About this segment: Person of the Month is an initiative by the University of Malaya Law Review which aims to feature a prominent member of the University of Malaya’s Law Faculty towards the end of each month. The purpose of this segment is twofold. Firstly, to give due recognition to the contributions of our student leaders and secondly, so that their achievements might inspire other members of the Faculty towards greater success.
Christina Erin Ong, known endearingly to many as Christina, is a final-year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (‘UM’). She is one of the leading representatives in various student organisations and an accomplished mooter. Often recognisable by her soft and tranquil exterior, Christina possesses a burning passion for equality within the society and enthusiasm for humanitarian aid. The third child of four siblings, Christina was born to parents of the most unique Malaccan races — a Portuguese Eurasian (Orang Serani Melaka) mother and a Baba Nyonya father — whom she proudly claims to have made her a true Malaccan. Growing up with more than twenty cousins, Christina is no stranger to the philosophy that ‘family is everything’.
Still, being born into a rich heritage comes with its own set of challenges. In her childhood, Christina had a hard time fitting into society’s mould. She admits that her predicament at that time was the consequence of her less fluent command of Mandarin compared to her peers and her features that were often mistaken for a Malay or ‘Chindian’. However, these obstacles had never once shaken her, as her resilience came from her parents who have always told her to be her genuine self. She still follows their guidance to this day: 'If you be yourself, people who are naturally attracted to your personality and character will stick around, so I stuck to that and just stayed true to myself.’
Christina alongside her beloved parents, Mrs Helen Pollyanna Smith and the late Mr Winson Gene Ong, and her brother, Mr Christopher Ong
Christina’s humble upbringing was evident when she, like most Malaysians, attended public school from primary school to her Pre-University days. Despite the hype on international and private schools, her parents saw potential in the public school system. Her parents preached that education is just one aspect of growing up, as the other crucial aspect is how children are to be brought up. One can say that the holistic standpoint of formal and family education harboured by Christina’s parents had shaped her to be the all-rounder and compassionate individual that she is today. Apart from pursuing academic excellence and important values, Christina sharpened her budding talents by partaking in drama, public speaking and choral speaking competitions when she attended Ipoh Road Secondary Girls School, Kuala Lumpur. Looking back, her outgoing nature and skills cultivated in high school might have been a foreshadowing of the career path that she had embarked on after her graduation.
Christina was no exception when it came to the internal struggles in uncovering her career path. From the very start, she drew inspiration from Christiane Amanpour, a famous news correspondent from Cable News Network (CNN) who investigates and uncovers stories from the Middle East, such as the Iranian uprising. Motivated by this, her passion for uncovering the truth began when the Bersih protests were ongoing due to citizen dissatisfaction with the government. She longed for a chance to unveil stories about Malaysia by pursuing investigative journalism. However, Christina’s numerous involvements in community work later in life left a mark upon her considerations and steered her towards the path of law instead.
One of her major turning points was when she volunteered with Fondacio Malaysia — an organisation established in 1981 by The Most Reverend Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon, the then Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. The organisation serves as full-time missionaries to Christian communities across Asia. Christina was part of the Kuala Lumpur branch, whose work involved teaching basic English and computer skills to the local Burmese community. During her time in Fondacio Malaysia, Christina was engrossed in the heart-wrenching stories of the Burmese people. She learned of various dishonest and illegal activities committed by their employers which were under the radar. These illicit activities considerably impact the community and their fundamental human rights, such as unreasonable working hours, non-disclosure of employment rates, denial of well-deserved minimum wage and withholding passports. Filled with frustration and determination to make a change, Christina adamantly placed law as her top choice during university application.
