PERSPECTIVE: 28-year-old Yang Anlin was the top GCE O-level student at Tanjong Katong Secondary School in 2010, having achieved nine distinctions.
Yang enrolled in Hwa Chong Institution after being advised by his family and teachers to enrol in a junior college (JC), but he later discovered that JC life was not for him even though he was still excelling academically.
Four months before his A-level exams, he surprised everyone by dropping out of JC.
Speaking to Mothership, Yang tells us how and why he made the bold decision despite societal and familial pressure.
As told to Syahindah Ishak
There were doubts, definitely.
I didn't know what was next for me, and I was aware that if things didn't work out, I would only have an O-level certificate to survive in Singapore. But I just knew deep down that I was on the wrong path. JC wasn't for me.
Since my first year, I had a lot of struggles.
I was doing well academically, but I struggled to find the meaning and purpose behind what I was learning.
And those struggles carried on till about four months before my A-level exam.
That was when I really couldn't take it anymore. It was the built-up stress and everything.
I just couldn't hold on any longer, so I decided to drop out.
How did the school and your family react to your decision?
Everyone was shocked. I guess nobody expected it.
I also don't blame them, to be honest. After all I had decided to drop out four months before the A-level exams.
My academics were actually fine, it wasn't like I was failing. In fact, I was doing quite well.
So my parents didn't understand. They just couldn't. We also quarrelled a lot, naturally. They tried to talk me out of it but ultimately, it was my decision and I stood firm by it.
Apart from my family, my teachers and friends were also confused by my decision. In fact, my teachers actually came down to my house to hear me out and understand the situation.
So I explained to them the reason why. I told them about the stuff I was going through.
They still tried to convince me to go back, but I didn't. I stood firm.
Can you explain more about your decision to drop out?
JC life was a struggle for me.
It wasn't really like in secondary school — that was one misconception that I had. I thought it would be the same. It turned out to be harder, honestly.
First, it was more fast-paced. The curriculum was very packed and because JC only lasts for two years, things were moving very quickly as you can imagine, having to squeeze all the learning within a short period of time.
Secondly, there was more studying.
In secondary school, I spent an average of three to four hours per day studying.
In JC, I would spend the entire day studying. That was all I did. I was just studying and studying. I didn't have a life.
But the main reason why I chose to drop out was because I couldn't relate to my studies and I really didn't like it.
I didn't like what I was learning.
I took PCME (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Economics), but I didn't know why I was studying them, you know what I mean? I kept wondering what was the purpose. What if all of this has nothing to do with my future?
That's the thing about JC, it didn't really give me an opportunity to find out what I really want to do with my life.
So I felt lost in a sense. I just studied and studied and studied for the sake of it.
But what was the point?
Why did you choose to enter a JC after your O-levels?
I did really well for my O-level exams and ended up being the top student in my school.
With my results, everyone around me told me to go to JC. They said that if not, I would have wasted my grades.
At that time, I also wasn't sure what I wanted to do in the future, so I just conformed to what others told me to do.
And because of my good grades, I was also pressured into entering a 'top JC' in Singapore.
Next thing I knew, I was in Hwa Chong Institution.
What was it like being in a prestigious JC?
Everybody there was intense.
When I first entered, I was very taken aback by my peers. Everyone was smart. Like, really smart. And the environment was competitive.
Being in a JC like Hwa Chong, the students are kind of expected to be perfect, you know?
Not only did they have to do well academically, they must also take their co-curricular activities (CCA) seriously.
In my time there, I actually made a lot of good friends who were all very nice to me even after I dropped out.
When I dropped out, they texted me to make sure I was okay and all that. They also tried to understand what I was going through.
I appreciated their concerns but at that time, I don't think anyone would understand the internal struggles I was facing.
What did you do after you dropped out?
After I dropped out of JC, I spent a lot of time wondering what I wanted to do next.
As I was still unsure about what to do next, I decided to go through National Service first and take some time to carefully think about my next move.
Of course, the feeling of uncertainty was still there.
Sometimes, I would feel anxious and I would overthink a lot about my future. But just thinking about stuff won't help so I decided to proactively do something.
During my NS, my mum told me that I could still use my O-level results to apply for a polytechnic course.
I actually didn't know about that but once she told me, I spent a lot of time researching about the different polytechnics and courses.
That was when I came across Singapore Poly (SP)'s Diploma in Infocomm Security Management (DISM).
Since young, I have always been interested in computers, in IT. I would explore softwares online and try find ways to overcome computer viruses on my own. It was something that I enjoyed doing in my free time. But it was just like a hobby. I didn't really take it seriously.
That was when I had the idea of turning my love for computers into an actual career path.
So when I chanced upon the IT course in SP, everything just clicked. It just felt right so I applied for the course without any hesitation.
How was poly life for you?
Once you find a purpose, once you find a meaning, the learning becomes enjoyable so I got a lot of happiness and satisfaction in poly.
I enjoyed and treasured every single day because I was learning about something I was very passionate about. Every learning opportunity for me was precious. I didn't take them for granted.
It was a different feeling from my JC time, definitely.
And I was very surprised by the number of opportunities that poly gives its students.
Besides the usual modules and learning about my specialisation, I had a lot of opportunities to meet professionals from the IT industry, and gained a lot of insights and received advice from them.
There were also many workshops and competitions that I was able to enter, and I eventually interned at NCS Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Singtel, under an internship programme.
When I was there, I wrote scripts and programs for various cybersecurity projects, which really helped me a lot to prepare for the working world.
Looking back, I had a great time in poly in general — that feeling I had combined with my passion for IT translated to my work.
I scored good grades and graduated with a gold medal, which is something I'm especially proud of because it's related to my passion.
What are you doing now and what are your plans?
Right now, I'm working as an IT Security Consultant in an IT company. It's what I've been doing since I graduated since I chose not to pursue further studies in a university for now.
But unfortunately, in Singapore, there's an emphasis on 'paper', i.e. getting a degree.
Regardless of how good you are, if you're not a university graduate, your starting pay won't be that high.
There's some worth to the paper, lah.
I'll see how things go as I move forward but right now, I just want to continue working and learn as much as I can from the IT industry.
Looking back, do you feel like you have wasted your time in JC?
No I don't feel like I wasted my time in JC. It is that journey and introspection and internal struggles that made me into the person I am today.
Like how I'm much more resilient and focused now.
Most importantly, through that journey, I found my true passion in life.
The process of dropping out and venturing into the unknown and surviving has also made me more confident. I feel like I'm able to overcome more obstacles that come in my way.
So in a way, I'm quite thankful that I went through it. But that doesn't mean that I liked my time in JC. It was a really tough period for me, I wouldn't want to go through it again.
Till this day, I think I made the right choice. I don't regret dropping out, I really don't.
I have no regrets.
Top image courtesy of Yang Anlin. Quotes were edited for clarity.