It's an interesting experience, coming from my background and seeing first-hand the barriers that women of colour face.
But growing up, it wasn't just race - it was also gender and class that showed me how different groups face different barriers. I remember when I was seven years old and kids in my class would make fun of my mum when she picked me up from school because she wasn't white. I think having such an early understanding that not everyone comes into the world with an equal opportunity is what makes me so intentional about continuing to break down barriers for myself and others.
It took mentors, like Jieh-Yung Lo, for me to experience first-hand how much one person can help break those barriers and influence another person's life for the better. Currently the director of the ANU Centre for Asian Australian Leadership, Jieh-Yung has done so much for Asian Australians. As a young Asian Australian woman myself, he gave me the opportunity to shine.
I met Jieh-Yung somewhat unconventionally. I was actually a first-year student at another university when we met. I was passionate about international relations and I wanted to do a panel discussion featuring Gareth Evans, who was then the Chancellor of ANU. I was very keen, so I decided to call up Gareth's office and it was Jieh-Yung who answered. We were talking about the panel and then he mentioned, 'I think I follow you on Twitter'. We ended up connecting and communicating further through that.
Later, Jieh-Yung invited me to attend a roundtable with Gareth and key Victorian policymakers. So, there I was, a first-year student sitting in a room full of incredible people. It was the first time I could sit in a room like that, and I ended up getting two internships just from the people I connected with that day. As a young person from a low income background, spaces like that were never accessible to me. To have someone invite me into that space to watch, learn and listen, was such a powerful thing at that stage of my life. It built my confidence that I could speak up and be heard.
Jieh-Yung was among many who supported me during my time at ANU and was instrumental in helping me take the first steps I needed. He also acted as a referee when I applied to become a Rhodes Scholar, something I never dreamed accessible to someone with my background, which I was awarded last year.
Now I make a point of supporting young people from low-income backgrounds to access these spaces. Access to university education is one of the best ways to break down those barriers. I recently mentored a young woman of colour from my high school from a lower income background who ended up winning a scholarship to ANU. She has incredible aspirations to improve health equity for disadvantaged groups. Seeing opportunities open for her, as it did for me, reminds me that Jieh-Yung's support doesn't end with me. I will pay it forward, and those people will repay it forward to others.
When I started university, I was rejected for every scholarship I applied for and had no idea how I was going to support myself. But what helped me push through that uncertainty was having support. One of the most powerful things young people can have is someone who really, truly believes in them.
It took a lot of lessons, there were a lot of speed bumps, and a lot of times where I had to really back myself when I thought nobody else would. But when others, like Jieh-Yung, showed me how much they believed in me, I prospered. That's what I try to do every day now - and is a large part of why advocacy is such an important part of my life.