A Levels Retrospective

So it’s A level results day in Singapore, huh. I remarked to my Mom how that was me some 3 years ago. I would have liked for my CT to have said more to me. All she did was pass me my results cert and say “Is okay la, except for History.” which was the subject she taught (Oops) and then send me off on my way. I sat in a corner, awkwardly waiting for the appropriate time to leave. I didn’t know what to feel. There was joy but also sadness all around me, but I sat there, blank. Was I supposed to be very happy? Because I wasn’t. But I also wasn’t sad.

Sometimes I look at those letters on paper and wonder how I got them. Think I don’t deserve them, wish I could have done better, wonder why I didn’t do worse. (Guess what: this is how I felt after O levels too. I retook Chinese because my Mom wanted me to get an A. In the end, I still got B3. I was proud of myself. She wasn’t.)

Why can’t I get straight As?

I have never been a straight A student, and even now in university, I broke the straight A streak I had kept up for almost 2 whole years and it devastated me. I thought, finally, I could live up to my mother’s expectations. Ha. Oh well. It took me years and years, and finally I am accepting that my grades don’t define who I am, don’t equate my worth. (I’m still doing well, she still loves me.)

I never had the choice between Poly or JC. It was always go to a good JC, then go to university, get a good job, have a good life. You know, the ‘ideal’ and typical route. I didn’t even choose what JC I wanted to go to, I just went to the one closest to where I live, which conveniently was one of the top JCs in Singapore. Whoopee.

Looking back at my two years in JC, I would say I loved it. But only because of the people I met or got closer to thanks to JC – two of them are my besties today, whom we’ve shared good times and bad (oh boy, were those times bad) but it was also home to some of my lowest. I cried a lot. But I survived it.

I tell people the Singapore education system is tough, A levels were killer, and yes, they agree, it was tough in my country too! they say but No, No, No I think you don’t understand just how truly tough it is!!! Emotionally? (I am still grateful for having survived, being able to, because now I am stronger. “But what about those who don’t?”)

I still use my A level notes, still use what I learnt from Project Work (as much as we complain about it, it was a lifesaver that first year in uni), and now recall fondly the lectures and the bubbly teachers who tried to make things fun. I remember my classmates, their model essays and how I always wanted to be as smart as they are. I felt like the dumbest one in my class, and sometimes felt my teachers were trying to tell me that too.

So many things kept going wrong. Somethings were going right, though, I remember in JC1 I finally went to Japan for the first time, and in JC2 finally realised what I wanted. Finally did something and stood up for myself. Stopped accepting things, stopped being disconnected, stopped following the wills of others.

Hey, look where I am now! I’m happy. I still have my demons, but I am happy. I am glad I studied where I did, glad for all the friends I made, glad for all I did (even my stupid mistakes) because it’s led to where I am. I cried, and cried, and I still cry, but it doesn’t feel so bad. I know I can get out of it.

JC2 was the lowest point in my life. I felt like no one was supporting me, everyone misunderstood, was accusing me of things I didn’t do. I didn’t understand. I wasn’t do well, and my teachers told me so. My results slip told me so. And yet what I needed to keep myself whole was being taken away from me. Somehow, things still pulled through. I started studying, attended tuition, took things more seriously (even if it was only just so I wouldn’t incur anger, so I could survive). Then it was over.

Things will get better, teachers said, JC will be your toughest years, and I agree. At least for me it was. But I am glad for the experience. In university, I was struggling with even more work – every semester I’ve had an average of 10 courses. I’ve been stressed out by reports, presentations, group work more times than I can count, but I knew I could go through it because I’d been through worse.

You know, sometimes friends express concern for me, ex-teachers express it too, people wonder if I’m okay. I don’t know how to explain how I feel sometimes but after I express myself (more often than not in writing) or if I already know what’s going to happen I accept it plainly, then that’s the “end”. When others say things like “oh you don’t know what she’s gone through ok” or that I’ve struggled with something for a while, I get confused because – ?? what are you talking about, I think, I’m okay.

Maybe it’s part of my mentality of not wanting people to worry, or maybe it’s something else altogether.

“How are you?” somebody asks.

“I’m fine.” is the typical answer, and the answer I always give.

I think I’m lucky. Somehow I’ve always done well enough to progress to that next ‘typical’ life step without too much hassle. Somehow things just work out, y’know? Somehow life gets better. Somehow you’ll make it.

In Japanese, I say I want to change なんとなく生きている to 自分の手でまぶしい未来を作りたい (“anyhow just let things work themselves out” to “creating a good future with your own hands”).

….wait. I’ve digressed so far from the topic this began with. But that’s pretty much how all my posts are.

To the students who collected their A level results today:
Congratulations to everyone who did well!!
If you didn’t, it’s okay to cry, but it’s not the end of the world okay?
It took me years and years to realise but grades don’t equate your worth as a human!
There are things more important than those letters on paper, people more important than that.
Success and happiness is what you make of it okay! Don’t tie it to things like grades or you’ll never be happy.

Good luck in life.

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