I don’t know if they still do this, but back then, top Singaporean schools would source for candidates to be offered the ASEAN Scholarship [A full all expense paid scholarship for students to complete their high school and pre-u education in Singapore] by inviting the top students of selected primary schools in Kuala Lumpur to sit for a test which takes place once a year.
THE RANDOM TEST
So, one fine day in 2002, my form teacher told me and a few of my classmates to go for a test that weekend. At that time, I had no idea what that test was all about, but I went nevertheless.
On that day, I sat through a series of tests which included an IQ Test, English comprehension & composition tests, as well as a math test with plenty of questions about things that I have never come across before at the time.
The IQ & English tests were easy for me, because it seemed like common sense and my command of English for a 12 year old was quite strong at the time due to my love of reading books and encyclopedias. The math test, however, was challenging, and I had to come up with my own formulas based on my common sense and my own understanding in an attempt to solve the questions.
THE SURPRISE INTERVIEW
To my surprise, I received a call later that day asking me to come back for an interview the next day, which I went together with my parents.
The interview was rather casual; the interviewer, who happened to be my future school’s headmistress, simply had a friendly conversation with me in which she asked me about my hobbies, my family, my thoughts on certain topics and so on.
At the end, she asked me: “So would you like to study in Singapore?”
I din’t know how to answer, because frankly, I din’t even know what the interview was about!
I thought it was just some test and some casual chat session. (pardon me for my innocence, I was only 12 years old then)
So I honestly replied, “Err.. I don’t know, you will have to ask my parents about that”.
HOW MY PARENTS SAID YES
As a result, the headmistress and her team from Singapore explained the merits of the ASEAN Scholarship to my parents, including how it was an all expense paid scholarship for me to complete my high school and pre-u in Singapore which includes food, lodging, school fees and also a yearly allowance.
In the end, I remembered my parents asking something along the lines of : “So everything is free is it?”
To which they replied “Yes”
And my parents were like “Okay, why not”.
And that’s how I ended up in Singapore for the next 6 years of my life.
I also remembered that my parents had second thoughts about it afterwards when they realized that I would not be at home for the next few years, especially my mom, but in the end they decided that it was best for me to go, and so I went.
Only then did I realize that it was actually a scholarship admission test, and I was selected to go because I happened to be the top student in my cohort at that time and also the head prefect.
The school that I was assigned to go to was Catholic High School, which happened to be the alma mater of Singapore’s current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong; son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
(Read more here)
I thought that was great because if I did not get the scholarship, I was planning to go to Catholic High School Malaysia in Petaling Jaya because I was in the school band, loved it, and knew that Catholic High School Petaling Jaya had a great school band which I could join. It was also a co-ed school, so I assumed that the one in Singapore would be the same.
THE SHOCKING DISCOVERY
But to my surprise, on the first day of school in Singapore, I realized something odd.
There were no girls!
Only then did I realize that Catholic High School was a single-sex school, as with most top schools in Singapore, and I was doomed to spend the next 4 years at least with a school full of guys. Oops.
But looking back, it was one of the best 4 years of my life, where I thoroughly enjoyed the strong camaraderie among my “brothers” and really discovered myself and grew as a person. It was my formative years.
We had many camps and trips as a cohort where we would get to camp in the woods, go kayaking, abseiling, flying fox, setting up camp in a cave, cycle for 54km in Taman Negara, Pahang etc. During our secondary 3 camp, we managed to complete a series of activities that a co-ed school took 2 weeks to complete in 1.
I really enjoyed the experience of cycling such a long distance and spending the night in a cave. It was an eye-opener to me.
Of course, I also had a great time in my hostel (which you can read more about here) and the Symphonic Band (CHSSB, which you can read more about here).
So that was how I got “conned” into an all boys school and started my 6 year education in Singapore, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
HUMBLED & INSPIRED TO LEARN
It was also when I realized that there were so many smart people in the world.
When I was in primary school, I thought I was pretty smart, because the things the teach in school seemed easy, and I could get full marks for English or math papers. But when I went to Singapore, I realized that there were so many people who were much smarter than me.
During my first Semester in Catholic High, I failed my English, which came as a shock to me because English was supposed to be one of my stronger subjects. But then I realized that a significant number of my classmates failed it as well. But nevertheless, it still made me realized that I still have, and will always have so much to learn!
I later realized that top schools in Singapore like to set extremely hard internal papers so that their students will not be complacent and will do well in the actual O Level Examinations at the end of the 4 year course, especially for English, so most of us would be getting Bs or Cs for the most part but would still end up with an A for the actual O Levels.
