Student fights back after vicious attack

Justin Chew

An international student who was attacked and hospitalised only hours after arriving in the North East has bounced back to become a role model in the community and successfully graduate from university. 

Justin Chew arrived in Sunderland from Malaysia in September but on his first night was verbally and physically abused, resulting in a broken jaw and a long recovery process that saw him battle thoughts of leaving, to eventually fully embracing student life. 

The 21-year-old became a Student Representative, a Student Ambassador, helped form the Malaysian Society, and even completed the University of Sunderland Professional Award (SuPA) – designed to develop employability skills. 

He said: “On the evening of my arrival, as we were walking back to our halls of residence, we were confronted by a drunken man who was shouting incoherent words and insults, and when we ignored him he got physical with us. 

“It was later on in the hospital I found out that my jaw was broken and I needed to have surgery immediately to repair it. That was a particularly traumatic experience finding out all this in a short space of time. 

“I decided to take it one day at a time. I chose to become a Student Ambassador, and later became a Student Rep. I helped revive and found the Malaysian society and there was a tipping point when I chose to apply for the SuPA award as well. 

“I realised I had done quite a bit and it hit me that my entire purpose of coming to Sunderland in the first place was to make the best out of the year that I had. Now looking back I can say that I am really thankful that I took the opportunity, to tough it out, and because of that I have been blessed.” 

After two years in Malaysia studying Mass Communications it was a big decision for Justin to move to the UK for the optional third year in Sunderland. He credits the support he received from his mother, the University, and from the people in the city for helping him to stay. 

On the night of the attack the Student Representative based in his halls of residence stayed in the hospital until 6am to ensure he wasn’t alone, and helped to set up communication with his family in Malaysia, and even organise his room as he hadn’t had time to unpack. 

He also had support from his programme leader who visited his home to ensure he didn’t fall behind in his classes, and from locals and staff at the University who reassured him this was a freak occurrence - despite this it still took him time to feel safe again. 

He added: “It still took months to get over the fear and just be able to walk down the street alone after dark. I took it a day at a time, until I realised I stopped thinking about it, stopped thinking about wanting to go home, and instead saw opportunities, saw enjoyment, and I looked forward to my days here. 

“I found that classes were very engaging and interesting. My academic life has been vibrant to say the least. I have had a lot of fun doing and trying new things. As a Student Rep I wanted to bring some ideas, particularly in my case around security. I am really glad that some of the ideas I put forward are being implemented for next year. 

“I think it is really good that the University of Sunderland provides these opportunities. I knew as a third year student that I needed more skills and the opportunity to test leadership and problem solving. These extra opportunities helped and I do believe that employers look at what makes a person different.” 

Justin was always keen to leave a lasting legacy during his time with the University and with the founding of the Malaysian Society he has achieved that. Starting with three members it has now grown to over 40, and he sees it as an opportunity for everyone to come together. 

He concluded: “As seniors we need to leave a good legacy behind for our juniors. We need to leave a strong foundation, we want to help orientate them into the University, into the community of Sunderland, help make them feel welcome. We hoped that they would see Sunderland as an opportunity like we did, an opportunity to explore, to develop themselves, and hopefully develop the community around them. 

“We are all hoping for a very vibrant community within Sunderland and we are looking forward to having events and participation from everyone, not just Malaysians. Malaysia has always been a diverse country and I feel that is an element that we must uphold while we are here. 

“I feel that Sunderland is a really good place. I am really glad I stayed. Hitting rock bottom gave me a bit of perspective on dealing with bad things. I took it as a learning experience, as an opportunity for growth and development, rather than something that I would want to push to the back of my mind and forget. 

“I carry that passion of leaving a legacy and a better experience for the ones that come afterwards. I am proud to become an alumni of the University of Sunderland. I am very happy with the experience that I have had here.” 

University of Sunderland Logo

Development & Alumni Office | +44 (0)191 515 3664 |

Privacy Policy