Interview With TPJC's TOP A-Level Arts Student

Written by Sheryl (09S03).

Some background information: Choy Wai Wan from 07A06 emerged as the top ‘A’ Level Arts student from TPJC this year. Despite having a challenging subject combination and three CCAs, he had good time management and did commendably well. The following is an interview done by Sheryl of TPJCian magazine on 17th March 2009. The interview had been slightly edited for brevity and clarity. Some extraneous material had been omitted.

Sheryl: Let's start with some background info… What subjects did you do in TPJC, and which CCA were you in?

Wai Wan: I was in the school's Drama Club, the 22nd Student Council, and also the school Volleyball team. My H2s were Theatre Studies and Drama, Knowledge and Inquiry, Economics and English Literature. My H1s were Mathematics, Project Work and Chinese....

Sheryl: Okay, that's quite an insane combination of subjects and CCAs. Was it tough to cope?

Wai Wan: I would be lying if I said it wasn't. Personally, I felt it was hardest to deal with both KI and TSD as they required a large amount of individual work, since both of them have an individual component that is assessed. CCAs are, well, CCAs, so they only happened on, at worst, three days a week.

Sheryl: Doesn't Student Council involve much commitment?

Wai Wan: Yes, it does. Especially during periods in which the Student Council is planning school events such as Teachers' Day, Promenade Night, etc.

Sheryl: If my memory doesn't fail me, you scored six distinctions despite your high levels of commitment in various areas and emerged as TPJC's top Arts student. That is really commendable! What was your motivation to do well?

Wai Wan: It was five, actually. Well I've always dreamed of doing Theatre after I'm done with my studies. It kind of started in my Secondary School days after quite a few school performances and also after taking part in an SYF competition for Drama. I guess that was what propelled me forward in my JC life, and was the main reason I took up TSD as a subject in the first place. I guess I was lucky in the sense that I already knew where I wanted to go, and everything I tried to do, or did, from that point on stemmed from that one reason, and so I never allowed any issue, or problem I have get in my way for too long.

Sheryl: Oops, sorry for the error. My memory DID fail me then, haha! Anyway, it sounds like much motivation comes from yourself and you were clear-headed about what you want to do. Tell me about your life in TPJC; be it set backs or victories. How did you overcome your set-backs?

Wai Wan: To be totally honest, I don't really know. I mean, I have had quite a few set-backs - though I won't say that I've had the worst of them all, but the thing about set-backs, for me, is that I never really forget them. And so they constantly form this nagging feeling of failure, or depression, at the back of my head. What I tried to do, of course, was to ignore them, completely shut them aside, but they just won't go away. So I kind of told myself that it wouldn't work out. I couldn't possibly (I'm speaking figuratively here) study with multiple emotions and feelings all jumbled up in my head.

What I did, then, was to put things into perspective. I wrote down every single negative thought that flashed by my head, word-for-word, on a piece of paper, a blog, whatever-have-you. And then, I would look at those things I written, think for a few seconds about what is making me feel that bad, and then think about how I can make it better. Sometimes, just writing it out helps already, because you look back at those statements and wonder how silly you were at thinking so negatively in the first place.

Of course, all this is personal, so I don't know if it would work for everyone.

Sheryl: That works for me too, to a certain extent… How about any memorable personal victories, whether big or small scale?

Wai Wan: Personal victories... For me, I've always really enjoyed the whole group spirit kind of thing, so I guess I would rank Orientations up there. There was a particular moment during Orientation which really moved me. I was Family Head of one of the Families, and I was desperately trying to get a group of people to learn the cheers. I could understand that they weren't really in the mood, especially since they were treated to a marathon of subject talks and lectures prior to that. What really touched me was when one of the group members requested her peers to start cheering and not keep quiet, especially when all the OGLs were losing their voices. At that moment, I realized that all it takes, sometimes, is a little bit of courage and guts to get things going.

I will never forget that moment; because our Family went on to win the "Fiercest" family award - which literally meant our cheers were the loudest. And the credit wasn't mine; it was those who got the ball rolling.

Sheryl: Hmm.... and which house would that be?

Wai Wan: Zeus! Haha... Back then our Orientation was not split up into Houses like it is right now.

Sheryl: I see. Alright... moving on… A commonly held notion by Singaporean JC students is that being in a Junior College (JC) equates to having 'no life'. What is your opinion on that?

Wai Wan: There's such a notion? Haha... I never knew... But, as far as I know, it's not true. I mean, in your JC life, you do all sorts of enjoyable things like have CCAs, hang out with your CCA friends, play sports, etc. But, moving beyond just normal school life, there is definitely room for some fun and games beyond curriculum. I mean, for one, we have Orientation. We have Friendship weeks as well as Songfest, Dancefest, Runway.

All these school events are there simply because JC students are not just mere students who study all day long. I mean, I shared my schedule not too long ago to many students, but I did mention that though it did seem tight, it was also flexible. That means, if I manage to finish the day, or week's, tasks early, I can CHOOSE to take the extra time off for, say, a movie.

I think another thing people fail to realize as well is that interacting with your friends in school also constitutes a form of social life - unless someone claims everyone around him in his JC is a zombie and doesn't offer much interaction. So, obviously, I don't agree with the statement that we have no "life". It's a groundless statement.

Sheryl: JC life has definitely been made more fun with the events mentioned above! Orientation was truly enjoyable for me. You never knew [about the notion]? Before I came to JC I was bombarded with warnings such as 'YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE NO LIFE FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS'. Haha!

Wai Wan: It really depends on the definition of what they mean by having "a life". I mean, if they mean that you have to be going out everyday, watch a movie literally every week, then it obviously won't work that way for JC students.

