Having been in an all girls’ school for ten years, graduating at the end of secondary four was bittersweet for me. I knew that I would have to eventually move on to a co-ed school, whether I liked it or not. Towards the end of the school year, we received increasing warnings and words of caution from our (conservative Christian) teachers about “getting involved with boys”.
Before I begin, let’s just get this out of the way. It’s not that I’m completely unfamiliar with being friends with the opposite sex. Sure, I’ve had some male friends along the way, but back then school was an environment where I could forget that they existed for a bit. It was a place where conversations about attractive boys were mostly limited to celebrities that were out of reach, or hearing my classmates gush over someone they saw at McDonalds.
So yes, I graduated, and I was inevitably enrolled in a local Junior College (JC), which would obviously contain said boys. If I had to describe the experience with one word, it’d be: wild.
A whole other species
The first three months were terrifying for me. As much as I tried to stick around my female classmates, there would be these inevitable encounters where I had to cross paths with them.
Most of the boys in my school liked to gather in groups, which made them seem even more intimidating. I remembered hearing the distinct male laughter, which would be followed by a slew of curse words (in different languages at that, a true representation of Singapore’s linguistic diversity).
Constantly being around this new species of human also exposed me to smells I never knew existed. Having to sit behind a row of boys who have just finished PE class is probably one of the worst memories I have, smell-wise.
On top of these sights and smells, there would also be random male uniforms left all over the school — from canteen tables to classroom desks and lecture hall seats.
Safe to say, it definitely took me a while to get used to these occurrences as part of a regular school day.
Navigating social circles
Well, of course, eventually I realised that I could not recreate my single-sex school experience by simply refusing to talk to boys. They were my classmates and CCA mates after all.
One of the things that made me uncomfortable was the fact that I knew I was constantly being “watched”. Boys will be boys, and most of them were constantly on the look out for any chio girls, and the less attractive girls would sometimes get made fun of.
Unfortunately for me, I was on the chubbier side and had nothing much to offer, save for my above-average English. Knowing that I was on the less attractive side, I always feared making friends with boys because I felt that I would be judged for my appearance. True enough, some of them did make fun of me because of my weight, but eventually I did find one or two of them who were nice enough to look past that. We eventually became pretty close because we managed to bond over our enthusiasm towards Vitasoy, Starbucks and stationery. Not gonna lie, those were pretty fun times.
Relentless self-reflection turned into depression
Because of my weight and low self-esteem, knowing that I was judged for my appearance made things a lot worse. I constantly felt bad about myself and would actively avoid people in school. Hearing laughter behind me also made me assume that people were laughing at me.
In order to avoid getting judged as much as possible, I began avoiding taking part in large social gatherings, whether it was class gatherings or post-CCA gatherings. I only hung out with people that I deemed “safe” — those who seemed to be able to look past my weight and felt like they genuinely cared and wanted me around.
This was when I started relentlessly policing my appearance and behaviour. I dabbled in makeup to make myself feel better, and told myself not to stand out, or do anything that would draw additional attention to myself.
I remember going through periods of sadness, where waking up to go to school became an impossible task, or if I managed to make it to class, I would have this heavy feeling in my chest that made the entire day unbearable. As the national examinations loomed, I started getting bouts of panic attacks.
I eventually did see the school counsellor, and that kickstarted a journey of becoming more self-aware (in a good way), and learning how to manage my symptoms.
If you’re going to JC, just chill
So yes, JC was a wild ride for me, and I probably had more lows than highs, but I’m glad it’s over (and way behind me). In hindsight, I’ve come to realise that my perception of the entire JC situation was very heavily influenced by how I saw myself, and how I thought others saw me. It probably wasn’t as bad as I thought.
If you’re going to JC soon, or if you’re planning to go to JC, my advice is, just chill. Learn to embrace yourself for who you are, understand your strengths and weaknesses, but don’t let them define you. You’re only going to be there for two years, and 90 per cent of the time you’ll have your nose in your books, so just focus on what’s important, and have fun when you can.
On the other hand, if you find yourself struggling, whether it’s with studies, or your social circle, please don’t hesitate to ask for help. People are kinder than they seem.