By Noh Sangeun (23S06Q)
Nothing has been such a constant in my life as school. In particular, preparing for the A-levels is such a quintessential part of the schooling experience that I struggle to imagine a life without learning outcomes, (horror) stories from teachers and seniors, and my trusty graphing calculator.
The lack of academic responsibility notwithstanding, that liminal period after A-levels is going to be novel in many other ways too. Whether you spend it exploring your newfound adulthood, enjoying five more free days in the week, or digging a trench in a military uniform, your time after A-levels is going to be filled with things you’ve never done before.
If you are in need of ideas or a break from your daily grind, read on for a taste of the “sweet post-As life”, as certified by many of the seniors I interviewed. In this first article, you’ll find stories about exploration.
Administration and Arias
Lara Tan (22A01B) spent January in the MOE teaching internship and March to June as a Gifted Education Branch intern at the Creative Arts Programme (CAP), a creative writing camp for students. After the final booth for her beading business ended in June, she expects July and August to be occupied by rehearsals for New Opera Singapore’s production of Rusalka.
Her internships provided numerous opportunities for Lara to meet people “in workplace environments”. Meeting teachers at the secondary school teaching internship opened her eyes to “just how much work goes on behind the scenes and how much thought is put into the curriculum”.
“At first, I was really surprised by the level of attention to detail and how hard schools try to inculcate interest in learning a subject,” Lara said. “I was also touched by how much the teachers took me under my wing even though I was only with them for [less than] a term.”
Elsewhere, at her CAP internship, Lara built a sense of camaraderie with fellow interns, colleagues, and MOE officers over the “excitement” of “working towards a big thing”. Their collective efforts towards organising an in-person camp after three years imbued their work with meaning.
Having previously been involved as a participant, then as a student councillor at CAP, Lara had always “wanted to get involved with the great community and to be a part of making [CAP] happen.”
For Lara, the period has been more exploratory than anything else. She felt that her teaching internship was “not an indication of where they would be working”, and though Lara sings regularly with the opera company, there is no official contract demanding that she perform.
“Going for internships is not always a ‘I’m very sure I want to go on this career path and I’m already starting to network’. It can be just something you find interesting,” Lara said.
Instead, the most crucial things she picked up from her internships were transferable skills. “Even the smallest things like operating Excel and Word, communication skills like giving suggestions and taking comments, are pretty transferable to life in the future, especially if you want to immerse yourself in a vaguely corporate atmosphere,” Lara said.
Lara also appreciated the opportunity to take her interests further. Compared to her hectic schedule preparing for a lead role and for Prelims simultaneously last year, the production happening this August has certainly been less taxing.
“Now I don’t have to join rehearsals at 7pm after school,” she said. “I can show up to rehearsals with energy, not having other things to worry about like getting home and finishing schoolwork.”
In fact, it was part of the reason Lara highlighted opera as her most fulfilling commitment over the past few months. She hopes that singing as an interest will “stay with her” in university, especially since she currently plans to study music as a minor.
“University is the biggest thing in my future that I can see right now,” Lara said. “I just hope that the things I did post-As will have an impact and that the things I learnt from the internships and experiences will make me a stronger and better person in university.”
Penguins and Public Service
Mei Feifei (22A13A)’s travels to Australia and Korea surely epitomise the fantasies many students hold towards their post-As lives. Her time after A-levels was occupied by overseas trips and an exploration of her academic and professional interests.
Kicking off the first of her two trips, Feifei flew to Melbourne with a friend whose sister studies in Australia. “There were amazing natural sights, which was very cool, especially as a Geog student,” she said.
Feifei also visited a wildlife sanctuary where she fed wallabies and a no-leash dog park where she “had nice conversations with dog owners and played with the dogs”. Continuing the animal theme, she watched the “penguin parade”: an event where a fairy penguin colony returns to land after a day at sea, unique to Australia’s Phillip Island.
After her Melbourne trip, Feifei flew to Seoul with two friends. They took a day trip to Busan, “which was quite intense”, and dropped by Nami Island. In Korea, she also had the opportunity to visit Alpaca World, a zoo where she fed alpacas and led them on walks.
Aside from the trips, Feifei returned to RI in January as a research assistant for the Geography department before spending three months as an intern at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). The latter was part of her Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship, which offers internships to government agencies.
At MTI, Feifei said, “I learnt things I didn’t expect to learn”. Beyond the initial exposure to the workings of the public service and writing conventions, she was “pulled into” projects she did not expect to join. The creative aspect of her work and a “small, tight-knit division” also gave her a greater breadth of experience.
This was a big leap from her time in school. “Three months passed much faster than I expected it to,” Feifei said. “At the start, I felt like time was passing very slowly because the learning curve was very steep. Towards the end, I started doing more projects because I knew how to do stuff.”
She described a “very nurturing culture”, where she “went on coffee chats not only with people from the division but also from the industry who were very willing to share their experience”. Despite the differences in age and experience, Feifei spoke fondly about her interactions with her colleagues.
In general, Feifei was most struck by their enthusiasm: “once there’s international cooperation, there are a lot of weekends consumed by work, [which really requires] a lot of passion for the job”. She shared that she received “line by line feedback” for the reports she wrote.
Since Feifei’s scholarship entails a six-year bond to public service, her internship experience is inextricably linked to her career plans. “It was a good introduction to the world of public service,” she said.
“A lot of people say university is a transformative experience, and I want to see how I evolve in the next four years in a very different environment,” Feifei said. “In the longer term, I want to ensure that what I do always has some kind of purpose or value in it for myself or for the people I serve”.
To the adventurous mind, Lara’s and Feifei’s stories will sound exciting. They are tales about diverse interests and unshackled wanderlust. Otherwise, if you don’t see yourself exploring quite so many things in the months after the A-levels, look out for the next part of this series. Those stories will show how to make the most of your time as you shape your experience around a few key areas.