A-Level 2021 Student Features: Raising the Bar

By Faith Ho (22A01A) and Mandy Wong (22S03C)

This year, Raffles Press invited eight accomplished Year 7s to share their experiences in JC. We hope that all of us can see a piece of ourselves reflected in their stories of leadership, service, and above all, resilience.

This is Part 3 of our A-Level 2021 Student Feature.

Claire Chan

The famous saying “Life is like a box of chocolates” could not have been more apt to describe Claire Chan’s school life. For her, life was both vibrant and unpredictable; both sweet and sour. 

Her journey started out with a rather bitter taste, though. When she was 12, Claire experienced a series of Transient Ischaemic Attacks (mini strokes) throughout her PSLE and eventually a full-blown stroke that rendered the left side of her body paralysed. It was only after working through intense physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy did she recover, finally being able to smile again after three months. 

Nonetheless, despite the unexpected medical scare, Claire was able to bounce back quickly. This experience, especially at such a young age, impacted her significantly. Realising how privileged she was to have recovered, she strived to live a meaningful life, going on to pursue opportunities in a variety of domains, from sports to academic interests to community work, which formed the backbone of her JC experience. 

Soccer and Cross Country were a huge part of Claire’s school life. Not only were these CCA experiences crowned as the highlights of her JC life, but they also helped her become more confident and gain a greater sense of purpose and identity. Although sporting injuries at the beginning of Y5 and Y6 put her out of commission, she dedicated tremendous time and effort to catching up, frequently going to the stadium early by herself to train and continuing to practice Soccer drills after she reached home. Support from her teammates and coaches motivated her to remain strong so that she could make them proud. 

Despite insecurities about her technical ability in Soccer, her persistence paid off—she received her dream position as a Winger and gleefully recounted scoring a goal for her team even with an injured ankle. “I really improved my understanding of myself, learnt to accept my weaknesses and discovered some talents that I had,” she reflected. “I learnt to not just identify [some of my skills], but also accept that I had [these] skills without feeling bad about questioning my abilities or boasting. I realised that no one can be perfect and everyone has their own battles they are fighting, and that as long as I was doing my best to improve, I should not worry about what I do not have, but focus more on the skills I do possess.”

Curious and enthusiastic about science, Claire enrolled in Biology Raffles Academy and chose to take H3 Biology in Y6. Apart from school-related courses, she also participated in and self-studied for various competitions on subjects such as ophthalmology and neuroanatomy—experiences that were “intense” but also incredibly fulfilling and helped “deepen [her] passion for the subject”. 

Throughout her JC life, Claire also involved herself in community service due to her heart for service and love for interacting with people. Besides participating in the end-of-year holiday programmes in Pathlight School, she joined the beneficiary engagement team of a non-profit group over the Circuit Breaker, where she engaged with families in rental communities facing loss of income and went beyond her call of duty in the project scope to better understand their difficulties. 

Claire’s passion for science-related subjects, emotionally connecting with others, and an intention to give back to “the community [of healthcare professionals] that [had] helped [her] so much growing up”, ultimately translated into a decision to apply for courses like Medicine and Nursing. With a dream of working in healthcare, she expressed how she would like to “connect with people on a very personal level,”  “listen to their stories” and “help [them] protect and make the most of this precious life they have”, especially after having experienced firsthand the preciousness and fragility of life from medical difficulties both personal and that of loved ones.

“There are times when you pick your favourite chocolate from the box—when you experience these moments you are just filled with joy and pride. […] However, you might just as well end up picking a chocolate you absolutely dislike […] These are the times when there is just so much to juggle and you feel suffocated by all the stress and expectations placed on you […] but such experiences strengthen you and make you a more resilient person. Bad chocolate is still chocolate after all, and isn’t chocolate fundamentally delicious?”

When asked about tips she would give to juniors, Claire readily listed various pointers for managing schoolwork and in general, having a more fulfilling JC life. “Keep up with your tutorials and do them properly… they are like a ‘first line of defence’,” she advised. “Talk to people during breaks… because this time with your friends can never be regained. Don’t be afraid to try new things because as clichéd as it sounds, the greatest failure is not trying. Lastly, always stay curious and ask questions, not just in class but in life in general. You might be surprised at just how much you can learn from listening to others and their unique experiences. I feel everyone is special and has a story that deserves to be told.”

Her tenacity in facing her challenges reveals Claire to be someone who does not simply persist through difficulties, but is also shaped by them. Instead of roadblocks, these struggles became her motivation to pursue her passions, and fuelled her interest in helping others.

