On 23 July 2013 we bade a sad farewell to our Chevening class of 2012/13. FCO Minister Hugo Swire hosted and Malaysian scholar Ruth Garnet Maran, representing the class, gave the valedictory address.
There are several defining moments, both positive and negative in life that define and redefine who you are. These events shake the consciousness with a force that changes the very core of who and what you thought you were. Sometimes, you only realise later that a particular event was a defining moment in your life. Mel Schwartz, renowned psychotherapist and thinker, speaks about the “experience of an occasional insight” which he describes as “the ability to change our filter and look at things differently. … When we are firmly entrenched in our beliefs and rooted in our certainty, we’re not typically open to insights. … Without insights we’re shackled to a fixed and stagnating reality in which little changes.”
I was a Senior Associate in a large full service firm in Malaysia with the Dispute Resolution Division practicing corporate and commercial litigation with an emphasis on public and administrative law. Life was good, and I enjoyed what I did. However, I felt that I needed a change – I felt that I could do more, be better, give more. I wanted new insights.
I decided to apply for the Chevening Scholarship, not expecting to be selected. A month later, I resigned from my job with a view to going to South America to study Spanish. I wanted to sharpen my overall cognitive skills and expand my worldview. Shortly before I was about to leave, I was awarded a Chevening Scholarship.
I did not fully comprehend this at the time, but this would be a defining moment in my life.
My Chevening experience has been, in a word – enriching. Being part of the colossal Chevening network has been amazing. Standing in this room, I feel the same emotions I felt at the Welcome Event in November 2012. I feel a sense of solidarity that transcends ethnic, religious and cultural barriers generated only by meaningful interaction between people interested in building a cohesive society in which diversity is appreciated and valued. The Chevening experience is appealing as it nurtures the broader, perhaps more contemporary idea of a sense of global belonging (alongside local belonging), which is important in the 21st century. I have met like minded scholars who are motivated and passionate, eager to contribute to society, and it has been an experience I would not trade for the world.
Indeed, Samuel Johnson was right when he said that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I have learnt a great many things about British culture including; British theatre, literature, architecture, technology, the difference between a Geordie, Scouse, Yorkshire, Sloane-speak and cockney accent, the fantastic pubs with weird names and even stranger ale – and it has been magnificent.
I chose to attend SOAS, University of London because it appeared at the outset to subscribe to the modern human rights movement that human beings are moral and political animals, endowed with a moral faculty or sense of justice and that the science of human nature has profound implications on the theory and practice of universal human rights. That is exactly what I have found at SOAS. The accelerated learning curve in and out of the classroom has been steep, and the diverse student community and vibe of the university were bonuses.
I have found interested, intellectually engaged and driven change agents and active learners in my classmates at SOAS who work hard (and play even harder), and made many lifelong friends.
I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and am savouring the final lap.
The challenge ahead would be sustaining the defining moment and resisting the urge to slip back into the comfort zone. Besides a commitment to maintain the change on a personal level, it is important that scholars collectively maintain this change via alumni networks. A stronger ‘Chevening family’ can be nurtured if current scholars get involved during their time in the UK so that strong relationships are formed and can be further developed upon their return home.
My time in the UK has left an indelible impression on the concept of self, and the life I live. This experience has unequivocally changed the very core of who I am, and will have a long-lasting effect both personally and professionally.
I am humbled to be part of this network and truly grateful for the opportunity given to and trust bestowed on me.