When I took my LOA last year, I felt very, very alone. I didn't know any Law students who'd taken LOAs. The idea of an LOA was, in itself, antithetical to what I thought law school was.
Law school was fast paced and intense. Law students weren't supposed to take breaks, because they were supposed to rush through the four years, then take the bar, then get a training contract and then become a lawyer, and they weren't supposed to enjoy it because they had to fill the rest of their time with moots and competitions and internships.
But long story short, I reached a breaking point where I couldn't continue school or I'd explode from stress. What followed was the application for an LOA that I detailed in the article I wrote last year.
(Also, this is a reminder to everyone that you don't have to fit the archetype of what a 'law student' is. If you study law, you're a law student. There's literally nothing more to it, no other prescribed standards that you have to abide by. And you are still a human being, with needs and wants. Don't ever let your identity become 'law student', don't let every thought you have be about law – that's just a slippery slope to a miserable existence.)
As I write this a month before school starts, I want to give an update on what happened during my LOA – this is a sequel to my first article on taking an LOA. It's been an interesting experience.
I took my LOA in September, and spent September and October agonizing over what I would spend the next year doing. I'd have to earn my keep, obviously, seeing that I didn't want to feel completely useless. But what sort of job would I take up? I briefly considered taking on a service industry job. But one morning, as I was parsing the Internet, it struck me – why not try something I'd never done before, but desperately wanted to?
(Also, the service industry is brutal. My brother was working in F&B the same time I was on my LOA, and all I can say is oh man. Standing for 10 hours at a time does not a comfortable job make, and I 100% respect everyone who works in the service industry.)
In a fit of sadness at how I'd never make it anywhere in life one morning (6am really isn't late night anymore, but I digress), I sent the following message to Our Grandfather Story.
I'm omitting the rest of the email because it's going to make me lose all my street cred as a cool person who doesn't beg for jobs.
Who am I kidding. To hell with dignity! If you want something, you have to chase it, go after it, pounce on it! Even if it involves begging on your knees! And so one interview and some tests later, I ended up interning with them for 7 months – and for the first time in my life, I was earning money from writing. It was a dream come true. For a moment, I could forget about what I was going to do with my life, and do what I loved.
(At this juncture, I am going to recommend that everyone apply for internships through the NUS portal, because NUS has a stipulated minimum intern wage. But this advice is kinda useless for us law students, so getting exploited it is.)
Of all the paths I could've chosen to go down on after my LOA, I acknowledge that this was an unorthodox one. I've compiled a list of the questions I was frequently asked;
- "You're a law student. What are you doing here?"
- "Are you still going to become a lawyer?"
- "Are you dropping out?"
- "Why did you drop out?"
- "So you're still going to be a lawyer, right?"
I was irritated most by the first question. It felt as if people assumed that I couldn't study law and also like writing. But as the months passed and I became acutely aware that I was turning 21 in 2023, I understood what they were asking. They were really asking: Are your heart and head in the same place?
Still don't have an answer, and honestly? I don't think I need to answer it, because I can do two things at once. Finance bros call it a side hustle, I call it a monetized hobby. Either way, my long internship was great for me, and I'm glad I did it. I don't think I'd be ready to go back to law school if I hadn't had a taste of what it was like to follow a passion I've had ever since I can remember.
Okay. With that out of the way, though, the most important thing to do during this period was actually to get my head straight. After all, if I did nothing, then this LOA would be for nothing, too. I'm happy to say I am slightly happier than when I was frantically submitting an LOA during Recess Week.
In the eyes of NUS, though, am I really better now?
"Are you better now?"
I rub my palms together and hum thoughtfully, making meaningful eye contact with the UHC psychiatrist. She picks up the doctor's note that my psychiatrist wrote, and notes, "It says here that you said you felt 'fine'."
She nods, and types something I can't see into her computer.
Here's the process for returning to school after a medical LOA, so that my juniors won't have to go through this alone.
- You were told when you took the LOA that you'd have to receive a doctor's note certifying a clean bill of health before you were allowed back. So go and get the note.
- Email the UHC at [email protected], informing them specifically that you want to book a Fitness Assessment for a counselor to assess you.
- Do this early, way before school starts in August. This is to make sure you get it done and out of the way, and also just in case there aren't any slots later. I personally did all of this in May 2023.
- After this, the UHC will advise you to contact the UCS (University Counseling Service) for a date. The UCS will give you a date (referred to as APPOINTMENT 1). Try not to miss this date.
- They may also ask for proof from your faculty and the UHC that you need a Fitness Assessment. Forward them the email from the UHC. In my case, I also forwarded an email from the Faculty of Law that said I would need a Fitness Assessment. Just out of an abundance of caution.
- Head down to the UCS on the date. The UCS is upstairs from the UHC, which I didn't know.
- A UCS counselor, who is also your case worker, will speak to you for about an hour, assessing whether you're fit to return to your course. They will also make a copy of your doctor's letter.
- This UCS counselor is your main man – they will be the ones collating the UCS psychiatrist's letter and sending it all to your faculty. For this reason, it's a good idea to remember who your counselor is in case you need to liaise with them again. I had an excellent experience with my counselor, Ms Mandy Lee.
- Your UCS counselor will give you a date to see the UHC psychiatrist (referred to as APPOINTMENT 2). Once again, don't miss this appointment.
- Head down to the UCS for APPOINTMENT 2. The psychiatrist will ask you more medical-related questions, and do a final check on whether they think you're fit to go back to school.
- After a while, you'll get an email from NUS that looks like this. Essentially, it's asking you to inform the Law Admin that you intend to come back:
12. Email [email protected] to tell them that you're coming back.
A plane flies in a holding pattern when it hasn't been given clearance to land yet. I think lots of us don't even know where we're going to be landing yet. Or we feel that the airfield we're hovering over isn't where we want to go. I dunno. But I will say one thing – if you're considering an LOA and have the means to do it, do it. At the same time, I realize that I was lucky to be privileged enough to take a year of school and not really have any tradeoffs, other than a year of my time. I acknowledge that not everyone can afford to take an LOA, and that some people will have to soldier through school battling demons of their own because they can't take a break.
I'm still a work in progress, as I will be tomorrow, as I will be the day after. My story isn't over yet. I have no idea how my restarted-Y2 will go, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that I have a better grip on my own coping mechanisms, and that I kind-of know how it's going to be, having seen my batchmates-now-seniors go through Y2. It's not going to be that hard.
And if it is, all I'll do is bravely soldier forward through the brambles and thicket – after all, the only way out of the dark night is through. We all have to land somewhere one day, and I wish everyone the best. Really. We'll be okay.