Grandma, mum, me and Waltzing Matilda

Down memory lane: (From left) Lye Ling, Boon, Geoffrey, Pong Ling and Kok reminiscing about the good times they had in Australia.

Three generations of this family studied in Australia.

IT was 1959.

Armed with a Colombo Plan scholarship, Boon Cheow Hun made her first journey out of the country – to the “Land Down Under”.

For the next three years, she would study to become a physiotherapist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

Her initial anxieties faded soon upon arriving.

“I met a lot of Australian families who were all very warm and caring so I didn’t feel lonely for long.

“The people were easygoing and relaxed too,” says Boon.

Red-letter day: Geoffrey (centre) graduated in 2012 from Monash University. His younger sister Shannen is currently a student there.
Red-letter day: Geoffrey (centre) graduated in 2012 from Monash University. His younger sister Shannen is currently a student there.

She enjoyed the outdoor lifestyle, often going fishing and having picnics with her friends.

“It wasn’t something that I used to do in Malaysia so I cherished it a lot.”

She remembers how, towards the end of their stay, she and her flatmates wrote a little goodbye note to their milkman.

“As the milk was always delivered early in the morning, we had never met him. It was so sweet of him to come and say thank you to us in person.”

Though she has never returned to Brisbane, the 81-year-old remains firmly connected to Australia.

Her daughters, Wong Lye Ling and Wong Pong Ling, both studied economics in Melbourne.

“The moment that I looked forward to most was late Friday afternoon when the week of lectures was done and I could take the 45-minute bus ride to the city. I really liked just going through the shops or watching a movie there,” says Pong Ling, who graduated from La Trobe University in 1991.

Both sisters agree that for them the pace of life in the Australian cultural capital was just right, being slower than Sydney but not as leisurely as Adelaide.

For Lye Ling, the older of the two, the city is extra special: in 1984, while at Monash University, she met her future husband.

As their love story goes, Kok Yoon Lee, a fellow Monash student, lived across the hall from her.

“We were four girls and they were four boys. We thought these guys were really studious because they were always at the computer. Later, we found out that they were playing computer games,” said Lye Ling.

“She liked me so much that even though she hated coffee she would come over to drink it,” interjects Kok, who completed a double degree in engineering and computer science.

Despite his double workload, he made sure to enjoy life as a university student.

“I had fun. In my six years there, I made so many friends from so many countries. You can’t just mix with other Malaysians. You have to make full use of your time there to learn about other cultures and ways of life,” says Kok.

Today, Melbourne is one of the world’s leading student cities.

According to the Victorian Government Business Office (South-East Asia), there were close to 9,000 Malaysian students in Victoria for 2014 – the highest number in Australia.

And today, unlike in Boon’s time and even her daughters’, Malaysian food is widely available in Melbourne.

But the comforts of familiarity didn’t stop Geoffrey Kok, who studied information technology at Monash, from sharing the same outlook as his father.

“I didn’t have many Malaysian friends. I actually had more friends from Australia and other countries. I thought if I was just going to hang out with Malaysians, then it’d be no different than staying in Malaysia.

“If money is not an issue, I’d encourage studying overseas and mixing around. I know it’s very tempting to stick with Malaysians but don’t do it. You’ll learn a whole lot more,” concludes Geoffrey.

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