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A Malaysian’s award-winning route to a master’s degree in Cambridge

law in the UK
Malaysian law student Yi Kang Choo is exploring a passion for community and service through his law education. Source: Yi Kang Choo

Learning law in the UK has proven to be more than an academically rewarding experience for Yi Kang Choo. This Malaysian student was just named the 2021 Allstate NI Queen’s Student of the Year at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Earlier in July, he also made news for clinching the Diana Award, which recognises some of the most inspirational young people from the UK and beyond.

Choo helped draft the Northern Ireland Modern Slavery Strategy via the University’s Human Rights Centre, represented Northern Island as a One Young World Ambassador, and joined the Global Coalition of Youth, Peace and Security on the invitation of the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. His list of awards is a long, impressive one – yet at the mention of them, he immediately gives credit to his support system.

“These awards would never have been possible without the trust I received from everyone who nominated me,” he tells Study International, listing “mentors, partners, colleagues, friends, and family members” as his sources of inspiration. In turn, this promising young man has built more than a fruitful student life pursuing law in the UK; he has discovered his passion and strengths in serving his community.

Growing up in a family of three, Choo studied the A-Levels before chasing his dreams abroad. You could say he was groomed for a life of service, volunteering in local NGOs back home since the age of 10. He is also a qualified NSPCC Childline Counsellor in the UK, and holds various leadership positions within student organisations across the country.

“Young people have the power to change the world,” he affirms, “so never underestimate the huge potential you and I have to make our world a better place for all.” Here, Choo takes some time to share his experience before starting his Master’s Degree in Corporate Law (MCL) at the University of Cambridge this October.

law in the UK

This award-winning international student recently became the first Malaysian to be named 2021 Allstate NI Queen’s Student of the Year at Queens Belfast. Source: Yi Kang Choo

Why did you choose to study law in the UK, particularly Queen’s University Belfast?

I chose to study law in the UK because not only does it have a similar common law system to Malaysia, it also has a longstanding history in providing top-class legal education to students worldwide. I chose Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in particular because it is one of the Russel Group universities in the UK, and it also has a very prestigious law school. Besides that, the modules on offer, the academic team teaching us, the well-equipped university, and most importantly, the low cost of living and tuition fees were also some of the deciding factors.

Tell us about the practical learning experiences that stand out to you. How have these enriched your law training?

I think there are just so many things that you can learn when participating in any extra-curricular or volunteering activities, and even while you are working part-time. For me, during my time as a Childline Counsellor, I obviously learnt so much on how to communicate effectively to young people, how to really empathise with people that are feeling distressed, and how to listen actively in order to identify the issues that people are facing accurately. All of these skills are easily transferrable and played a crucial part whenever I am taking part in any legal moot competitions or whenever I am doing my legal internships in law firms.

Besides that, during mooting competitions, I also learnt how to work effectively with people in a team, especially since most mooting competitions/preparations would consist of a whole team’s effort. In general,  I was given tons of opportunities to brush up my soft skills/employability skills during my time at QUB, which really helped enrich my study experience on top of all the top-class academic training that I have been receiving too during my classes/tutorials.

law in the UK

Winning the All Ireland Philpot Curran Intervarsity Moot Court competition (2019/20), and receiving the Best Advocate award alongside colleague Shazana Binti Husaini, and coach Dr. David Capper. Source: Yi Kang Choo

As founder of The Welfare Taskforce for Malaysian Students Abroad, what are its greatest accomplishments and aspirations?

We volunteered our time to provide valuable support to young people who couldn’t return home due to the pandemic, or who were experiencing mental health challenges as a result of being isolated in a foreign country as part of the Taskforce. For example, we launched several initiatives, including a buddy support system (pairing up more than 80 buddies) and creating online content and infographics to promote mental wellbeing during the lockdown (eg. A-Z things to do during the lockdown, How to take care of your Mental Health).

We also invited other students and health professionals to share their travel experiences and also tips on how they cared for their mental health during the lockdown through several “Chit-Chat Sessions” that were later uploaded on Facebook and YouTube. We also recruited and assigned regional volunteers in the four regions of the UK, Ireland, Malaysia and Germany. Finally, we partnered up with a mobile app service (SpareHands) to support students who required grocery support during their isolation period at home.

We managed to support more than 1,300 students worldwide, including students based in the UK, US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Ireland, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia in our Facebook group. We also garnered up to 27,0000 social media reach for our wellbeing-related posts. As of now, we are still considering our plans to expand the Welfare Taskforce, or to provide further support to students even beyond the pandemic.

However, we may not have any concrete plans/opportunities that we can share with everyone yet. Nevertheless, do feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn if you are interested in helping or would just like to share any of your amazing ideas with me. I will be more than happy to hear from everyone around the world!

law in the UK

Choo attending the Belfast Pride March in 2019 with colleagues from Herbert Smith Freehills, where he was completing a summer internship. Source: Yi Kang Choo

What are your favourite activities and places to explore in Northern Ireland, and why?

I love to explore the city, cycling through all the lovely parks and doing some café-hopping because there are just so many amazing restaurants and cafes throughout the city. To me, I think the city is just so diverse, and you get to try so many different, delicious cuisines if you’d like to treat yourself to a nice meal!

Beyond the city, I really enjoyed going to the beaches on the coastal sides of Northern Ireland. With just a 30 minutes to one-hour train journey from the university, you can get to pretty beaches like Portrush, Helen’s Bay or Portstewart. To be honest, there are just so many hidden gems across Northern Ireland, and I haven’t gotten the chance to explore all of them especially due to the pandemic last year.

However, for anyone who really enjoys learning about the history of a place, or love exploring picturesque spots in nature, then Northern Ireland would definitely be a place I will recommend them to visit or live in!

law in the UK

Source: Yi Kang Choo

What are your aspirations within the law, and how do you hope to achieve them?

I am not 100% sure what I would like to do for my career, so I think, for now, I am still quite open to work opportunities, be it legal or non-law related. Nevertheless, my current aspiration is to fully immerse myself in my master’s degree at Cambridge – hopefully, through the exposure and network that I have build there, I will be able to determine the exact career that I would like to venture into, and identify the relevant ways to achieve them. Being open and ready for all opportunities has played a huge part in my successes throughout the past few years, and I am sure I will continue to embrace this value to achieve all my life goals.