Christina was keen on forging a path towards her ambition when she had been accepted into the Faculty. Recalling her early days in the realm of excellence like any other first-year student, Christina faced multiple challenges as she strived to find her calling. Many students struggled to find their footing in this short period of time, often getting lost in discovering who they really are. Fortunately, Christina persevered through those uncertain times by maintaining a close relationship with her parents. Her parents were her main support pillars at that time and had given her the courage she needed in dire times. Though Christina is a true Malaccan by heritage, she was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, with her family home only twenty minutes away from UM. Christina considers herself a clingy person and confesses that she calls her parents every day to check up on them. Apart from that, her existing friends from high school were also a great help in aiding her through the challenges of adjusting to the Faculty. Music and working out were her coping mechanisms as well. Whenever she needs a boost of motivation, ‘Dog Days Are Over’ by Florence + the Machine will always do her justice.
Christina began to find her niche in the Faculty by joining UM Moot Club in her first year. She described it as an enjoyable experience working with fun and outgoing members. It was only when Christina joined the UM Law Society (‘UMLS’) that she found her true calling. Since UMLS tackles issues concerning student welfare — something near and dear to her heart — she was immediately attracted to it. Christina genuinely believes that the Faculty serves as a comforting abode for the students, especially those who originate from outside of Kuala Lumpur. UMLS was a good channel for Christina to realise her aspiration of ensuring that students would always feel at home within the Faculty.
Christina as the moderator during the Pre-LEAP: Career Talk in 2020
As she worked on numerous projects spearheaded by UMLS, Christina was cemented as a household name among the students. She then competed for and won the Vice Secretary position in the UMLS High Committee election in her second year — further elevating her prominent presence. Together with her board members, they campaigned for major facelifts against certain outdated activities. One of their most successful initiatives was revamping the Law Career Convention into the Legal Executive Apprentice Programme (‘LEAP’) in order to reach their objective of bridging relations between the legal fraternity and the students.
Christina poured her heart and soul into UMLS. At the end of her tenure as Vice Secretary, she decided to run for President the following tenure. Indeed, many of her peers expected this outcome as well. Unfortunately, her plans faltered when her father had gotten terminally ill. Christina’s father had been always there for her, and she needed to be with her family in that difficult moment in time. Realising that she would have to juggle between the heavy workload of UMLS and her responsibilities to her family, Christina instinctively knew that she would face unmanageable duties if she decided to contest. Thus, Christina refused to run as the presidential candidate in the end. Although her decision might have disappointed the expectations of the people around her, ultimately, she felt that it was for the better. As Christina simply puts it, ‘Sometimes you need to sacrifice your wants for something you need to do. In this context, I really needed to be there for my dad.’
The UM Law Society High Committees 2018/2019 as Christina’s guiding presence throughout law school. From left are her comrades Ms Yeap Yee Lin, Ms Aishah Nurfitri, Mr Iqbal Harith Liang and Ms Hanis Hazidi
Aside from her affiliations with the two notable organisations in the Faculty, Christina’s law school journey includes her involvement as an Orientation Committee Member (‘JKO’) for the Lex Ordinem programme. In her third year, Christina was appointed as the Secretary of Lex Ordinem 2019/20. Suffice to say, she holds Lex Ordinem very close to her heart. Her attraction to the programme stemmed from the integral values that the organisation holds, and she was later encouraged by her peers to run for the directorship of the programme. Despite the positive support, Christina steadily declined. She could not see the trajectory of her law school journey progressing that way. She discloses her liking towards administrative work where she can involve herself in planning activities and arranging the tentative instead of leading the whole project. Christina started law school preferring to be in the spotlight, but after a while, she discovered a penchant for attending to the nitty-gritty paperwork that most find tedious.
Christina and her Lex Ordinem 2019/2020 Committee before Freshies Night
Aside from her extensive committee work, Christina is a substantial contributor to the Faculty’s excellence as a decorated mooter. Her introduction to the mooting scene was not an easy pursuit because she is a rather shy person. It led her to miss her first opportunity in the Novice Arbitration Mooting Competition due to cold feet. Eventually, Christina overcame her shyness. With the help of her senior buddy, Ms Tasha Lim, she gathered her courage to try out mooting once more. This time, she successfully showed promise and was set to compete in her first competition against the National University of Singapore in the UM-NUS Friendly Moot Competition. In a stroke of luck, she had the rare opportunity to moot in the NUS Bukit Timah Campus, Singapore as her mooting debut. Her team ended up becoming one of the Semi-Finalists of the competition.
