Story by Stella Soon
Ask Johanna Lim what school she was from, and you won’t get the textbook answer of “XX Polytechnic” or “YY Junior College”.
That’s because the first time she stepped into a classroom was at the age of 23, as a first-year undergraduate in the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Born the fifth of nine children, Johanna was homeschooled by her parents since birth and self-studied her way into NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP).
“I was homeschooled from kindergarten. Basically I’ve never been to school at all.”
The driven individual self-studied her way through the A-level examinations, taking up a hybrid combination of Mathematics, Chemistry, Geography, and English Linguistics, but her results missed the mark.
Determined to not let that get in her way, she then took the SAT subject tests. This paved the way for her admission into NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
“People say ‘wow, you finished your high school by self-studying’. What motivated me? I don’t know, just that I have to finish.”
“I did it, but it was super tough. Not something I’d recommend,” she said with a laugh.
While Johanna has her heart set on double majoring in social work and Southeast Asian studies, she confessed to wanting to “study everything” initially.
“I went for the orientation lecture and every HOD [Head of Department] was giving their presentation. Philosophy – ah, I want to study that one. History – ah, I want to study that one.”
So applying for USP at the end of her first semester was a natural choice. “If I can’t do everything in FASS, I can just do it in USP.”
The Formative Years
Johanna was not the only one of the Lims who was homeschooled – she and all her 8 siblings studied, played, and slept under one roof.
Describing her parents as “fairly protective”, she attributed the reasons for their decision to homeschool their brood to religion and not wanting them to be negatively influenced by their peers.
“They wanted to control our education and make it more religious.”
So while her academic curriculum was based off the mainstream syllabus and books bought from Popular bookstore, she also followed a Christian religious curriculum from the United States.
Days were largely centred around completing both syllabi and doing the household chores.
“I’ll usually do a bit of chores first… then have my own quiet time. We’ll have breakfast together, then do more chores until 9 or 10, then we start studying.”
“Usually in the morning we’ll do the Bible curriculum from the States, and in the afternoon we’ll do the Singapore curriculum.”
Yet her innate thirst for knowledge meant she constantly pushed herself to learn things beyond the textbook.
A voracious reader, she finished reading most of the books in her house by the age of 12 and subsequently buried her nose in her parents’ parenting books.
Then she discovered the Internet. It soon became her best friend, and she spent hours devouring Jane Austen’s classics online.
She would also watch Youtube videos of people explaining new things.
“I googled everything,” she said.
Socialisation was part of the homeschooling curriculum as well.
While her mum met up with other homeschooling parents to swap experiences and tips, she would babysit all the children – totalling a dozen – for a few hours on end.
And as these kids were scarce in their teens, it meant her social circle largely consisted of friends younger – or older – than her, but rarely her age.
It’s not something she regrets much, however.
The Big Shift: Homeschool to University
Fast forward nearly two decades, and all Johanna’s homeschooling experiences have shaped her into an independent, driven young lady – nothing like the stereotypical ‘socially awkward’ homeschooled child.
While the transition to interacting with new people 24/7 in university was not bumpy, thanks to her six month-long overseas mission trip and year of work experience, her culture shock came in other forms.
“The greatest culture shock was to hear people say ‘I’m so sian, I don’t want to study’. I’m like, ‘what are you guys talking about?’”
This motivation to work hard definitely runs in the blood.
Her siblings are just as high-achieving – her eldest brother took up a business degree and now grinds numbers in a bank; the third oldest graduated amongst the top of his university cohort; and her younger brother is currently studying law in Australia.
If anything, their success has proved all the homeschooling naysayers wrong.
“It’s quite funny because my grandma was one of the ones who was quite adamant that my older brother should go to school. But now she’s pretty happy with us because I can cook; I can sew; I can handle the house as compared to my cousins.
“She’s happy with how it worked out and that most of us are quite independent and driven.”
And that’s probably why Johanna’s keen on homeschooling her children in the future – her own experience is something she definitely doesn’t regret.
When asked about how her homeschooling experience impacted her, her response came without hesitation.
“I’m not obliged to fit into a particular system. I’m more accepting of a different kind of timeline… something else that is more different; more off the beaten path.”