The Grit to Live a Life of Purpose

One would be forgiven for assuming that Chris Lwin is a typical university student who is making the most out of his student experience as he looks forward to a bright future in Australia and beyond. After all, having only arrived in Melbourne in April 2019, Chris has quickly immersed himself in the life and culture of a Melburnian student. He attended university talks and joined networking sessions to connect with as many people as he could, began volunteering at VicWISE to support the community of international students and graduates and even ran for a student representative position in his first year at Deakin University. But this is where the similarity ends even as his demeanour reveals nothing of the life the 23-year-old law student had led prior to stepping onto Australian soil.

Having a Sense of Purpose and Making a Difference in the Community

Even by global pandemic standards, Chris’s childhood can be summed up in a word – turbulent. He was separated from his older sister and parents at the age of five and did not see them again until they were all reunited five years later in Malaysia. Chris’s parents were Burmese freedom fighters who had paid a heavy price to help free oppression in their country. The family had to seek political asylum in Malaysia where they lived for over 15 years. During this period, Chris and his sister attended a privately-funded Christian missionary school. Eventually, Chris received a scholarship to study at The Nottingham University Malaysia, a private university branch of The University of Nottingham. Although such struggles, limitations and the occasional opportunity were part and parcel of Chris’s normality growing up, he never felt resentment or regret for the choices made that led to those circumstances. If anything, Chris is full of admiration for his parents’ moral courage to stand up for what they believed in despite the odds they had to face.

The ideals and principles he shared with his parents coupled with an acute awareness of his invisibility in mainstream society became the driving force for him to lead a life of purpose. Rather than holding on to hope of being permanently resettled somewhere else, Chris decided to make the best of the situation that he was in. He actively sought to learn more about himself by working closely with the Burmese community in Malaysia. “I felt a deep sense of duty to be the best that I could be so that I could be the beacon of hope and inspiration for those who are still struggling in temporary resettlements. Even today, there are still tens of thousands of refugees in Malaysia.” He volunteered to teach Science in the community schools where he forged bonds that have lasted till today. He was also actively involved in university life where he embarked on a number of social-entrepreneurial and entrepreneurial projects. Together with a friend, he spearheaded a bridging program aimed at mature students to help them adjust to university life. He was slowly but surely negotiating a space of belonging and identity for himself, when it all came to a grinding halt. He received news that he thought would never come – they were to be permanently resettled in Australia.

Building Resilience and Adaptability

Although he was thrilled to relocate to Australia, this meant another disruptive change but Chris did not waste any time feeling sorry for himself. In such moments, he would remember his father’s words of advice to fortify his resilience each time life threw a curve ball his way. “Wherever you are thrown, there you must stand back up.” Rather than perceiving a hurdle in his path, he saw an opportunity to move one step closer to achieving his aspiration of leading a purposeful life and making a positive impact on those around him. “If you don’t find a way to help yourself, no one else will do it for you. The choice is ours to go far or to give up.”

His experience with sudden pivots proved advantages as he was able to devise ways to cope with uncertain situations and feelings of vulnerability. He knew that he had to adjust quickly to the Australian life and culture and set short term goals that were easy to manage. He joined Meetup – an online platform to meet new people and learn new things, applied to several universities to resume his studies and was finally accepted into Deakin University. Appreciative of the local community for welcoming his family and him to the country, Chris wanted to pay it forward and give back to the community in whatever way he could. He joined VicWISE as a volunteer in their IT team and this has given him a chance to learn from and work with different teams of people.

Maintaining Emotional Well-Being, Staying Fit and Pursuing Passions

Carving a new life for himself became more challenging with the global pandemic and the restrictions put in place. He was forced to create routines and manage the stress of having most of his face-to-face activities transition online. His challenges were further compounded when he had to cope with the heartbreak of losing a friend he knew while living in Malaysia. It has made him realise the fragility of life and appreciate those in his circle so much more. Now, he makes a point to pick up the phone for quick check-ins and offer a listening ear to friends near and far. He also opens himself up to being vulnerable and is unafraid to reach out for help and support if he needs it too.

He admits to moments of physical and mental lethargy and not wanting to move forward. In these moments, he believes that it is important to give the body and mind time to rest even if it is only a 10-minute power nap. “You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others and consistency is key.” In order to maintain his mental equilibrium, Chris sets a regular daily routine for himself. He would go to bed before 10 o’clock each night and rise early in the morning to get a head start on his day. His morning routine includes taking a walk and adhering to an exercise regime. While it is not always easy to stay motivated to keep fit while living under restrictions, he suggests that even the smallest gesture of wearing active wear at the same time each day could get you into the right mindset.

Apart from routines, Chris has also begun to focus on other passions. Already the family’s favourite cheesecake pâtissier and entrusted with the responsibility of baking the family’s birthday cakes, Chris is now learning how to present his cakes like a trained professional. “I want my cakes to look like they’ve come out of a bakery.” Gifted with an innate talent for drawing, he naturally gravitates towards portraits for as long as he can remember. The wall in his room showcases pencil sketches of renowned personalities such as Gandhi and Lincoln. With plenty of motivation and a willingness to set aside time, he has expanded his artistic talents by learning to play the guitar. He not only taught himself the open chords but also the more challenging barre chords and would happily oblige any willing listener to his rendition of Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven.

It seems as if when life gives him lemons, Chris keeps on making lemonade. He also successfully secured his first job in Australia as Deakin University’s COVIDSafe Physical Distancing Ambassador. Undaunted by the task of monitoring activities on-campus and ensuring that physical distancing and hygiene protocols are properly practised, Chris welcomed the opportunity to make a significant contribution to his community of students, broaden his social network and sharpen his communication skills. And as if his plate is not full enough, Chris has more plans brewing. He recently initiated a fundraising project and is working with youth leaders in refugee communities in Malaysia to help some families obtain day-to-day essentials as they struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic. Chris is realistic about his goals for the project but believes that he is taking the right steps to effect positive change in the world. Excited for what life has in store for him, Chris is truly living his dream of a purposeful life.  

Illustrations of Chris were created by Marcia Gatica