High school wasn't the best time for me.
I was quite introverted. So navigating social cliques when I switched into a new school halfway was a challenge. I ended up spending a lot of time alone, missing my old friends.
So when I decided to leave Malaysia to study at The Australian National University, it was a fresh start. Moving to a city I'd never been to, where I didn't know anyone, felt liberating.
Everyone was in the same boat - meeting new people of different backgrounds, trying new things and forging new friendships.
ANU wasn't filled with the kids from back home. It was a melting pot where we could let go of the stereotypes and assumptions we have of ourselves and each other.
Moving to Australia to study at ANU was also my first time away from home.
My dad and I have a close bond, and he came all the way with me to Canberra to get settled. When we said our goodbyes, a girl in the lobby, Regina, saw how upset I was. She kept checking in on me and making sure I was okay over the next few days. Regina had gone to boarding school, so she really understood what I was going through and helped me through those early days being homesick.
Moments like these reflect the human connection you get at ANU.
In my loneliest moments, someone would say hello and have a chat - even if we had never spoken before. Just being seen and connecting to another person is one of life's simple joys.
There is a sense of "I am human, you are human".
A city like Canberra, with less distractions of bright city lights and fast paced lifestyles became a backdrop for people to be themselves. From there, I developed some memorable friendships which I treasure to this day.
Making new friends at university also gave me the confidence to explore other interests, try new things and to really get involved in the community. I got into modelling in Canberra's creative community and acting with student projects in the drama school. I served on the committees of the Malaysian Students Council of Australia and the ANU International Students' Department where I was part of organising community events and putting on performances for student events.
ANU was where I began to spread my wings. It was a lot of saying 'yes' to things I may not have considered before or were out of my comfort zone.
Little that I know, all these experiences would be the spark to my career going forward outside of my degree. It gave me the tools to connect and work with people, find engagement points, and collaborate, which is crucial in the advocacy work I do now.
So if you are particularly shy like I was, start saying "yes" and lean into new experiences. Get involved in a club or society, or move to a totally different place. This is the best time to explore.
I believe a rich diversity of pursuits and experiences will help build you into a well-rounded adult. When you come out the other side of university into the real world, you'll be able to better deal with what life throws at you. Different doors will open. And even if they don't, it gives you space to have more meaningful, human-to-human experiences to carry with you throughout your life.