A-Level 2023 Features: Rolling With The Punches 

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By Anamika Ragu (23A01A), Chia Kei Yin (24S03C), Claire Jow (23A01B), and Gabriel Ho (24S02A)

Nadra Binte Hamdan (22S03M)

“In excelling in my studies, I may be able to solve the challenges that I have at home.”

Nadra has had a penchant for science for most of her life. Fascinated with the way reactions occur in chemistry, she has always worked towards a career in medicine. She describes studying the way certain drugs are capable of reacting with the body and treating diseases with a smile.

However, these aspirations are founded on more than just her aptitude in the field.

Having grown up in a single-parent household, Nadra saw her fair share of struggle, and as a result, was more cognisant of the difference between her and many of her peers. “In terms of my normal day-to-day life, I would think [that it’s] like most [of my friends]. But sometimes, in terms of sensitive topics like ‘family’, people can be immature about it and make certain jokes,” recounted Nadra. “My perspective on ‘family’ specifically is more different, I think, and maybe more sensitive.”

This has only made Nadra more empathetic, and that much more attuned to service. One need only look at her extensive experience in volunteering in and outside school to know that this is a key part of who she is. 

But there is one particular event that fundamentally fuelled Nadra’s passion to help people—her mother falling ill when she was in secondary school. Amid the shock and worry, it was at this point that Nadra grew more certain of her ambitions. 

“I don’t know what it is, but helping people just gives me a sense of satisfaction,” confessed Nadra, her eyes lighting up. She recounts considering medicine before her mother’s illness, but was hesitant due to people’s negative perceptions of the field. “But when [my mother fell ill], and she told me about how the doctors helped her, it inspired me to pursue that career in the future, if I get the chance.”

Nadra with her mother.

This is one way in which Nadra has turned her hardships into inspiration for the future. Her drive shone through as she recounted the hard work she put in at school, in spite of the challenges she faced at home.

“[The prospect of] helping my mother was what pushed me to try and separate my studies and my challenges.”

Nadra was determined about separating her home and school life and struggled to divulge the challenges she was facing even to her closest friends. She was concerned that discussing her home life with them might be awkward and did not wish for them to feel burdened to advise her on what to do. Nadra explained, “When I confide in someone, I look for practical advice rather than ‘it’s okay, you’ll be fine’. I didn’t want to burden them with that.”

However, she confided in her friends eventually, and they became one of her strongest pillars of support, along with her mother. It was a relief for Nadra to simply tell them about what she was feeling, and the study tips they provided were practical and helpful. “I was able to ‘word vomit’ my frustrations, which was therapeutic for me,” recounted Nadra with a laugh.

The sturdy support systems Nadra had, along with her admirable determination and self-motivation, pushed her to persevere amidst the difficulties she grappled with.

One such community was found entirely by chance, in her CCA. Knowing the incoming academic rigour of JC, Nadra figured that playing a sport competitively would help her keep fit, and chose one of her favourite PE modules from secondary school— soccer.  

Nadra with her soccer teammates.

“When I [entered] the CCA itself, my motivations were mainly interacting with my teammates and getting through the National School Games,” she said, admitting her inexperience with soccer at first. “The fact that my teammates kept pushing me and just the camaraderie made me feel motivated to do my best. As a team, we are quite bonded.”

Nadra with her football team and coach post-NSG.

Upon graduating from secondary school, Nadra missed the community service that was carried out regularly by her CCA, Red Cross Youth, which fuelled her desire to participate in VIA activities in JC.

“My main goal was just to give back to others, even if I’m still [in school]”, Nadra explained with conviction. She participated in Project Saga 2021, where she tutored an underprivileged primary school child. She also volunteered in another programme where she interacted with the elderly. 

Despite the trying times Nadra has experienced, she looks beyond her own needs and remains steadfast in her commitment to helping others. Her tenacity and graciousness will propel her to touch the lives of many. 

Reflecting on her journey thus far, Nadra offered a final word of advice for her juniors. “Just do your best. Take care of your mental health and find your main pillars of support.”

Caleb Lau Han Xiong (22S06Q)

“I guess I was always more of the grateful type – I always valued what I had, even though I didn’t have much.”

Unlike most of his peers in RI, Caleb’s living situation is a little different: he lives in a small two-room HDB flat with his parents and previously with two siblings. Such a restricted space made for an unconducive learning environment. 

“I have five family members; whenever they’re all at home, and they’re all talking and doing their own things, my study area is just like this,” he said, gesturing to indicate a size about a third of a school table.

However, Caleb did not let these challenges affect him. Instead, he constantly motivated and reminded himself that his studies were meant for his own future and nobody else’s, telling himself not to give excuses even though his house was significantly smaller than most of his friends. 

“I always felt an obligation to do my best and not let the people around me down,” he mused. “So I guess I was always naturally motivated.” 

“It all starts from mindset. It all starts from not seeing yourself as lesser because of this, because if I always felt that I was disadvantaged, it is definitely going to translate to the way I act in school.”  

Despite the challenges Caleb faced, he did not see himself as a victim. In fact, his unwavering spirit of gratitude motivated him to volunteer in Project Myanedu, a VIA initiative that involved tutoring children in Myanmar online. “I formed a personal bond with [my tutee],” he recalled. “We shared about our lives and the hardships that he faced, and I realised how different life in Singapore is compared to other countries.”

Before coming to RI, Caleb held some doubts in mind. “I came from JAE,” Caleb explained. “Back then, in Secondary 4, when I was preparing for my O-levels, I didn’t even consider RI. It didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t think it was achievable.” 

He mentions hearing the common stereotype of RI students being “snobbish” or looking down on others. “But that was one of the biggest surprises to me—when I actually came here, I realised that everyone here is just like any normal teenager. […] They weren’t condescending in any way.” In the end, Caleb found himself settling well into JC life.

Wanting to  try something new but also start on a level playing field, Caleb decided to try his hand at Ultimate Frisbee, a CCA not usually offered in secondary school. He recalls that the first half of 2021 was rather underwhelming as CCA trainings were held online and the team was unable to go out and train. 

As COVID-19 measures eased in the later half of 2021, Caleb fondly remembers the times he and his teammates train outside of official CCA training timings, feeling as though they “shared a common goal”. 

Despite many challenges, he and his CCA mates stood by one another through thick and thin, supporting one another during their lowest moments. As such, Caleb has managed to foster many close friendships with his CCA mates which he deeply treasures.

Caleb with his Ultimate Frisbee CCA-mates.

In secondary school, he regarded himself as introverted, and he resolved to change this in JC by serving as a Class Leader. “I wanted to try something bolder… to make my presence louder.” Through this experience, he learnt how to manage people, step up and voice his opinions. It was this same newfound confidence that helped him remain calm and do his best for the A-levels.

When asked what he would say to the next batch of students taking the A-levels, he pauses for a moment.

“I think to always strive for excellence is good,” he says. “It will be difficult, [but] because it’s difficult, it’s meaningful. Don’t give excuses. Don’t ever give room for opportunities to slip away just because you feel afraid.”

462182cookie-checkA-Level 2023 Features: Rolling With The Punches 


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