With considerable effort, which involved me reading extensively and reading the thesaurus in an attempt to improve my vocabulary, I managed to be one of the few students who scored an A in our internal preliminary exams in our final year, and achievement which I was proud of.
DISCOVERING MY ACADEMIC STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
I also realized that I am naturally better in language based subjects like History, English, Geography , Social Studies or perhaps Biology, but struggled at number and formula based subjects like Math and Sciences, especially Additional Math & Physics, a trait about myself I discovered that would eventually influence me to do law in the future and be an entrepreneur instead of a pilot (which used to be one of my childhood dreams).
LANGUAGE/HUMANITIES VS MATH/SCIENCES
For example, I could score close to full marks and top the cohort in History papers without studying much, but struggled hard with math and sciences, with the exception of Biology, because it was largely essay and explanation based and does not involve much calculation.
It is not that I do not understand Math & Sciences, I did, but I just found it really tedious to work out solutions in the form of formulas where one small mistake in copying would screw up the entire answer.
I guess it also din’t help that I did not do much of my homework and assignments ever since I left primary school, I would usually copy the answers for mandatory assignments and the exams themselves would usually be my first practice, which probably explains why my grades usually jump from a C or B to an A by the final year examinations, because I would have had more “practice” by then.
It worked out for me because the final year examinations made up 55% of the final results for the year, which pulled my grades up tremendously so I would still get an A in the end even though I was averaging Cs and Bs throughout the year because my final year results were enough to pull me up into the A bracket.
So, this is how I discovered my strength in languages and my weaknesses in number based subjects.
JUNIOR COLLEGE & ‘A’ LEVELS
When it came to apply for my preferred junior college (the place where students complete their pre-u studies if you’re taking A Levels), I chose to go to Victoria Junior College (VJC) although I could enter Raffles Junior College (RJC) or Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) if I wanted to with my results.
Throughout my secondary school life, I have always wanted to go to RJ, this was because I stayed at Raffles Institution Boarding (RIB) for most of my duration of study in Catholic High (because both are in Bishan and Catholic High does not have a boarding school of our own) and I’ve met some amazing Malaysian seniors who were studying in RJ, so I’ve always aimed to go there.
However, everything changed when I visited VJ for the first time during their open house.
THE CONTAGIOUS VJ SPIRIT
The VJ spirit was just so alluring that I just felt like I wanted to be part of this school.
I still remembered how VJ seniors were dressed in pirate costumes, handing out flyers and welcoming us as we got off the bus at the VJ bus stop. I was really impressed when I saw how genuinely friendly the people were, how vibrant and lively the atmosphere was and hey, they have a tree house! They really blew me away then they started doing a mass dance out of nowhere, and there were people dancing on the roof, it was totally crazy. It made me think to myself, man this is a cool school!
THE BEACH, THE VIEW & THE CYCLING EXPERIENCE
After that, my senior from Catholic High who was now in VJ as a first year sneaked me up to Victoria Hall, which was the place scholars who went to VJ stayed. When I found out that it was by the seaside, just next to East Coast Park, you could see the sea from your room and you could cycle to school every day along the seaside park connector, that just totally sealed the deal for me. I decided then that I was going to be a Victorian!
(Read more here)
DISCOVERY MY TRUE PASSION
My time in VJ played a significant role in shaping who I am and what I am doing today. It was during my time in VJ that I discovered my passion and what I really loved doing.
During my time in Catholic High School, I was this laid back guy who just wanted to mind his own business. Sure I enjoyed my time playing in the symphonic band, hanging out with friends, playing basketball, searching for good food and participating in the occasional DOTA & Counter Strike Sessions, but other than that, I largely preferred to spend time alone reading or learning things by myself.
It was during JC that I started to want to be involved in more activities and mix around with more people. So besides joining the symphonic band, I also joined the basketball team for a brief stint, became part of the founding team of the college’s first ever cheer leading team (read more here), got involved in writing, directing and acting in a stage drama performance and also got involved in a dance performance.
This was when I discovered that I actually love meeting new people and making friends. This was also when I discovered that I actually love bringing awesome people together so we could do something interesting or meaningful together, be it performing, doing something crazy like camping on an island or be part of the pioneer batch of cheerleaders who won in their debut year.
THE RESULTING EFFECTS
It was because of these realizations while I was at VJ that I am now involved in entrepreneurship and became the person I am today.
(read more here)
In essence, these 6 years in Singapore taught me how to be independent, to live life to the fullest and helped me realize my strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes as well as my passion in life.
In short, you could say that they were the formative years in my life which largely contributed to who I became today.
“Everyone goes through a process of self-discovery to arrive at where and who they are today, and this is my journey…”