1. Please introduce yourself!
Hello KWIL and lovely readers! My name is Sammy Chen, and I’m currently knee-deep in my third year of a Law LLB degree. I hail from the equatorial melting pot of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (both in the metaphorical and literal sense) but I often catch myself feeling more like a Londoner when I walk against the cold push of wind or find myself having an internal debate about which brand of beans to get at the supermarket.
It goes without saying a lot of my interests reside in the law, specifically the history of the law and aspects of international law as well. My other interests range from random historical discoveries to the frustrating tunnels of philosophy and all things literary! I also get weirdly invested into the making and history of beautiful things such as Japanese Washi paper (which is also found in ancient Korean and Chinese bookmaking culture), and enjoy immensely long visits to museums, exhibitions and overspending at grocery stores. The prosciutto is always so tempting. Some of my hobbies include reading things that are not on my law reading lists, listening to podcasts to fend off impending existential crises, and watching YouTube commentators in a desperate attempt to keep up with relevant meme culture.
2. How did you get involved with KCL ASEAN Society and what was it like to work as a Vice President there?
At the time, I was actually gunning for President of KCL Malaysian Society but I didn’t get the role. Luckily, where this door closed a window opened elsewhere! It was a coincidence that two of my seniors were watching the speech I gave and asked me if I would be interested in co-running as a Vice President for the 2019/20 term at KCL ASEAN instead. I’m still not quite sure where I got the confidence then but I was immediately on board and took on what was essentially a fairly foreign area for me at the time. It was (and in some ways, still is) a very young society which in the early days only had a bare minimum committee. Essentially I reeled in almost all of my close circle of friends from law school to help out and become part of the society. Fun fact: two of them are now the current President and Vice President of KCL ASEAN Society 2020/21! For me, it was a brilliant way to meet with different people and work with LSE ASEAN Society as well on a major panel event. I also learned so much from my fellow committee members, who stayed on and gave a lot of effort despite the messy structure I had initially introduced to keep the committee functioning.
I am simply blown away by how much it has been revamped, improved, and come so far from those days of me hunched over my laptop trying to figure out how best to arrange a Google Sheets calendar, going shopping for nostalgic Southeast Asian treats for our Freshers’ Fair stall, and trying to find a suitable tree in Hyde Park to host the picnic Welcome Event despite the light drizzle characteristic of English weather.
I highly encourage everybody reading this to go and join KCL ASEAN Society or at least participate in one of their events. It has such a stellar all-female team this term, wonderful events lined up, and even an emerging shiny new podcast series! (“SEA of Change”, available on Spotify) Membership is free, and everyone (ASEAN or otherwise) is welcomed with open arms. That at least, was something that I emphasised very strongly as part of the society’s starting philosophy and a part of me is glad to see it still in full bloom now.
3. Congratulations on being appointed as the president for KPUM: United Kingdom & Eire Malaysian Law Students’ Union! Could you tell us more about KPUM and your role in the Union?
Thank you, that’s very kind! Yes, as it says on the tin (and on our official website kpum.org) KPUM is essentially the overarching body organisation for all Malaysian persons studying English law in both Malaysia and in the United Kingdom & Eire. We have the privilege of being one of the oldest UK-Malaysian student organisations, going as far back to 1979 - although the purpose and function of the Union have come a long way from its conception. One of the main changes is our inclusion of Malaysian law degree scholars alongside those who pursue English law, an extension that is part of the Union’s mission to empower future lawyers and bring graduates and Malaysian law firms closer together. We host events, recruitment programmes, internship opportunities, and grant automatic franchise to eligible individuals to vote in our annual general elections. The public is also able to easily access our wide range of webinars, talks, and interviews with our partner firms and organisations through our social media platforms - all for free. KPUM also has a semi-independent wing for Human Rights & Activism, which is named ASASI. ASASI has its own website and social media, and a very sterling reputation for being a bridge in connecting students’ voices to the public and the wonderful NGOs that we partner closely with every year.
My job as President is primarily to realise all of these goals and delegate them to the different departments, help represent the voices of the Union’s wide membership, and be the first point of contact for both the Secretariat, and all the directors and deputy directors who are so crucial in keeping the Union running smoothly. I should also mention that there is a misconception about the elitist split between the UK-based Executive Committee and the Malaysian-based Division Board but this, at least under my watch, will not be allowed to manifest. I strongly believe KPUM should be for anyone and everyone who wishes to learn more about the study and practice of law in Malaysia regardless of background, and to be able to speak candidly and get equally genuine responses from the people operating behind the scenes. Our motto is rather apt in summarising what we strive for as a whole - Uniting Law Students, Upholding the Rule of Law, Empowering Future Lawyers.
So far it has been a great boost to my personal growth, especially in the new relationships that I am able to build and foster through my work in the Union. This extends to having a close working connection to fellow presidents and officers from other Malaysian student organisations and umbrella bodies, as well as the lawyers and partners actively engaging in the legal environment of Malaysia and beyond. I’m glad I have been given the teammates that I have this year, and I hope that they will be able to say the same about me when our term is over.
4. Who is your role model, and why?
My mom. I’m a momma’s girl if that’s even a thing. I don’t agree with everything she does and as with any close-knit family, she frustrates me more than I would admit openly but I don’t think I would be the young lady I am today without her constant support, thoughtfulness, and generosity of time and attention. Growing up it was all about having good discipline and an even better education, which are both wonderful things to have and I’m certainly very lucky in that respect.
Still, what remains memorable and so admirable about my mother are her tireless lessons to me about learning to control my emotions, to be less angry and more sharp, and to have self confidence and self-respect even when you know you aren’t the prettiest or the brightest one in the room. To have the ability to be a good person without being a gullible one, and come out the other end of mistakes or blunders not necessarily with nonchalance but with a desire to improve. To lift others up by being able to take care of yourself first. To not have expectations of other people’s views and opinions. She can’t really cook and she hates home improvement and house chores (my dad excels at both), but she tried her best to give me all the books, instruments, and school trips that I asked for all in the hope that I would emerge a well-informed individual able to stand on my own when the time comes. Although it was incredibly difficult for her to wave goodbye to me on my first day of kindergarten all the way to my first flight to Heathrow from KLIA over a decade later, I think her lessons will never quite leave me.
It was her dream to be a lawyer, to wear the graduation robes and hold a degree. I chose law not out of obligation or parental pressure, but ultimately out of gratitude. In many ways, I am the version of my mother that she’s always wanted for herself in her childhood and youth. She has spared no expense to give me the good things without necessarily hiding me from or knowing about the bad. Her ultimate gift to me is a lifelong lecture on the importance of balance.
Although, sometimes it feels like the most essential lesson bestowed on me might actually be how to fully utilise a good quality rice cooker! It comes with a steam tray. What a time to be alive.
Interviewed by: Olivia Kim