Christina’s experience proved her imminent potential as a competent mooter. Later, she represented the Faculty in the Monroe E Price Media Law Moot Court Competition 2018 (‘Price Media Moot’) alongside Mr Afiq Iskandar, Ms Esther Hong and Mr Neoh Kai Sheng, coached by Ms Lee Suan Cui. Christina claimed the competition to be her favourite one, and her reasons for that are two-fold. Firstly, it involves media law, a subject of her interest; and secondly, the incredible experience that caused a major spike in her growth.
Together, they emerged as the First Runner-up of the Asia-Pacific Regional Rounds in Beijing and continued their amazing performance at the International Rounds in Oxford, where they broke into the Quarterfinals. Getting the privilege to moot in front of an international panel of judges inclusive of experts in media law and professors from renowned universities all over the world was just the icing on the cake. The cherry on top was when the judges offered praises for the team’s submissions, research skills and overall thoroughness. Christina dedicated her team’s success to her supportive seniors, who also happened to be her teammates.
Christina and her teammates, together with their coach, Mr Raphael Kok bringing home the Best Memorial Award at the Price Media Moot
Through the Price Media Moot, Christina cultivated a proficiency for mooting that culminated in her later successes, such as being crowned Champion of the Cyber Law Moot Court Competition 2019 and the Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff Cup 2019, where she bagged the Best Oralist award in the latter competition.
Christina with ‘Three Layer Tea’: Mr David Lee Chee Hou and Mr Danial Imran at the Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff Cup 2019
When asked to advise juniors who wish to carve out a niche in mooting, Christina believes that trying is the best way to start. However, a vital ingredient to mooting is passion, and she is against the idea of forcing oneself to commit to anything without it. Passion is exceptionally crucial to offset the pressure of being a Faculty mooter. Christina touches upon the mounting expectations she shouldered during her time as a mooter, as students who moot are often looked up to for inspiration. In light of this, Christina deems that mooting may not be everyone’s cup of tea, which is understandable. She wisely advises everyone to curate their own path and not succumb to peer pressure.
Christina’s impressive list of successes does not end with her extracurricular activities, as people who know her are often marvelled by her impressive academic feats. Throughout her time at the Faculty, she managed to acquire the Dean’s List Award twice. Despite dedicating most of her time to mooting and various organisations, Christina never forgets to make time to study together with her friends. She abides by her personal mantra that ‘what you give, you will receive’ and shares her materials — trusting that the law school journey is meant to be taken together with her friends. She does not hesitate to share any knowledge she attained with others. Besides that, Christina also tries to do more than what is expected of her in examinations. ‘I am extra,’ she joked. Her outstanding academic achievements are a result of the coalescence of her work ethics and practices during examinations.
Amidst all these commitments, Christina’s primary intention is to make a change in the inequalities happening within the society. It has always been her passion to assist the public and encourage a better understanding of the law. A prominent projection of this intent is when she joined the UM Legal Aid Clinic (‘KBGUM’). Through her experience in KBGUM, she understood various societal issues that kept her rooted in law. Christina also realised that staying in the Faculty for too long can stagnate the student community in an isolated bubble. Law students tend to assume that everyone understands the colloquial use of ‘it depends’, having the phrase so often used in discussions and examinations. No doubt that the phrase can be seen as a cautious and tactful approach not to jump to swift conclusions, but real-life clients require tangible advice that transcends beyond that.
KBGUM burst that bubble for Christina and showed her that there are people out there in need of genuine help. For these people, uttering ‘it depends’ will not automatically remedy their issues. Christina strongly encourages her juniors to join KBGUM as the experience allows for the sharpening of client counselling skills, which in her opinion, will be useful for life beyond law school. Also, student advisors are afforded the chance to join the Harun M. Hashim National Client Consultation Competition, which she underwent and emerged as the Champion in 2020. She feels that this competition is often overlooked by the members of our Faculty. In reality, it provides the perfect avenue to train participants to think on their feet, to cater to the needs of clients, and to offer reasonable solutions.
