed to combat it.

You’re competing in Miss England in July. How did that journey start and how many rounds have you made it through so far?
I made it through the first round, and then I was placed in the wildcard round. The second round was a public vote and third based on interviews by a judging panel, and then I got into the finals.

Do you plan to cite your efterskole experience if you make it to the round in which you speak about what makes your tick? Are there any causes you plan to cite?
It will always have a place in my heart for Denmark because it truly transformed my life, and  I will always promote it. Regarding causes, I really want the English school system to change and to help combat bullying.

If you had to include a Danish sentence in your speech, what would it be!
Vær den forandring, som du ønsker at se I verden (be the change that you want to see in the world).



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