From not uttering a single word to others, Koh Rui Cheng, Brendan (18S24) became a more confident communicator since enrolling in JPJC.
When asked to describe how he was like before he was posted to Pioneer Junior College (PJC, which became Jurong Pioneer Junior College [JPJC] following a merger in 2019), Koh Rui Cheng, Brendan would describe himself as a ‘loner’. “In my secondary school days, I would say I kept a lot to myself. I would just go to school, and go home immediately after to play computer games. I wouldn’t talk to anyone. Due to my condition, it was really hard to talk to others. My mind would just be a blank; I couldn’t think of what to respond or say, when people spoke to me.”
As an individual with selective mutism, Brendan finds it difficult to communicate and speak effectively in certain social settings. However, as he looked back on his experience in secondary school and prepared to enter a new phase of his life after taking his GCE O Level examination, Brendan set a new goal for himself to open up and interact more with others. This was, however, no easy feat. “Before coming to JC - the day before Orientation started – I tried to prepare myself mentally to interact with others around me. But it didn’t go as planned! From the first day of Orientation, right up to about the middle of my J1 year, I felt quite uncomfortable and really suffered quite a bit. I couldn’t make friends, I couldn’t talk to others, I couldn’t say what came to my mind. I would try mouthing the words, but nothing would come out of it, and this happened in the middle of conversations, lessons. It was quite bad at first.”
However, things began to look up for Brendan after about half a year in school. While Brendan faced difficulties in expressing himself and communicating with others, his heart of gold and willingness to help others actually inadvertently led him to turn things around. Brendan chose to enrol in PJC (JPJC following the merger) because the college offered a subject combination he wanted and was good at, in particular, he could take Computing – a subject that he had great passion and interest in since he was introduced to it during an enrichment programme at the lower secondary school level.
“When my classmates saw that I was scoring very well for my tests, and had very good background knowledge in Computing, they started to ask me questions and requested for my help. Even though I was shy, I generally like to help people too. When that happened, and as I slowly tried to explain subject-related things to my classmates, I found myself slowly able to open up to them and speak to them quite well gradually.” It helped that Brendan’s classmates were very accommodating and understanding towards him and the challenges he faced. Despite observing how he had difficulties with speaking, never once did his classmates make fun of him. Most of them got along well with Brendan, often inviting him to join them for meals after school, with a few even becoming his close friends eventually. “In my four years in secondary school, I only made one friend – and this one friend was in my class here. Yet in my two years in this class and school, I made more friends than I ever did before.”
It was this open, non-judgmental environment and support that helped Brendan overcome his challenges and excel, beyond his wildest imagination, in Project Work (PW). When Brendan first enrolled here, there was only one thing he was apprehensive about because of his condition – the Oral Presentation (OP) component of Project Work. Thankfully, with his transformation and the improvement in his condition as he journeyed along in his first year of college, Brendan overcame this hurdle with much success. He credits his success to his PW Supervising Tutor (ST), Mr. Philip See-Tho, and his group mates. “I really didn’t expect to get an ‘A’ grade for my PW. As you know, speaking is not something I’m good at. I was also very concerned that my secondary school best friend was also in my PW group, because people often say that you can’t work with a friend. But I think my personal change from the beginning to the end of J1 really helped. That, plus the unwavering support and guidance of my PW ST Mr. See-Tho and my group mates. Mr. See-Tho provided me with close guidance and helped me with my OP every step of the way. My group mates were also a really good group to be with, and I felt very assured and confident.”
Looking back, Brendan feels that his two years in JPJC is something that he is extremely grateful for, because it gave him many opportunities to venture beyond his comfort zone and the limitations that shackled him previously. “I am thankful that my school and my class gave me a chance to learn to socialise and feel accepted. Even beyond the classroom, I found myself able to develop my communication skills and courage more and more, because the Computing Department offered us a lot of opportunities to go for related events, workshops and competitions. I met more people, and could actually learn to speak up more in areas I liked and was confident at.”
Apart from the excellent support and environment in college, Brendan’s passion for the subjects he was taking also played a crucial role in motivating him when the going got tough. While school was tiring, he does not remember dreading school, and actually started looking forward to it daily after he adjusted better to college life. “Overall, my experience in PJC & JPJC was really quite a good one. It made me a better person, with better soft skills. I’m now more talkative and less weird, and I go out more with my friends!”
Moving forward, Brendan intends to major in a computing related course in university, and is keen to build his expertise in business studies as well. “I may not be able to speak in public to total strangers yet, but I think the experience and foundation I built here in school will allow me to improve and grow even more in future, at my own pace.”