A Level 2017 Student Feature: Giving Back

By Nicole Doyle (17A01A), Jeanne Tan (17A01B), Abdul Qayyum (17A01B), Serafina Siow (17A13A), Nerissa Loe (17A13A), Andrew Hidajat (17S03I), Ashley Tan (18A13A), Warren Liow (18A01B), Soh Ying Qi (18A01C)

Pictures courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

This is Part 2 of our 2017 A Levels Student Feature.

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Kelsie Tan

For Kelsie Tan (16S07C), working with wildlife is second nature. As the chairperson of the Outdoor Adventure and Activities Club (ODAC) in JC, she had the opportunity to plan many outdoor activities for her fellow ODACians to participate in, such as hiking, kayaking and trekking. She professed her passion for wildlife, adding that on hikes with the rest of ODAC, she would often share information about wildlife they saw on the trail with other members.

This keen interest in nature and animals began in secondary school, when she co-founded a self-initiated project called The Wild Side, which aimed to “inspire appreciation for the wildlife in [RGS]”. Efforts by the group include organising campaigns and walks for the general school population to share knowledge about the wildlife in school, and a collaboration with the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), a charity organisation, to define standard procedures for what to do when wildlife is spotted. Upon entering Year 5, she joined the Raffles Ecological Literacy Programme (Ecolit) as part of Monday Enrichment, and went on to author a storybook about civet cats in Singapore, to raise awareness about their role in the natural environment and combat the negative perception of them as pests.

Beyond JC, Kelsie is now working at the Singapore Zoo’s Reptile Garden Zone as a reptile keeper, responsible for the welfare of the animals as well as educating visitors to the exhibit. She opined that people “generally don’t really have a very positive perception of [reptiles]”, highlighting that snakes in particular have many misconceptions about them perpetuated in the media. “There are only one or two species of snakes in Singapore that can actually kill you,” she shared. “Their main trait is that they’re very shy, so they’re not very accurately represented in today’s world.”

She is thinking of pursuing something related to environmental biology at the National University of Singapore. On how she managed to cope with her A Levels, she said that “I didn’t think too much—a lot of people over-think things, like a very scrutinised way of studying, and they want their studying plan to be perfect.” She pointed out that many students “end up thinking too much instead of actually studying”, and suggested that they “go with the flow and learn naturally”.

She also offered some practical advice for current Year 6s: “Find a group of friends with whom you can study ‘shamelessly’ and be open with about how you feel about academics.” She explained that in her own experience with group studying, she and her friends could discuss questions together and help each other out. Academics aside, she also had some wise words to pass on: “Try to stay yourself, pursue what you want to pursue but still keep A Levels in mind. Don’t be too stressed, even though it’s quite easy to say. Be happy and healthy, and you will be okay.”

Kelsie would like to express appreciation towards her teachers, for not giving up on her; her friends, for being a constant source of support; her family; and perhaps even herself, “for not giving in too much to everyone’s pressure and believing in myself and what is good for me.”

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Aashwini Cassandra Gunasilan

Many students think that JC life is very tough, but this was especially true for Aashwini Cassandra Gunasilan (16A01E), who has an eye condition that has become a challenge for her. In 2012, just 2 months before she sat for her O Levels, she was diagnosed with vision impairment. She subsequently took her O Levels a year later, and had to cope with her new condition by attending classes at a poor vision clinic to learn how to use assistive devices to help her read.

Initially, she used a magnifier to aid her in her reading, but upon coming to JC and taking HELM, she realised that this method was too slow for her to cope with the readings demanded by an Arts combination. After her Promos in Year 5, she realised that the amount of effort and time she had devoted to her academics did not translate into the results she had achieved. She decided to use her ears more in Year 6, rather than her eyes. She moved on to auditory learning, where she listened to a “monotonous voice” read out her texts. In addition, a tutor from her clinic came to the school after curriculum time to have lessons with her.

Despite her condition, Aashwini found time to participate in VIA projects. She attended 2 runs of house cleanups, and helped to raise funds for Teen Challenge, Central Development Council, as well as Hong Leong Medical Services. These flag days took entire Saturdays, but for Aashwini, who had a “pretty active CIP life” in Secondary school, these “pockets of opportunities were pretty useful” as an avenue for her to give back to society.

“I’m not going to let my eyes stop me,” she asserts. Coming to JC in itself was a tough decision, she admits, and she once planned on going into Law, as it has been her greatest passion. Her condition has posed an obstacle to these aspirations however, and “many people say that Law is too much for me to take, especially with all the reading.” Aashwini accepts that a four year Law degree may be unrealistic, however this has not completely put the brakes on her dreams, and she is considering related fields such as Political Sciences in place of a pure Law degree. 

Aashwini advises the current Year 6s to enjoy life. “You don’t want to look back and see that all you did in Year 6 was study.” As for academic-related advice, Aashwini warns against “information overload”. She suggests that if you are studying a humanities subject in the morning, study a science subject, or Math after that – “space out the subjects” and ensure variety. Most importantly, she added, “Don’t burn out!”

She would like to thank her family, who made her feel that she is not different. They pushed her to do things beyond her reach, rather than just pity her, and she finds that that has instilled in her the right attitude to strive for excellence. She would also like to thank Ms Chen Yee Chien, Ms Myra, her classmates, and her secondary school teachers.

She wishes the Year 6s good luck, and hopes that Rafflesians will “make every moment in RI meaningful!”

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Alex Tan

For Alex Tan (16S03B), a passion for advocating for feminism and the desire to join the battle for justice helped to fuel his efforts at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). With fire in his eyes, he asserted that “our society is becoming increasingly politicised and there is a burgeoning awareness of the inequality that needs to be addressed”. He admitted that as a male, he enjoyed a certain set of privileges, but this was exactly the kind of power he wanted to shed light on by speaking up and raising awareness of the issue.

In Junior College, Alex took 13 Academic Units. For him, taking 5H2s (Biology, Chemistry, Math, Literature and French) was tough, but he did not see it as a burden as he enjoyed these subjects. On top of coping with service and academic commitments, Alex was also a member of Raffles Press. When asked about how he managed to cope, he said that the “most essential thing is to find out what works for you — it’s important not to conform to pressure to study in a certain way”, but rather to “figure out the study method that works best for you.”

“From the perspective of someone who has just enlisted into the army, I would advise you to treasure your time in school — treasure your class, teachers, friends. Try to involve yourself in as many things as possible. Don’t feel pressured by prestige or expectations; you know yourself the best,” he added.

Alex would like to thank his teachers, especially Ms Rathiga Veeranan, Ms Edlyn Ang, Ms Phua Kia Ling, Ms Serene Teo and Ms Christelle Fournier, his family, secondary school teachers and best friends. To his juniors, he has this to say: “Keep an open mind and heart, and believe in your ability to make a change.”

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