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A Date with Courage: How courage led one former international student to change her life

Nicole Tee

Wed Aug 12 2015


WE’RE all familiar with the phrase “the world is your oyster” but how many of us really pursue this? Nicole Tee talks to project manager Wong Wei-Li about how she found the courage to change careers, pursue her passion and find happiness in life.

Courage is inherent in all of us, but it is not something everyone can muster.

For vocational project manager Wong Wei-Li, her courage came from the desire to pursue a different life which led her to leave her high-flying career as a corporate executive to come to Melbourne and pursue a university education.

Having come from a small town in Malaysia, Wong had always wanted two things: to go abroad and have an international university experience. After two and a half years in the South Sudan’s petroleum industry, she came back to Malaysia and found herself at a crossroads and began contemplating about her pathways.

She then asked two life-changing questions: “How is it that I can live my life in the best way possible?” and “Is this who I want to be?”


It was through these questions that Wong refused to conform to the pathways created for her. Instead, she took action and charted her own opportunities. She packed her bags and came to Australia in pursuit of a Masters in International Business and Global Leadership at Swinburne University.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“It really goes back to, if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

Despite entering a new environment, Wong’s openness and desire to learn allowed her to thrive. Being a student of mature age, she found herself in an environment where most of her classmates were much younger than her. However, that did not daunt her from building relationships and charting her life the way she wanted to.

“I’m here in this new country, and if it’s the last thing I do, I would have a good time; and if things are not the way I want them to be, I will do my best to make it so,” she said.

Five years on after completing her Masters degree, Wong now organises conferences and events to raise funds for the disadvantaged. And despite predominately working from behind the scenes, her life experience has also brought her to a TEDx stage to speak about courage before a large audience.

Without her courage, Wong would likely never have imagined doing the many things she has achieved in life so far. Recognising this, it is perhaps no wonder why courage was to be the theme of her upcoming conference.

A Date With Courage Conference

Titled “A Date with Courage, the conference invites participants to explore narratives of the human experience and find different the forms of courage – whether it’s courage to look at our past and accept it, the courage to start again or the courage to move forward.

Additionally, Wong wants to delve further into the meaning of the word ‘courage’ by examining the Mandarin term for it: yongqi (勇气).

Comprised of two elements ‘yong’ and ‘qi’, the former refers to bravery while the latter talks of one’s energy – the power of life that comes from within one’s inner self.

According to Wong, “Yongqi is action, it’s [about] force and the drive… when we bring it together with the heart, it’s actually a very powerful combination”.

The force and drive she speaks of is not of the aggressive kind but rather is one that focuses on gentleness and self-reliance. And it was this force that led Wong to take action and also support disadvantaged communities.

Engaging this conference to raise funds for The Hunger Project – a non-for-profit organisation which seeks to empower women and their communities – was an active decision to confront that powerlessness in everyone, and transform it into a powerful outcome.

“A lot of times, people think [that] there’s all these big problems in the world [and that they’re] unsolvable, and it makes you feel terrible,” she said.

In enacting change and helping those in need, Wong said, “It really goes back to, if it’s to be, it’s up to me”.


Wei-Li (centre) with the speakers at the “Meaning of a Good Life” conference last year. The speakers are holding bottles of rice as thank-you gifts symbolic of ending world hunger. Image: Supplied.

In addition to this conference, she has also organised other personal projects including cooking classes titled “Recipes from my Mother” and “The Meaning of a Good Life” conference last year too, with all proceeds collected also being forwarded to The Hunger Project.

These projects focus on building community, which has enriched Wong’s life in multiple ways.

“In thinking about [myself] and the wider community, I feel a lot more connected… My life is so much richer, and I have all these other stories to share. If I wasn’t doing all these, my life would still be great, but it would be less colourful,” Wong said.

“For me, courage is doing things that are scary. It’s because it’s scary, I must do it.”

And all of this happened simply because she was able to say yes to the unimaginable.

“You just don’t know [what would happen], [but] you say yes to things, and you give it your best shot. No matter what you are doing.”

When asked about her own definition of courage, Wong gives a two-second pause. Then, with a smile, she responds.

“For me, courage is doing things that are scary. It’s because it’s scary, I must do it. It’s understanding why I’m scared of it, and knowing that I would be okay, and doing it anyway”.

A Date with Courage conference will be held on 15 August 2015 from 1.00pm to 5.00pm at Cheung’s Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy. The conference intends to raise $5,000 with all proceeds going towards The Hunger Project. Tickets for donation cost $70 and is available for sale now.