For my 70th birthday, my family, together with the help of the ANU Alumni team, organised a surprise trip to re-visit The Australian National University - a place that changed my life forever.
Touring the campus with my children and grandchildren in tow, and wearing the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research lab coat once more, was quite emotional for me. It brought back many memories of my first years in Australia studying immunology, the joys and struggles we had as a family, and the life-long friendships I formed while at ANU.
The friends my wife and I made in those early years at ANU are very special, because we met them at a time when we were so far away from our friends and families in Hong Kong. It was a time when we needed emotional support the most and that is what we found in each other. When you leave family behind - when you leave everything that's familiar to you behind - your friends really can be the family that you choose. The family that keeps you afloat through thick and thin.
Our first child was born at the Canberra Hospital, in just our first year of moving to Canberra. As the only child in the friendship group, she was absolutely spoilt by our friends. They supported us and our firstborn through three years of study, and that support is probably what kept our marriage intact. It was one of the most memorable and important periods of our life.
I must admit that during those three years I spent much of my time at ANU in the laboratory - day and night, weekdays and weekends. Luckily, we were given a flat on Masson Street, Turner as part of my scholarship to ANU, which became a sort of 'clubhouse' for all our friends. Today, my wife and friends still tease that during those gatherings at our flat, I would tell them, "I really need to go back to the lab to look after the project I'm working on. I'll be back in five minutes." They would all laugh, knowing I would never be back in just five minutes. It was more likely to be hours. But they still stayed with my wife and child whenever I had to go back to the laboratory, which was very important and something I will always be grateful for. Without the support of our good friends, I don't know how our family could have survived those years.
Despite all going separate ways we are still friends, and our connections now extend to the second generation. We have an online chat where we keep in touch - and our kids even have their own online chat, as they too have become friends over the years. We organise reunions, lunches and dinners whenever we have a chance. We even travel together on holidays, and do our best to attend the weddings of each other's children. This all started back in our little flat, while studying at ANU.
It is a journey that changed my life, and it was only possible because of an ANU scholarship. I'll never forget the support a scholarship offered me while I was a student. The generosity of donors was vital to my studies, and to my future. Now, as a donor myself, I can give the students of today the support they need to have a life changing experience at ANU.
Attending ANU allowed me to achieve higher academic qualifications and prepared me for whatever came my way in life. It is what brought me to Australia and opened opportunities, not only for myself but for my children too. My eldest daughter is a GP now and my second daughter is a pharmacist. And I am sure that will open opportunities for our grandchildren too.
As my five grandchildren explored campus with me for my 70th birthday, I thought to myself, that perhaps the next time they are on a university campus it could be to start their own life-changing adventure. I hope that whatever their future holds, they too experience true and lasting friendships, just like their grandparents did when studying at ANU.