A-Level 2022 Features: Overcoming the Odds

By Aiko Yeo (23A01B) and Saara Katyal (23S05A)

This year, Raffles Press invited eight Year 7s to share their experiences in JC, whether it be pursuing their interests or persevering through difficulty. We hope that their stories will inspire you and provide a glimpse into the lives of Rafflesians beyond academics.  

This is Part 4 of our A-Level 2022 Student Feature.

Ian Xavier Tan Yong (21A13A)

After just six months of JC, Ian Tan (21A13A)’s worsening health thwarted him from attending school. 

He remembers the day he first felt the signs. When he was showering before his History exam in March 2020, he noticed red streaks and bumps all across his chest. For the rest of the week, the marks continued to appear all over his body, irritating him. At the end of the week, Ian visited a doctor, who brushed it off as “hong mok” – an itchy red rash – that would quieten down soon. 

However, Ian’s condition only worsened. He was eventually diagnosed with severe cholinergic urticaria, meaning hives would immediately surface at the slightest increase in his body temperature. The 2020 Circuit Breaker period ended up being something of a blessing for him – being forced to stay at home limited his exposure  to the elements, keeping the hives at bay. Unfortunately, he was still unwell when he returned to school in June. 

The final straw came on the 14th of July – the day of Ian’s Mathematics Common Test. During the exam, he had an outbreak of relentless hives and, utterly unable to continue, had to leave the examination venue to cool off. 

That day was Ian’s last day of school. 

For the next two hundred and sixty-eight days, he would be in self-imposed isolation at home. 

Ian’s health took a nosedive during this difficult period. Besides balancing his formidable academic workload, he had to deal with his atypical health circumstances. He had trouble concentrating on the smallest of tasks and could not sleep soundly because of the incessant itching. He had hives in his throat tissue and was even completely unable to speak for a few months. 

On some days, Ian could barely muster up the strength to get out of bed, and struggled to write even a few words. Some of the medications he was taking are also known to alter one’s mental state, compounding the immense stress he was under.  The worst part was how even the best efforts of his parents and friends could not completely alleviate the intense loneliness he felt. 

Ian’s support system came not only in the form of his classmates and teachers, who streamed their lessons and hosted regular study calls to ensure he could keep up with his academic workload. His batchmates from the Boys’ Brigade Primers also tried their best to include him in CCA activities.

Ian’s classmates and CCA mates helped him pull through his struggles.


This year, Ian is doing a lot better. He is currently training to be a medic as part of his National Service, and is looking forward to studying Sociology in university. While he is keenly aware of what this two year ordeal had cost him, upon reflection, he wouldn’t have done it any other way. 

“I did consider taking a Leave of Absence, but ultimately, I thought that I would be able to get through [my conditions] – that everything would work out. The process was definitely more challenging than I had anticipated, but I got through it without prolonging my time spent in school.

“I mean – I’d still be in JC right now! No thank you…” he ended with a smile. 

Ian has emerged from his adversity positive about the future, newly aware of what his priorities in life are. 

“It important to realise that the only bar you need to reach out to is your own”

Ian Tan (21A13A)

Coral Lea Hui Shan (21S03O)

Coral Lea (21S03O)’s time in JC was a roller-coaster experience complete with the exhilarating highs of friendship and the devastating lows of personal loss. Irrespective of what JC had had in store for her, she has emerged a triumphant survivor set on reaching greater heights.

Her journey began tragically. As a fresh-faced JAE student, Coral spent her first week in RI adjusting to a whole new environment. While on an outing with her Orientation Group, she suddenly received news that her father had been admitted into the hospital for emergency surgery.

Coral rushed to the hospital just in time to see her father being wheeled into the operating theatre. Her family practically lived in the hospital for an entire week, anxiously awaiting his recuperation. Sadly, despite the medical team’s valiant efforts, Coral’s father passed away.

The sudden loss of her father marked the beginning of a difficult period for Coral and her family. Reflecting on her circumstances, she pensively recounts falling into a “negative thinking trap” and dealing with hopelessness. 

The realisation that changed her thinking?

“It is the framing that matters. Growth mindset!”, she chuckled during our interview.

As she coped with grief, she also found the strength within her to care for, and heal alongside, her family. Coral’s grandmother was especially affected by the premature passing of her son. “My dad used to visit [my grandmother] very often and buy her groceries,” she shared. Now, Coral settles her grandmother’s weekly produce at the nearby supermarket, and watches Hokkien shows with her every week. Her grandmother’s companionship remains a constant in her life, providing her the support to move past her grief.

Coral’s friends also helped her to heal. In the two weeks she missed all in-person lessons, her new classmates graciously filled her in on the content that she had missed. Upon rejoining her class, she realised her worries about cliques forming  in her absence were also completely unfounded. 

“Everyone was more than willing to help me with my studies if I needed help… They helped me pull through the grind.” 

Coral Lea (21S03O)

During her two-year stint in RI, this supportive environment provided her with the right headspace for focusing on her studies. Interestingly, she found herself growing closer to her Orientation Group in Year 6 after organising regular study sessions with them. She now counts her study buddies among her closest friends.

Nowadays, Coral dedicates her time to serving the elderly. In January, she volunteered at a nearby senior activity centre where she coordinated bingo sessions. Going above and beyond just organising activities, she also became a medical escort, accompanying the elderly to medical appointments at the hospital. Indeed, Coral’s keen awareness of the struggles the elderly in her community face, as well as her powerful desire to help them, shone through in her interview with Raffles Press. 

She attributes her empathy to her deep admiration for her grandmother: an irreplaceable figure in her life since young. Alongside the doctors who tended to her father, these individuals are the key motivators behind her decision to pursue medicine in university. 

“[The doctors’] conviction and perseverance reassured my family and I that he was in good hands,” she said. A future in healthcare would allow her to provide “reassurance and hope” to other patients and their families out there. 

Despite the major obstacles she faced, Coral has stayed passionate about helping those around her. Wherever she goes, she will be a force for good.

Raffles Press wishes Ian and Coral all the best in their journeys ahead.

Read more at Raffles Press.

Tagged Topics

#A Levels #Raffles Press

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