Claire gave a long list of people she would like to thank, including but not limited to: her best friend for being a constant pillar of support, her classmates from JC and Y4, her batchmates from CCAs past and present, her teachers and Soccer coaches (Mr. Leong, Mr. Man and Mrs. Chin) for their invaluable advice, Mr. Steffen Toh, her form teacher in 20S03E, as well as her family for their kind understanding and constant encouragement. 

“And of course, I evidently love chocolate so I would like to thank chocolate for existing because eating it really makes me so happy,” Claire added with a smile.

Leong Zi Wei

JC life is undoubtedly hectic. However, it was perhaps even more so for Leong Zi Wei, who had to juggle CCA, schoolwork and a job, all the while balancing health and sleep on top of it all. 

Due to her family’s financial circumstances, Zi Wei took on several jobs throughout her time in junior college, working on weekends as a cashier in Sanook Kitchen in Y5, before becoming a part-time teacher in KUMON and working at Hakka Tofu Bowl in Y6. Naturally, this occupied a large part of her time, and “took a toll on [her] mental health”. She would often only be able to eat dinner after 9pm, reaching home at 10pm—and would still face a mountain of tutorials and assignments to complete.

Weekends and the nights after work would always be spent rushing through homework, all the while battling immense mental and physical fatigue. This constant need to be diligent and on-task really “burnt [her] out” until a respite came in the form of COVID-19. 

“I always [strive] to be the best version of myself, [to improve] myself and [give] my all as I believe that ‘If I were to give anything short of my best, I will rather not give it at all’,” Zi Wei expressed when asked about what motivates her to make every effort. “This mindset really kept me going and pushed me to my limits to perform my best.”

This assiduous outlook on her commitments eventually allowed her to not only cope well with her job, but also participate actively in various aspects of her JC life.

One such highlight would be joining Floorball. Having been interested in it since primary school, she was elated to join it in JC. Despite the difficulty of the sport alongside a “steep learning curve”, she was able to pull through with the support of her teachers, friends and coach. 

Zi Wei recalls how one of her most nerve-wracking yet memorable episodes during JC was stepping up as the goalie near the end of J1 from her previous position as a defender. “It was one of the toughest yet [most] fun experiences I had,” she reflected.

She recounted what her floorball coach, Ms. Jill Quek once told her: “Don’t idolise man, because man can fail you.” This represented a pivotal shift in her perspective, and she realised that “the one person who cannot fail you is yourself”. Rather than aspiring to be like a certain person, she strived to become the best version of herself. This was the mindset that kept her going and pushed her to do her best. 

Apart from being physically active in floorball, Zi Wei also found herself drawn to Geography, as it “looks at the bigger picture and multi-faceted issues of different things” and she felt that “everything [she] learn[s] about Geography is really relevant and realistic”. This prompted her to participate in the NUS Geography Challenge and the Talent Development Programme for Geography.  As someone coming from a humble background, she also expressed interest in issues related to inequality, noting the extent of inequality in many facets of society, such as gender and socio-economic status. 

Currently, she hopes to get into the Environmental Earth System Science (E2S2) course in NTU. Considering herself a realist, she said, “I remember Mr. Jason Lai once told me that the path to really do better financially is through education and that made me truly understand the importance of having a good education.”

When asked about how she managed to keep up with all her work, she explained, “You really have to plan your time wisely and stick to the plan.” She emphasised on the importance of dropping commitments and cutting yourself some slack when it becomes too much to handle.

“I think something that I am the most proud of is my life experiences. I think at the age of, currently, 19, I have really gone through quite a bit and these experiences that I have had, breaking down a lot, moving on from mistakes and juggling with many priorities at once are really valuable lessons that I can share with people. Like how to manage emotions, being able to relate and be empathetic to people is something that is rare and is something that is unique and true to me.”

Having to manage her time between many heavy commitments undoubtedly made Zi Wei’s JC experience tough and stressful. However, it was also during this time that she made the effort to pursue her interests, learning how to juggle multiple priorities. In the end, these experiences have truly given her valuable lessons and shaped her into the resilient person she is today.

Zi Wei would like to give a shout-out to the members of her support system: Yong Yi Ann (20S07C), her secondary school best friend who stuck with her throughout these two years, as well as her classmates Justin, Yong Kai, Christine and Zengyi for their immense support; Floorball friends Zhiyi, Ashley, Wen Xin, Phoebe and Cheryl, International Service Learning & Leadership Elective (ISLE) friends Max, Zhi Xuan and Celest; and her tutors Mrs. Galvez, Mr. Jason Lai and Mr. Benjamin Fong.

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