Updated: Aug 14, 2019
By Ellisha Chua Hui Xuan (19J10), Myat Thazin (19J18) and Wong Yoke Ting, Zoelle (19J10)
Have you ever wondered what Cady Heron felt on her first day of high school? For those who have never watched Mean Girls, let us set the scene for you. As you navigate the never-ending maze of hallways, you are greeted by a sea of unfamiliar faces. Down at the cafeteria, you find many “resident” students clustered in their own cliques, while you stand at a distance, out of the picture and wonder: how on earth am I going to fit in?
Such a question resonated with Lionel Ong, a JAE ‘freshman’ from 19J18. Lionel recalled, “I was filled with trepidation as I entered the colossal school hall, only to realize that I was quite unfamiliar with many faces, which was quite a challenge for me”.
To the JAE students, adjectives such as “elite”, “sophisticated” and “academically-driven” come to mind when asked about their first impressions of RV. This speaks volumes about how River Valley High School brands itself as an institution of elites to the outside world. Adiel Rusyaidi from 19J10 was under the impression that “RV is a school comprised of students who are very hard-working and steered towards their academics.”A majority of the JAE intake believe that those who have gone through the IP system are not only of stellar academic backgrounds but are also holistically developed to be the future leaders of distinction for Singapore. While we cannot completely dispute this image, from experience, we cannot fully endorse it either.
But as Franz Kafka once said, “First impressions are always unreliable.” Contrary to the image of an uptight elite student, our JAE friends soon realised that RVians are just like them—fun-loving students who work hard and play hard. Or in the words of another JAE friend, “some are more rowdy and wild”.
For our new friends, the transition from secondary school to junior college is indeed an eye-opening experience. There are some drastic changes in the school environment. Some of the JAE students were formerly from an all-boys school. Lionel from 19J18 is one of them. Stepping into a co-ed system in RV, Lionel recalled, “the initial phase was rather uncomfortable. It took me weeks to adjust to the new school environment.” It might have been difficult for our new friends at first but with time, we are glad to hear that most of them have settled down without much fuss.
Coping With Classes
A common struggle all RVians, including our new friends face is the drastic changes in the academic curriculum from secondary school to junior college. Classroom lessons are replaced with homeroom tutorials and mass lectures.
The academic curriculum is more rigorous than ever in these two upcoming years with some of the class timetables running late up to five o'clock in the evening. This is understandable, seeing that we are gearing up for the A levels, which is a far cry from the O levels in terms of content depth and coverage.
The school has gone easy on the JC1s with absolutely no tests given in the first term. Thanks to the guidance of the lectures where their pace and style are set by students’ feedback, the tutorials and assignments have been relatively manageable.
When asked about how they are coping with school, many of our new RVians are faring relatively well in school with their studies.
“It’s really tiring but I’m hanging in there. I’m living it day by day,” says Sarah as she braves through the first week of school. Same goes for Lionel who replies, “I am able to cope with the current workload that is given to us.” Knowing that the new RVians are off to a good start, we hope that this first term of school will eventually train them to build up their stamina for the greater intensity of the academic curriculum from the second term onwards.
There was the stigma that RVians would be “hard to mingle with”, “unapproachable” and “impossible to relate to”, seeing that many RVians are often found hanging out with the old and familiar faces through the four years of IP. At a glance, many of our JAE friends might feel like outsiders looking in. Making new friends is hard but it is even harder when everyone around you already has friends of their own.
For Sarah from 19J17, she faced more than just the struggle of making friends. She found it especially hard blending in with her peers. After all, junior college students are a lot like chameleons. They love to blend in with their surroundings and hate being singled out. But for Sarah, it was tough. She was Malay, while most of her peers were Chinese.
“At first, trying to blend in with the crowd was difficult as I was definitely a minority, firstly being a JAE student and then being a Malay girl,” Sarah said. Being in a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school like RV which emphasises a lot on the Chinese culture, it was no wonder that Sarah felt disconnected and self-conscious.
This idea of race as an unseen, unconscious advantage took hold. Because of RV’s relative heterogeneity, we tend to understate the extent of this problem. We simply don’t understand how it feels like to be the minority, and as such, we are oblivious to the feelings of loneliness and isolation that some may experience.
It is easy for us to fear what we perceive to be different, and therefore to distance ourselves from differences. Thus, to build a positive school environment and school climate, as RVians, we should all celebrate differences and welcome diversity.
And on that note, “RV is inclusive” and “open to others” made up the general consensus of most of the JAE students we interviewed. It was heartening to see that they felt integrated into our community. This perfectly reflected the value of “people-centricity” that RV constantly reiterates.
Yet, we cannot merely harp on the positives, ignoring those who voiced out a few concerns.
“[Making friends] was quite hard and I feel that I was excluded as I am a reserved and slow person when it comes to building relationships and most of the IP students have their own cliques already, which makes it harder to blend in.”
“People here mostly already know a good portion of the school (people and teachers) so it’s kind of more difficult for JAE students to get involved.”
“Honestly, it’s hard to make friends because I don’t know if I’m welcomed into RV or not. I don’t really feel included, but it’s all right because I’m pretty sure even the people in RV are awkward to meet new people too.”
“The people here are friendly, but it doesn’t really make me feel like I’m a part of RV.”
These sentiments are a stark reminder that there are a few JAE students who feel like outliers in the student body, odd puzzle pieces that do not fit into the RV jigsaw. What can we then do, as a school, to allow them to feel included?
RV has always emphasized the need to work together towards a common goal. We are not in a rat race. It is more about strategizing together and bringing out the best in one another to ensure that at the end of the day, we will all reach the summit together.
With that in mind, we hope that this spirit will resonate with the new RVians. We want our new friends to know that they are not alone in the face of tough times. In fact, we are in this all together. New or old RVians, all of us will progress hand in hand to get through these two years and make our school proud.
For the new RVians who are still engulfed in self-doubt and confusion, remember, this is just the first phase of your RV life. This feeling of confusion may go on for days, weeks or months, but it won’t last forever. So keep your head up high, and look forward to the future! There are much more adventures awaiting us—be it our class cohesion hikes, YLEAD, Pre-U Seminar or OVIA.
“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The thing is, during these times, this is where you find your best self and create the best memories. So take a leap of faith, and participate in as many activities as you can. Understand that being lost is okay. All of us experience this sometimes. Don’t ever think you’re alone.
We’re all here; let’s get lost together.