The bold and dauntless ex-UK student cemented his place in the University of Warwick by co-founding what is to be this year’s 7th Edition of Warwick ASEAN Conference. Reminiscing way back into 2013, where he started creating his legacy, Hazim Mohamad, an outspoken advocate on networking and collaborating ASEAN countries amongst the student communities in the UK, is now a co-founder of Counselab, providing guidance by connecting individuals to the right people. In this piece, Hazim spoke about his experiences while pursuing his education in the UK, how that impacted his career, and how it opened new doors for him to achieve what he has thus far.
The Year of Exploration
1. 2013 was the year that you flew to the UK to pursue your Accounting & Finance studies at the University of Warwick. What was the entire process like?
It all falls under the circumstances I was in and the family I grew up in, and the UK was the preferred choice. The US was not in consideration, and given the time, I got the PETRONAS scholarship to study Accounting in the UK. In addition, because it was Accounting, you don’t do Accounting undergrad in the US because it’s a whole different accounting system. Hence why people don’t send students to the US for Accounting. However, Finance, yes.
2. During your first year as a student in the UK, what was the goal you had in mind for that year in such a new environment?
It’s a matter of finding yourself and finding what you want to do because getting a degree is all well and good. However, you can get a degree anywhere, so it was all about maximizing the opportunity of being able to be wherever you are, no matter where that might be. For the first year, when you arrive in a country like the UK, you have seniors who greet you. You feel obliged to listen to their recommendations, and many of them were part of the Malaysian student organization such as the UKEC and the Malaysian Night Production. Hence, I joined all of these, not knowing whether or not I truly wanted to.
I always tell people that you structure your university life around roughly three years, so for the 1st year, explore things. Do as many things as you want. It can be related to your passion, hobby, career, or community, such as Malaysia. The Malaysian community was closest to me, root-wise, but you should also try to do things beyond your comfort zone, such as volunteering. However, for me, it was music. I’ve been doing it since high school, so while I was there, I got involved in the Warwick Orchestra. Being involved in a musical was something beyond my comfort zone. I have never sung in front of people, aside from my close group of friends. Regardless, that was nothing compared to this nerve-wracking experience of singing in front of hundreds of people who bought tickets to watch the show.
Building A Legacy
3. 2021 will be the 7th Edition of the Warwick ASEAN Conference, and knowing that you were one of the founding fathers of that event, where did that idea come from?
The whole story began because I was involved in Malaysian society. People assumed that I would do one of either 2 things, become the President of the Warwick Malaysian Student Association, or try to run in UKEC. I thought about it and from what I have discussed with my parents, what I wanted to achieve was not through these organizations. I had a conversation with a friend of mine from the Malaysian Night Production, Darren. In the kitchen, he asked me, “Hazim, are you going to apply for the Malaysia Student Association Presidency because chances are, you’re going to win.” I told him my thought process and that I’m not going to run. However, he asked me if I were to run what would have been my manifesto.
Given my thought process, I would probably want to introduce something that would take the Malaysians in the university out of the bubble. Integrate a wider society, and that’s why ASEAN made sense. Malaysia is a part of ASEAN, and it is an integral part of it, but it is only one of many. It will mean that the society will be integrated into a larger community. I found it very weird that we are so close to the Singaporeans but beyond that, such as Indonesians, Bruneian, Vietnamese, and the others? Historically, our culture’s intertwining makes it significant, but there were never real or meaningful interactions between these societies. Thus, that was when I wanted to build something for the university, something that can be passed on and that would benefit people for years to come.
4. To create your own legacy is one thing, but to create one at this large of a scale when you were still a student is another. How were you able to make it happen?
When I mentioned my idea, they really bought into it, and while they didn’t believe that they had the capacity to launch something of that scale, they still asked if I would want to lead it. I didn’t say yes until I met Tony Fernandes at the AGM (Annual General Meeting) dinner. That night, being the celebrity that Tony is, everyone took pictures with him after dinner. Still, my friend Darren, who was already the President of the Malaysian Student Association at the time, poked me and said, “Please, talk to Tony now.” I thought you must be nuts. What am I supposed to say? I have no team, no proposals, nothing. He told me, “I don’t know, but if you don’t take this chance, we will never get this opportunity again.”
We walked up to him, and I said, “Tan Sri, can I have a minute of your time? I have an idea to share.” I talked about how I went to his talk last year titled “Is ASEAN Still Relevant?” and building on the point that he mentioned in that talk, we want to start the first-ever Warwick ASEAN Conference. He then asked, “I like the sound of that idea but just answer one question, is this going to be a Malaysian ASEAN thing or an ASEAN ASEAN thing?” As simple as that question sounds, I had to think quickly because what he’s trying to say is that many of the things that are branded as ASEAN may not entirely be ASEAN. However, being in the UK, it’s neutral ground since no one is really on home turf. I looked him in the eye and said, “For you, Tony, I’m going to make it an ASEAN ASEAN thing.” That was all I said, and he put out his hand and said, “I like your spirit, and I would like to fund you guys and be your first speaker.”
Why The UK
5. You are currently residing in the US, so if you had to choose 3 things about studying in the UK that you think sets it aside from any other countries, what would it be?
Diversity would be one of it for sure. Diversity in the teaching courses, the people you meet, the events and clubs there. There was every club that you could imagine, such as Wine and Cheese Appreciation Club, Harry Potter Appreciation Club, and everything under the sun. Secondly, community service and volunteerism were huge in the UK. I’m talking about people wearing onesies to collect donations, running marathons, climbing mountains, shaving their heads, doing No-Shave November, and much more prevalent in the UK. It is all because you have the time for it. Unlike the US, you would be so busy with all these educational assignments. You can’t commit to all these marathons or raise funds for cancer. That definitely stands out.
For the third one, the fact that it was in Europe allows people to travel, which is a part of being a student in the UK. It won’t be complete if you don’t do some backpacking or traveling in Europe and as far as I know, especially international students, they would travel. That is not something you can get in Australia or the US because aside from Canada, theirs are the only countries within that continent. That is a big part of it.