By Jessica Shepherd

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi I’m John, I’m 19 this year and I’ve been homeschooled ever since I was born. I enjoy photography, videography, reading, and playing sports. You can check out my photography at my website johnteohphotography.strikingly.com. Academically, I studied for the Advanced Placement and SAT exams during my high school years. Besides that, I’m a fun loving and outgoing person, always ready to explore new experiences.

What did your parents do to prepare you to transition from home to National Service?

One of their largest concerns was for me to be firm in my faith and to be able to answer questions in a truthful and gracious manner. As part of this preparation, I attended the 2018 Summit worldview conference in Tennessee. During the worldview conference we heard from well known speakers on various topics ranging from homosexuality to being a Christian lawyer. Subsequently in the evenings, we would have small group discussions to talk through and process the various lectures we had heard throughout the day. It was the discussions I had with my small group and other participants that really equipped me for national service. Through our discourse and debates, my views on issues became solidified as a result of having to defend them, and I learnt how to engage with people who have different perspectives.

How did being a homeschooler initially affect your transition?

As a homeschooler, I am very connected to my family. Hence I knew that I would have a strong support system behind me whatever happens. I would frequently relate amusing or inspirational stories to my family when I book out and go home every weekend. In addition, the discipline I learnt from being homeschooled helped me to stay focused during training and study the necessary topics by myself.

How did the environment or culture differ from home and was it difficult to thrive?

The culture is definitely very secular and less forgiving than at home. I don’t think it was that difficult for me to thrive, I just took everything in my stride and learnt from the mistakes others and myself made.

Has that changed?

The more I’m here the more I learn which helps me to keep adapting and thriving in the different environments I’m thrown in.

What are some things that helped?

I had one of my good friends with me during training so having someone who could relate and understand what I was going through really helped. We could talk and laugh about what happened and really be there for each other. Another thing that helped was just focusing on enjoying the training instead of how many more days to book out day. It made the days pass faster and I learnt a lot more.

What do you wish you’d known?

I wish I’d known to choose Muslim food when I enlisted because most of the time it’s a lot better than the non-Muslim food.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far?

One of the biggest lessons I learnt during training was the importance of responsibility, both for our teammates and items. When we’re out there doing real work, you only have your buddy to rely on. If you don’t protect your buddy, your life may be on the line as well. We’re also issued different items that help us to do our job. If one of them goes missing we’d be unable to execute our duties, not to mention the disastrous consequences if such equipment falls into the wrong hands.

Any advice for parents or enlistees?

  1. Choose Muslim food
  2. Prepare for lots of chicken
  3. Go in with the mindset of wanting to learn and to enjoy the process of learning.

Before you know it, you’ll be done with training and ready to graduate.

Change in schedule

As a home schooler I definitely had a lot of time on my hands to do what I liked to do. I could go and read after I finished my work, or I could become distracted and look at memes while I was doing my work. However when I started basic training, most of that flexibility and free time disappeared. It was a bit tough getting used to having other people plan out my day for me, even to the extent of what time to eat meals. But once I got past the first week, I had adapted the the new lifestyle. In a way, having my day planned out for me helped to save me some brain work because what was routine became muscle memory which I could carry out without much effort.

How I felt or how things were when I first started, and how things are now/how my perspective or experience has changed.

At first I was a bit apprehensive, wondering if I would have trouble adapting to the environment as well as whether I’d pick up any bad habits from the people around me. I also spent a lot of pondering how tough training would be and if I would be able to handle it. However now that I have finished my basic training, I can see that most of my concerns were unfounded. I had a lot of fun with my squad mates and they we helped each other to make the best of training. Looking back, I really miss the times we had together in camp, goofing off in bunk, talking, or gaming together.

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Christian Chen

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