Archive for the ‘Resilience’ Category

Hi everyone, it’s been a really long time since I last wrote anything on the blog. I’ve had some health challenges the past few months and it’s been quite difficult at points but at last we’ve come to the end of term 3.

I’ve written some time ago on how life sometimes throw us curve balls and how tough it can be to deal with the unknown and I had said something like this, “the way we deal with the unknown and unforseeable future, the way we deal with life adversities shape our character and fortitude”. Nowhere has this ring more true in my own life than the past few months. I’ve come to believe now, more than ever,  that the adversities in our lives can indeed be our best teachers. And the lessons we learn from these ‘teachers’ often last a life time and are the most impactful because we experienced these personally.

Term 4 is usually one of the most trying times in the year for both JC1 and JC2 students alike. In this time, you might, in all reality, face a number of challenges and adversities. One of the things we talked about alot in the dot b lessons is that when we face an adversity, instead of reacting in our usual way – wanting the adversity to not exist, wanting to run away and hide and scream, lamenting why this is happening to us and not to others etc., the most powerful way we can deal with an adversity is to look at it in its face fearlessly. When we can look at an adversity calmly and learn to ask ourselves “what is this teaching me?”, in that moment we would have transformed an otherwise distressing and crippling situation into one that facilitates tremendous personal growth.

So what has adversity taught me in the past few months? That it’s okay to ask for help (seriously…counsellors can be the most stubborn when it comes to asking for help!); That I need to be compassionate with myself and accept myself (and this imperfect health) in its totality, not needing things to be different or be disappointed when things don’t go my way but just to accept that it is the way it is. When we are able to let go of our fixations on what has been and where we want things to be, and learn to be content with what is, that’s when we invite tremendous peace and calm into our lives.

So this teacher’s day, I want to say a big thank you to the adversities in my life, who has turned out to be my greatest teachers. 

On an important note, I will be away on leave from the end of term 3 to take care of these health issues and will return some time in term 1 next year. In my absence, we have a new part time school counsellor, Mr Foo Kit Meng. So you can still contact him if you want to find someone to talk to about the adversities in your life. Here’s Mr Foo introducing himself in his own words:

kit mengHi, I am your new Part-Time School Counsellor Mr FOO KIT MENG, and I hope to get acquainted with you during my stay in YJC. I hope to share a little about myself…

In June 1995, I retired from the Republic of Singapore Air Force after having a fulfilling and rewarding 25 years of military service. Some of the highlights of my career included a tour as the Commanding Officer of a mobile air-defence squadron, staff appointments at the RSAF Headquarters and an overseas-posting to the Headquarters of the Five-Power Integrated Air Defence System consisting representations from Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore.

Upon retirement, I had a desire to experience working in an educational environment, where I could influence our generation of young people. Hence, the beginning of a journey of 21 years in New Town Sec School, firstly as a PE Teacher then HOD Student Welfare and finally a Full-Time School Counsellor (12 years). I retired a second time in June this year.

As I am still passionate about counselling and working with young people, I opted to embark on the Part-Time School Counselling scheme. I hope to explore various perspectives of life challenges with you through our engagement and interaction.

I am contactable through email ( or the School Counsellor’s mobile phone from 10.00am to 4.00pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays. I can be located at the Counselling Room…. and am looking forward to having a chat with you sometime.

See you all next year! – Ms Joan 🙂


The final push

Posted: October 19, 2015 in Exams, Motivation, Resilience

Dear JC2 students,

This morning as I was walking across the quadrangle, I looked up and noticed the count down chart that said A level exams is 17 days away. I can’t believe how much time has gone by! Some of you, right now, may feel more prepared than others; some of you may have been chewing through your nails; and some of you may already be making plans to repeat next year cos you feel like there’s just no way you can be ready in time. Whichever the case, this IS the final lap and I wanted to wish you well. I’ve met all of you at the resilience workshop this year and hope that some of the stuff that your teachers and I have shared will support you in this time. A couple of students have requested that I put up the story of the alumni student I talked about during the workshop, so here it is.


That was way back in 2012 and I just liked the story so much because it speaks so much truth. It IS true that YJC students are deemed the underdogs and it IS also true that that doesn’t make anything impossible if you work hard. That was the whole tenet of the workshop, really, that hard work is one of the strongest predictor for success. When things work out for you, I hope that you’d write back to me and let me know your story as well, so I can use it to encourage your juniors. When, not if.

Martin Luther King once said, ‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope’. Whatever disappointments or setbacks you may have encountered up to this point that makes you feel like you are not good enough, or that you can’t, don’t let that trip you up and keep on going, keep on hoping. 🙂

Ms Joan


Today is the 3rd anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that happened on March 11th 2011. It’s something that’s very close to my heart because I spent some time in Japan and have many friends there. After the disaster in March 2011, I went to the disaster zone for 3 weeks to help as a volunteer and met with many of the evacuees who lost everything – loved ones, houses, prized posessions and much more. It was a life changing experience that I’ll never forget.  I wrote about it and talked about how I met Akasaki san and the resilience he displayed in the face of such a tremendous tragedy. Today I read the story of Yasuo Takamatsu san who became a diver and till today continues to search for his wife in the sea 3 years from the disaster. His story brought tears to my eyes which says alot because I’m very seldom moved (I guess abit weird for a counsellor) and till today he is searching for his wife to bring her home. In one of her final moments, Takamatsu san had received a text from his wife saying that she wants to go home. 

