Instant friends, long-term love

Fadli Che Yusoff (BComm '07) & Sarah Mahmud (BComm '07)
27 Oct 2022

Out of all my experiences as an ANU student, two stand out as being the most impactful to my life. Number one, I found love. And secondly, I found a passion in politics.

It's a credit to ANU that I did find love. After arriving as an international student from Malaysia, back in 2005, the first thing I did was try and find other people from my country. I looked for people who would be more familiar with Australia, could give guidance on where to go, where to buy food, and how to get around.  

At the time, social media was not as popular as it is now and the best option we had was Friendster, which doesn't really exist now. But the University fostered an open and welcoming environment to international students, and an important way of doing this was by supporting student organisations. Joining these essentially meant you had instant friends - a group of people who shared common interests and backgrounds. It was thanks to this, that I met Sarah through the Malaysian Students' Organisation.

When I met Sarah, I could see she was kind, beautiful and whip-smart - studying an accounting degree on a scholarship she earned from Petronas. I started attending every meet-up, barbeque and fundraising event that the Malaysian Students' Organisation held, just to spend time with her.

She was living at University House, and I was in Burton and Garran Hall. When I finally built up the courage to meet up with Sarah outside of an association event, I remember we met halfway between the two residences, on the bridge over Sullivan's Creek that connected the campus to old Union Court. Fast forward to today; we are married and living back in Malaysia with our three wonderful daughters who are now aged ten, seven and four years old. That bridge over Sullivan's Creek is still there and it remains a special place for both of us.

When we returned to Malaysia, Sarah fulfilled her career choice and began work as an accountant. My career path has been more varied - yet highly influenced by my time and connections at ANU.

ANU is where I was able to truly explore my passion for politics. It was one of the most wonderful things about Australia: the open culture of debate, not just about domestic political issues but also international issues. It was a very different political culture compared to Malaysia.

As with many Southeast Asian countries, the political arena is more restrictive here. You can't voice yourself as much, or at least you couldn't back then, so it was it was very different and refreshing to see the debate from both sides. I remember there was even a Marxist scholar called Rick Kuhn, which was mind-boggling to me, because it was illegal to be a communist in my country; but in Australia they were teaching students about the ideology and its history. I loved the open debate and the vibrant political scene it birthed.

This open culture is how my friendship with Dr Radzi Jidin began. He was a PhD candidate at the time and is also Malaysian, so that is how we first connected. He was actively involved in student politics, and we quickly became friends. He became my mentor and someone that I still look up to. After 15 years of friendship, Dr Radzi became a senior minister of education in Malaysia and, eventually, I became his political secretary. To be able to work together, after so many years of discussing our views and thoughts on politics, was an amazing opportunity for me.

Without having an open and safe environment to develop my political views, hear different perspectives and engage in critical debate, I may not have ever realised my passion or potential in the political realm.

That is why I am so pleased to have experienced such an environment at ANU. I encourage any student going to ANU to see university as a time to follow your dreams and explore what you are truly interested in. Get involved with the organisations on campus - whatever it is that you are interested in. I recall, there was the Medieval Appreciation group at uni who wore medieval uniforms and had weekly battles amongst themselves - if that's what you like, go for it.

You will find like-minded people who could become your oldest and dearest friends, your future colleagues, or even your life-long love.

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