Photo credit: JOY CHAN

Entering polytechnic eight years older than her classmates

In order to pursue her passion for music, Joy enrolled in polytechnic when she was 25 – and her classmates were 17.

Celeste Lim

Yogurt lover with a Spotify playlist for every mood.

Published: 11 December 2020, 4:01 PM

Unlike her peers, Joy Chan is not working at a full-time job. In fact, the 26-year-old is in her second year of polytechnic, surrounded by teenagers eight years younger than her.

“When my classmates used the word ‘sus’, I didn’t know what it meant! But I didn’t want to appear like I wasn’t in trend, so I just pretended that I knew what it meant until somebody else asked,” she said. 

We sat down with the soft-spoken student to find out why she decided to leave her full-time job to enter polytechnic again.

The long journey to poly

Going into poly was the last thing on Joy’s mind. She was doing well in her full-time job at a recruitment agency and was close to her colleagues of three years.

But everything changed when she went on vacation to Italy in 2018.

Joy, who was 24 at the time, decided to play the piano in a cathedral. Next thing she knew, four hours had passed and she was about to miss the last bus back to her hotel.


Joy was on holiday with her friends when she had a breakthrough about her love for music. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


That experience of being lost in music made her realise that she really wanted to pursue music. Hearing this, her friend suggested she apply to Singapore Polytechnic’s diploma in music and audio technology via the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE). 

Although she was keen on the course, she only dared to pick it as her third choice – her first two choices were business-related – for her EAE application, as she was merely trying her luck. 

To her surprise, her application was successful and she was called in for an interview, an experience she remembers well.

Joy said: “The person that came out before me brought his electric guitar and guitar pedals! I had nothing, just lyrics [from my original songs]. And anybody can do that!”

Still, she impressed the interviewers enough to receive an offer to join the course. But unlike other prospective students receiving such good news, Joy was not celebrating.


Joy (first row, first from right) used to study new media at Republic Polytechnic, her twelfth choice for the Joint Admissions Exercise. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


When Joy told her colleagues about her EAE offer, they tried to persuade her not to take it. 

“My boss said: ‘You already have a track record in your sales, and you’re already doing well. Why do you want to go back to an environment where it’s all 18-year-olds?’” said Joy, who had dropped out of her previous poly diploma course with a GPA of 1.7 before working full-time for six years.

Her parents also disapproved, asking why she wanted to make such a “stupid” decision. 

However, she followed her heart and accepted the offer.

Joy said: “Whether I’ll pursue music after graduation is another thing, but if I don’t study music at some point in my life, I think I would regret it.

“So I might as well take this course and see where it leads.”


When Joy (second from right) decided to leave her job to return to poly, she cried as she felt like she was leaving her family to pursue her passion. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN

Pros and cons of being an older poly student

Deciding to enter poly was just the first of many challenges Joy faced.

On her first day of the freshman orientation programme, her new classmates started a jam session in their class studio. This intimidated Joy, who felt she was “in the wrong place”.

She asked one of her lecturers why she had received an EAE offer without any background in music. The lecturer answered that he felt there was “soul” when she sang her self-written songs during the interview.

“Technically, it was going to be very hard,” Joy said, “But as long as I put in my effort to really study and learn, he thought that I will catch up and do really well.”

Since then, Joy has learnt a lot more about music, but she sometimes struggles to understand what is taught in class. Thankfully, she has the support of her lecturers and classmates, who she turns to for help or critique.


Compared to her younger classmates, Joy has little background in music theory. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


Asking her younger classmates for help did not come naturally to Joy, who initially feared that she would not have any friends in school due to the large age gap. 

However, she did not have anything to worry about; she became fast friends with her classmates while working with them for school assignments. 

When with them, she tends to forget that she’s 26 – until she realises that they have more energy than her.

“I can’t keep up!” she said with a laugh.  “I just want to go home and sleep.”


When Joy is out with her classmates, she finds that she gets tired easily. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


Thankfully, there are a few other older students in her course who she can relate to. 

Together, they enjoy reminiscing about the past, and have influenced their younger classmates to like older music.

She noticed that the older students also tend to be more on-task, completing their work faster than the younger ones.


For Joy’s 26th birthday, her new friends gifted her a bulletin board with their memories and letters. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


Joy believes her passion for music and experience with meeting targets at work help her take her work seriously, as compared to when she was in her previous poly course. Back then, she would browse through Facebook in class and only started her assignments at the eleventh hour.

With her work experience and maturity, she is the de facto leader for group projects. She takes that within her stride, showing initiative to start work, planning out what they need to do and handling administrative tasks.


The skills she picked up in her previous poly course helped her with directing her band’s music video. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


When she noticed her group members were not as vocal or hands-on as her, she told them that they should treat one another as equals.

She said: “From semester one I told them: ‘I’m older than you but it doesn’t mean my opinions are always right. So I don’t want you not to talk.’“

Pursuing her passion without regrets

When asked if she would have preferred to join her current course at a younger age, Joy could not decide. 

On one hand, she found that she was immature in the past. If she had joined after her O-Levels, she would not have had the incentive to work hard as she does now.

On the other hand, she would be much younger upon graduating, and would have a higher chance of getting hired. 

“My pay is definitely going to drop from before,” Joy said, “Now in these COVID-19 times, am I still going to do music upon graduation? It’s very risky. What if I don’t want to? Where do I go?”


Since joining her course, Joy has also picked up the drums, guitar and cajon. PHOTO CREDIT: JOY CHAN


Still, Joy does not regret returning to polytechnic, as she is glad she finally pursued her passion.

Her band, Shazam, even wrote a song Wasted about taking a leap of faith and following their dreams. They wrote it while struggling with their modules and questioning their decision to join a music course, so singing it now is a source of comfort to them.

Regarding advice she would give to other adults considering going to poly, she said: “You only have one life. If you’re like me and you keep thinking of your passion at the back of your mind, just do it. 

“There are a lot of risks that are going to be involved. Every single day, you’ll wonder if you made the right choice. But there are learning opportunities in poly that you’ll never get at work. If you think this is a learning opportunity waiting to happen, go for it.

“I feel your worry – what if you regret it? But pursuing your passion is not living with regrets.”

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