3 years on and while some have moved on to a fresh start in life, many are still staying in temporary housing. Children, in particular, are displaying signs of post traumatic stress disorder and parents are anxious about their future in a town that are still rebuilding. Kind of makes me feel abit that the stuff I worry about from day to day are so mundane and so very trivial. You know how I always have some kind of a teaching point in every post but today I’m not sure what it is that I’m trying to convey here. Perhaps to a certain extent, I’ve been emphasizing so much on resilience and grit that I tended to gloss over the true suffering that comes with a tragedy like that. Or the true suffering of any tragedy or setback that you may encounter yourselves. Perhaps we now live in a culture where it’s more popular to ask someone to chin up and move on (all hail positive psychology!) and gives little to no space and permission for one to grieve over lost relationships and lost hope.

That said, it struck me that Takamatsu san (our diver pictured above) can pick up diving at age 57, don a dry suit and jump into the freezing waters of Tohoku for 3 years now and continue to maintain hope that one day he will find the remains of his wife (no mean feat really, speaking as a fellow diver who mainly dives in the tropics and still find the water cold). That, and the fact that Takamatsu san was no athlete before this and was just a humble bus driver.  I searched for an adjective to describe him and tried to steer away from the usual ‘resilient’ word but could find none that would encompass all the courage and love he embodies to do what he does. 

Here’s offering my sincerest hope that he will one day indeed find his wife and bring her home and also hoping that the hearts of many wounded in the tragedy of 2011 will find small pieces of healing with each passing year.  

I recently went for the launch of a youth online portal by HPB and they screened this short clip on ‘heroes of resilience’. I really like the way they designed the video so I’m embedding it here for you. So do check it out when you have some time!

Also, do check out the new youth online portal at It’s got tons of useful information and resources on knowing your bounce back factor (level of resilience), how to increase your resilence, how to manage peer relationship difficulties etc. Have fun! 🙂

I’ve been wanting to write a post on coping with change and transitions especially for our new JC1 students but somehow I’m only getting round to it now and orientation is well and over. 😦 So I’m hopeful that this could still be helpful to some of you.
I remember very well my first day of work at Yishun JC. A few days before I knew I was going to start work, I asked my best friend to drive with me to Yishun so I can check out the school from the outside. I don’t live near Yishun so when we drove into ‘Yishun New Town’ it was a very unfamiliar feeling for me. To be honest, I remember my first impression of the facade of Yishun JC was not that good. haha. I thought the roof looked quite old from the outside and the whole place seemed very ‘kampong’. My friend, being the eternal optimist, tried to encourage me by saying ‘maybe things will be better inside?’ The couple of days before I was going to officially start work at Yishun, I did what I could to prepare myself psychologically for the change. I did what most women would do – buy a new bag. So on my 1st day, I stood at the general office with my new bag, waiting anxiously to see the Principal. Everything was so foreign, I suddenly don’t have a sense of direction, I didn’t even know where the toilet was or where I could get some food so I didn’t eat anything the first day. I couldn’t remember half the names of the people who were introduced to me and I was so conscious that people could tell I was feeling very awkward.
I’m not sure how many of you can connect with my experience when you first came to YJ. The feeling that everything was so foreign and you felt so ‘out of place’. Managing change is not easy. It involves being able to say goodbye to what you liked about the past (secondary school buddies, the familiar school grounds), being okay with the temporary discomfort of the new, and then realizing that things have permanently changed and being able to accept and adapt to that change.
Most of us are able to navigate the changes that come our way with the help of friends and family and some patience and perseverance. For me, I knew it was important for me to talk to my friends and also keep up my daily exercise routine so I don’t feel that everything has changed.  3 years down the road and I”m glad to say that I now know where everything is (almost everything…sometimes I still don’t know where S02 is), the daily commute is less of a chore and I’m happy here at YJ. 🙂
Some of us have a harder time with managing change and that’s when it’s important to have your coping strategies in place and know the available resources that you can turn to.  Perhaps what you need is also more time and more patience. If it will be helpful to you, you can also talk to your form teacher and come and look for me to find out more about coping strategies. 🙂

Exams are literally right round the corner. I know many of you out there are wringing your hands and cramming as much information as possible in these last few days and weeks and guilt-tripping yourself for going online and checking FB and thinking maybe if you’re reading the counsellor’s blog then it’s not SUCH a bad thing, right? Well it most certainly is not cos today I’m going to share a technique that all of you can use for calming and focusing yourself when you freak out. 

