I Survived Swiss Boarding Schools: All That Glitters Is Not Gold (Second Edition 2018)
Richard René Silvin was born into a wealthy Franco-American family. They lived on Long Island and in the South of France. René’s father led a hedonistic life focused on travel and hunting.
For most of his first 6 years, René was placed in the care of a loving nanny on Long Island and lived in her modest home. In 1955, he was taken to Cannes, France, to live with a French governess until he could go to a Swiss boarding school the following year.
1955 – 1958
René’s father decides his sons should receive a formal European education by placing them in Swiss boarding schools. This frees up René’s father to travel with the infamous Ann Woodward, who was cleared of murdering her socialite husband in New York. René is too young to attend a reputable school, is separated from his brother, and is dropped off at La Clairière. It is a sinister looking school for very young children in picturesque Villars, Switzerland. René’s parents have not vetted the 30-student school, which turns out to be rife with cruelty, including physical and sexual abuse.
René endures his Oliver Twist-like existence. In his third year at the school, the police are called to investigate why a well-meaning maid stabs the headmaster’s wife. Act I ends with René joining his older brother, John Jacques, at Le Rosey, known as “the school for princes and kings.”
1958 – 1962
Le Rosey is a boarding school for 120 boys, aged 10 to 18, and has two campuses. Spring and fall trimesters are spent in Rolle, Switzerland, while the winter term is spent in Gstaad, Switzerland. Colonel Louis Johannot, the headmaster, is one of the highest-ranking officers in the Swiss army and runs his school like a luxurious military academy. Antoinette Stickel, a competent and fair teacher, supervises the younger students along with her gentle husband, Charlie.
René meets sons of European royalty, and the world’s wealthiest industrialists and famous actors. He settles into the new school’s routine but, given the lack of education at La Clairière, is last in his class. Upon learning René may be expelled for poor grades, René’s father strikes a deal with Monsieur Johannot to send René to a summer cram school. Regaining his footing as a fair student, his life becomes as pleasant as possible for a young boy at boarding school.
But René has a problem. He is forced by an older boy to perform sexual favors. Eventually, René reveals the abuse to his older, defacto-step brother Jimmy, Anne Woodward’s son. Jimmy tries to protect him, but a scandal erupts, and René is branded as a “homo.” Upon learning of this, René’s father reacts in outrage. A second deal is made with Monsieur Johannot: a catholic priest on Eastern Long Island will “cure” René of any homosexual tendencies that summer.
1962 – 1966
In the fall, René returns to Le Rosey with his father, who assures Monsieur Johannot that René has been restored to mental health. René sets out to overcome having been branded a “homo” by becoming a jock and he picks the school’s once popular sport of rowing to accomplish this.
For the first time, Le Rosey wins all the inter-scholar races. René eventually persuades Monsieur Johannot to let the school qualify as a Swiss rowing club. After several setbacks, René’s team wins the coveted prize of Swiss National Rowing Champions.
René’s final ambition is to be elected “Meilleur Roséen” (the Best Rosey Boy) the school’s highest honor. As the big moment approaches René discovers the election was rigged, and he will have to share the award with another boy.