As with most of my decisions, taking a leave of absence in Week 6 of Y2S1 was entirely unplanned. There was no brilliant plan to go and intern in Geneva for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Rather, it was like being a spectacularly inattentive pilot caught in a spectacularly bad storm.

I looked up on Sunday of Week 5, saw every single emergency light in the cabin flashing, realized all the engines had stalled, and did the only thing I could – I jumped on the yoke and yanked it so hard it fell off.

Photos of Nadine Lee's own calendar and email courtesy of Nadine Lee

One week and a day after I yanked the yoke, I received an email from NUS – my application for a leave of absence had been approved. I'd restart Year 2 in August of 2023.

One - The Yanking of the Yoke

Briefly, here's the timeline of how it played out for me.

  1. Realize that something is terribly wrong: the plane has lost all its engines, the flight attendants are trying to bash in your door. Your plane is losing altitude. Passengers are screaming. (Realize that it's becoming difficult to cope with your studies, for whatever reason.)
  2. Grab the yoke - the thing in the middle that's like a steering wheel. YANK IT, upwards, to buy time. (Immediately contact the Law Admin, as well as the Vice Dean of Student Life, and schedule a meeting with them to discuss your situation.)
  3. Snatch your unconscious co-pilot's water bottle for a sip to refresh yourself. (The Zoom call I had with Professor Eleanor Wong, as well as two members from Law Student Affairs, gave me some options I could take, including a LOA. For instance, I thought it'd be impossible to only take one semester off, given that some modules aren't offered in Sem 2. I was informed that alternative arrangements could be made. I didn't go with this option in the end, but it exists. This Zoom call was tremendously stabilizing for me, and though I've already thanked the three wonderful people who were involved in this, I'd like to thank them again here.)
  4. Start pressing buttons on your control panel. (Go to MyEduRec and apply for your LOA. At this point, I'd like to point out that there are several reasons you can use in your application, which you can view on MyEduRec. Some require official documentation, like a doctor's note, death certificate, or internship offer. If you're in an emergency LOA situation like I was, it may be the first two, so make arrangements to get these scanned quickly. If it's for a medical reason, you'll need to go to the UHC to get your doctor's note certified by the UHC doctor, and you'll have to email UHC directly to get an appointment.)
  5. Listen for the sound of your engines restoring themselves. (I ran out of flight metaphors, I don't know how planes work, but I'm just saying that this is the point where your LOA application is approved. It takes time to process LOAs, and the reason I recommended Point 3 is because if the admin is aware of your plans to disrupt your studies, it may get processed faster.)

Some other important tips:

  1. It is not possible to apply for LOA after Recess Week. Obviously, we can't control when our planes start crashing, but if you're considering taking an LOA before Recess Week, you may want to act on it quickly.
  2. Applying for LOA after the 2nd week of instruction will incur you the school fees for that semester.
  3. More info on LOAs can be found on NUS' site.
Two - Drifting

Sitting in my pilot's seat, my co-pilot finally awake and trying to find us somewhere to land (I told her to try to land somewhere sandy and warm), I realized then that I had no plan.

"Captain," she said after poring over some maps, "Where are we gonna land?"

"I don't know," I replied, and proceeded to spend the month of October curled up in bed.

Here's another rough sketch of what my October looked like, in the wake of the LOA being approved–

Week 1: Immense relief, followed by intense anxiety. I call a friend who's a recruiter and ask if she has any part-time jobs, since I cannot stand the thought of being a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Turning 20 has really done a number on me, huh.

Week 2: I go out with a friend. She says, "Don't you think you're rushing all of this?" I consider this briefly. I schedule an appointment with a therapist.

Week 3: I have disappointed my friend. Unbeknownst to her, I applied for an internship with a dream company in Week 1. I interview for the job. I go to Halloween Horror Nights, but nothing is as frightening as my outlook on life right now.

Week 4: I'm offered the job. I take it happily. With 21 days of breathing space behind me, I feel stable for the first time since Year 2 started.

I wake up in November. We're still flying over the Pacific. I tell my co-pilot, "It doesn't matter where we go. We'll be okay as long as we have each other, I just know it."

"Are you out of your damn mind? We're dangerously low on fuel–"

"It was a metaphor, idiot," I say, "Let's land in Fiji."

Three – Descent

At time of publication, it's winter break, and that's why I can't title this section "Landing".  I sit in the cockpit, watching my co-pilot eat scrambled eggs, and think about going back to school in August.

I'll be with a different batch of classmates. I'll graduate a year behind my peers. And what if my plane starts crashing again in Year 3, or Year 4? What if I'm not suited for this course?

Yet, as I get dressed to go to work, as I talk to my friends who saw the difficult state I was in before taking the LOA, I realize that not once have I regretted this. Maybe I'll regret it in the future, but who cares? If the plane had crashed in Week 5, there would have been nothing left to save – I made the best decision I could in a bad circumstance, and that's that.

A summary of my rebuttals to the common doubts regarding taking an LOA–

  1. I'll be with a different batch of classmates. So what? I'll be back on top as queen bee soon enough. Graduating in 2026 has a nicer ring than 2025 anyway (I try to convince myself of this, knowing that 2025 just looks snappy as heck.)
  2. I'll graduate a year behind my peers. Again, so what? That's just easy access to muggers.
  3. What if this happens in Year 3, or Year 4? What if I'm not suited for law? So what? I can't rule this out, but neither can I live in fear of something that might happen two or three years in the future. It's like doing pre-flight checks any responsible pilot does – by taking this LOA to get my head straight, I reckon the odds of the same thing happening in Year 3 or 4 have fallen dramatically.

Will I feel differently at the end of my LOA? Who's to say? For now, I'm cruising at the right altitude (at least I think I am, the flight traffic controller's voice is real smooth and I keep getting distracted by it instead of actually listening), I'm happy, and I'm still flying.

See you all in Fiji.

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