The ability to calm yourself down and refocus in times of distress is one of the 7 key traits that resilient people possess, according to the authors of this bestselling book ‘The Resilience Factor’. I think I talked about debating with your negative thoughts, finding evidence for your distorted thinking etc before somewhere in the blog. In an exam situation, however, there really isn’t much time for this cognitive debate and that’s where calming and focusing comes in really useful. There are several different techniques you can try to calm yourself down and refocus and I’ll write about one technique a day so you can try the different ones and see which one works better for you.
The most scientifically researched and widely used way to calm and refocus is *drum roll* rhythmic breathing. We all naturally breathe rhythmically (at least I hope you do!) which is why we are of sound mind most of the time. Faced with a high stress situation, however, our breathing is often compromised. Scientists have researched and found that a 10 second breathing cycle works to activate our parasympathetic nervous system which basically tells our brain that there is no immediate threat and to calm down so you can think straight.
Without going too much into the theory, try this where you are now:-
1. Sit back in your chair and close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breathing. Take 2 or 3 ‘normal breaths’ and relax your shoulders.
2. On your next inhale, count slowly to yourself “one…two…three…four…”, filling your lungs with air and letting your abdomen push out naturally. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and breathe in through your nose.
3. On your exhale, count slowly again “one…two…three…four…five…six…” again keeping your shoulders relaxed and breathe out through your mouth.
4. Do this 10 times (or more if you want to) and then take 2 or 3 ‘normal breaths’ again. Open your eyes and continue with what you were doing.
Remember to pace your breathing so you don’t take all the air in at ‘one’ or release all the air at one go. It’s more about prolonged breathing than taking in as much air as you can at one shot. This simple exercise would only take you about 2 minutes so it’s something you can do before the invigilator says ‘you may start’ and in between when you feel stuck and panicked. Practice this several times before you step into the exam hall so it becomes second nature and takes the guess work out of it. Or come look for me at the counselling room and we can practice it together. 🙂
Image used with permission from Arvind Balaraman

Hey everyone, I received this ‘comment’ from an ex-YJCian in response to a post I wrote on motivation. I’m reposting it here for everyone cos it was impactful to me as I think about the difficulties students face, the obstacles in their way and the resilience and strength of character some of you display. Enough from me, here it is in its entirety:-

“Hi Joan,

Happened to click on the link in your sign-off and stumbled upon this post.
I really wana post a comment even though this post was dated almost a year back. Probably u would ask me WHY??
Well, reasons being,
1) I was a YJCian, from 1998-2000,
2) I failed my “A” Levels and repeated in Yr 2000 and made it to Uni eventually! =)
3) I tot i wana share this with my fellow YJCian juniors who may be reading this too.

In fact, I almost failed my promo in Yr 1 but managed to scrape through and went to Yr 2. However, i continued to be lazy, distracted and playful that I ended up getting 2 Fs and 1 E for my “A” Levels in Yr 2000. Man it was like the end of the world then! i cried buckets, my friends (whom I can’t join in Uni) consoled me, and i was actually okay after 30mins of crying~ Haha.. (Which i now call “crying therapy”).
And I knew I had to bounce back fast, register for my repeat in YJC and buck up for the upcoming “A” levels at the end of the year!!

Well it was really tough back then, cynical remarks abt “repeats”, insults like “you should know what~ u studied this before” when we can’t answer a chemistry question, and dealing with the feeling of being “2nd-class citizens”.

We (the repeat-students) therefore form our own peer-support group, to help each other during self-study in the library. We sat in individual cubicles, mugged and ONLY talked when we need help on solving the OMG-so-difficult ten-year series questions! The only break times were water-refilling, toilet-break and lunch break~ (wow i missed the daily dose of Malay food where the auntie would give big chunks of mutton curry, resulting in some bad sore throat the week after! haha.)

Despite these adversities, we saw positivity and marched on, wanting to achieve our goal to pass the “A” levels. We had a couple of dedicated and supportive teachers who did not gave up on us. I still remember Mr Wong (Yih Chong) who taught Physics and Mrs Lim (Sze Cheng) the Chemistry teacher who were so patient coaching us, and encouraged us as well even when they were not our subject teachers-in-charge. Tears welled up as I am typing, as I remember how i relate my incident of being humiliated, to Mrs Lim and she was there listening and taught me everything i need to learn. I was really touched.
As Carl W. Buecher once said:
“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

I am glad that I’ve made in it 2001, with average results for me to go into NTU, Materials Engineering. The 4 years were tough, but I pulled through and became a Product Engineer for Medical Devices for the past 5.5 years.
And now…
I am a School Counsellor trainee in a neighborhood school.
That was what I wanted to do, alongside the children in their path of seeking knowledge and identity. Guiding them on the values in life, teaching them about resilience and most importantly, letting them know that there is HOPE in life.

No matter what we do, as long as there is hope and we do not give up on ourselves, we will be good. Whether you become an engineer, an accountant, a lawyer, an actor, a teacher or a counsellor, life can be great if you want it to be.

I do have classmates from YJC, who failed their A-levels but having their own businesses now. Some who repeated but failed a 2nd time, and pursued a diploma in Polytechnic thereafter. What I saw in them is the perseverance and strength, the “NEVER SAY DIE” attitude that helped them pull through.
And back then, we had no counsellors to support us! How fortunate are the students nowadays! =)

Hence, I would like to end off this post with this quote:

“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”                                                               –Napoleon Hill”