But I don't think the "life" of a person is defined by the amount of outings he has, or the amount of time he spends outside of school. If you compared a person bumming around everyday, and a JC student who studies till 4pm and then goes out for a dinner date and maybe an hour of shopping before heading back home, I doubt you can say that the JC kid has "lesser life". It's about the quality of the time spent outside of school, really.

Sheryl: Yup! How about sharing with our fellow TPJCians your studying style? Did you ask your tutors loads of questions?

Wai Wan: Oh, yeah, I did. Particularly in my second year of JC life, after all that foundational things have been built, so-to-speak. Because most of the subjects I took at the "A"-levels weren't examinable at the "O"s, they were pretty new to me as well. For me, I learn best during discussion, and it was something I realized while studying for my "O"s as well, because I realized I managed to retain most of the knowledge of so-called content-heavy subjects such as Geography and History after discussions with my peers. Because of that, I found myself constantly asking teachers questions, clarifying doubts, making sure that what I've been writing, or have been thinking, is clear and accurate.

When I discuss, I try to take note of my phrasing and not fall under the classic workarounds such as "yeah... you know what I mean". What I felt I needed to do while studying was to make sure I was very clear of what I'm learning about, how to phrase it when I talk or write about it, because in an examination, you can never write "Yeah… you know what I mean" and expect the examiner to understand.

So, for me, my studying style is centered upon inquiry. Whenever I get a piece of work, I like to ask what I can do with it, what I should try to do with it. For example, if I realized that in my previous essay a teacher wrote "good!" at a particular paragraph; I would try to see how I can apply that "good paragraph" to this new assignment. It was all about asking questions. How can I do this better, what can be adapted, why didn't I get this right, when should I use a particular phrasing, etc.

Sheryl: If we could write 'Yeah you know what I mean' for exams, I'm sure my paper will be full of them!

Wai Wan: Everyone's would be. Then again, that would make Cambridge want to slaughter Singaporean students; they'll write letters to us saying "NO, we don't know what you mean!"

Sheryl: Heh heh. Just for curiosity sake, which secondary school were you from?

Wai Wan: Hmm... To quote the school song, "Victoria... the school that watch'd us grow"… Haha!

Sheryl: Haha! So you're from Victoria School.

Wai Wan: Yeps...

Sheryl: Do you have any 'Secret Success Formula' to share with TPJCians?

Wai Wan: Secret Success Formula...If I had one I would have shared it already. But to be honest, sometimes this "secret" formula is right in front of us, but we just don't notice it. Going back to studying style, different people work better in different conditions. I guess the right formula is knowing the ratio in which you need to discuss, study quietly, and go for consultations. You need a balance or ratio that suits your mind and body the best. If you don't tire out your body and mind, but yet maximize your learning and training of critical skills, that would be the best case scenario.

Oh. My secret formula was lots of coffee! But that's because I study well with the smell of coffee.. I guess you can say it triggers a "studying state of mind" since I studied for all my major examinations since Secondary 2 with coffee, or near people who drink coffee.

Sheryl: Ooh, fellow caffeine addict!

Wai Wan: Yeah, but that doesn't mean we should like come up with silly excuses like "Oh, I study well with an hour of computer gaming after every hour of studying"... It doesn't work that way. Haha!

Sheryl: Hahaha. Of course it doesn't. For the J1s, an avalanche of tests is coming up and for J2s, the SA1. Any encouraging words for them?

Wai Wan: Nah, not really. I'm sure you'll do fine. The most important thing is not to worry to the point where you can't think straight, and not to be so relaxed to the point you're not even thinking. Other than that, Gambatte! Jiayou! Work hard! And... I've exhausted my repertoire of languages.

Sheryl: Thank you (: Comment about our TPJC culture?

Wai Wan: I think it’s not fair to say that TPJC has an undesirable culture. We've only been around for, what, around 20 plus years? With that said, culture and tradition doesn't occur without any reason. It is up to the students to create a culture of understanding, a tradition of excellence, and also a respect for both within themselves and the school. "We must be the change we wish to see in the world".

However, I do feel that TPJC has a certain vibrancy to it, if one bothers to take a look instead of glossing over. I mean, if you were at Dancefest, you'd realize that some students dance really well. And I've been wowed at all the TPJC choir concerts I've been to so far. Definitely, our students are interesting, and some of the things done can be pushed further to create an even greater sense of identity and unity within the college.

Sheryl: Thank you for the compliment about TPJC choir!

Wai Wan: Haha…I take it you're from the choir.

Sheryl: Yup! I feel that 'It is up to the students to create a culture of understanding, a tradition of excellence, and also a respect for both within themselves and the school' is very applicable. I realise that we as TPJCians sometimes think of ourselves as second class students compared to those from other better JCs.

Wai Wan: Yes! We should never think like that, we're just letting the other JCs have their way!

Sheryl: Tell me 3 things you miss about TPJC?

Wai Wan: Hmm…the people, teachers, the campus.

Sheryl: Hmm... Where do you intend to continue your studies then?

Wai Wan: Either NUS or overseas.

Sheryl: I see. Would it be a course to do with Drama?

Wai Wan: Yeap, definitely!

Sheryl: Okay final question; do you have any special thank-yous you want to say to anyone in relation to your success at the A levels?

Wai Wan: Hmm... Too many to thank, really... I mean, I would really love to thank all my tutors, classmates, friends, CCA friends from drama, council, volleyball boys and girls team...All of them gave me an once-in-a-lifetime JC experience and life that I will carry with me wherever I go.

Sheryl: All right. That concludes our interview! Thank you so much for you time; I'm sure TPJCians reading this will be inspired and motivated!

Stay tuned for the second interview with TPJC's Top 'A' Level Science student :)


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