Christina with her teammates at the Harun M Hashim National Client Consultation Competition 2020, together with their coaches Mr Simon Wood, Puan Aisyah Soberi and Dr Najwa Rosli (not in the picture)
Adding to her desire to help the community, Christina has also devoted time to participate in the All Women’s Action Society Malaysia (‘AWAM’), an independent feminist non-profit organisation focused on victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Christina described her experience of working with AWAM as a Legal Support Officer as ‘fantastic, but eye-opening’. Christina’s job scope involves handling the TELENITA Helpline, a hotline that welcomes calls from victims who require assistance in removing themselves from harmful or toxic environments. Christina’s role also involves accompanying the survivors to make police reports, comforting them and consoling them about their issues while offering legal solutions.
The skill sets she attained from KBGUM and the Harun M Hashim National Client Consultation Competition proved extremely helpful in navigating her difficult tasks. Christina revealed her first-hand experience with survivors who needed to be attended to. She had even seen disheartening images and videos of survivors being circulated online. Christina’s heart breaks for these women who no longer feel like they have a sense of security, seeing their personal information being misused by the men in their lives whom they once trusted. Ultimately, Christina’s time in AWAM proffered valuable takeaways that she wishes to share with the readers. She opines that the public needs to be more aware of issues regarding women’s rights and do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering of these women. In situations where one is unable to participate actively, using one’s privilege to spread awareness still contributes to combating this plight. Notably, the effort to combat these issues should not lie solely on women — it must be a collective effort.
‘Some of us are privileged because we know our rights and at least know what should be done and what should not be done. However, some do not have this privilege. Hence, we should use our privileges to help people, even if it is just spreading awareness. Sometimes, this problem can be solved through micro solutions. You will be surprised that you actually do not need to go to the street and protest to make a difference.’
Christina also explored her creative side when she landed the role of a Podcast Project Director for the National Human Rights Society (‘HAKAM’) Youth Organisation. Christina was assigned to administrate the ‘Apa Kata You(th)?’ podcast, which is meant to enlighten the public about current human rights issues that plague Malaysia. Recording thought-provoking discussions on matters that beset our youth was an exciting project. She had even managed to record several episodes for the podcast. Unfortunately, her journey with HAKAM Youth was cut short at an inopportune time as she diverted her focus to work as a paralegal. Nevertheless, it remains a fond memory in her heart.
At the peak of her final year, Christina furthered her pursuit of becoming a lawyer by accepting an offer to be a paralegal at Lim Chee Wee Partnership. The decision to partake in another responsibility was driven by her determination to acquire more lessons and to supplement her armoury of skills before venturing into legal practice. Christina believes that this newfound role may serve as a training ground to ease her transition from a law student to a lawyer upon graduation. Christina also strived to use this opportunity to learn and make as many mistakes as she could while she is only a paralegal, as she is well aware that law firms would not be as forgiving for mistakes made during her pupillage. Her experience has been enlightening, and she thanks the firm for granting her the opportunity.
Naturally, the stress of her responsibilities warrants an occasional indulgence every now and then. Like any other student, Christina seldom forgets to steal some time to indulge in her favourite activities as she unwinds from her busy schedule. She often finds solace in the time she spends with her dog. A Netflix series, in particular, comes off as the best rescue when Christina needs a light-hearted sitcom to temporarily escape from her studies. Sneaking in an episode of Modern Family during breaks allows her to finish the 11-season series faster than anyone could!
Behind Christina’s stellar achievements, there are inevitable costs that came along with it. Christina does not regret her decisions, though she did wish she had spent more time with her family. Sometimes, the time taken to train for mooting deprived her of the chance to return home to be with her loved ones, who are only twenty minutes away. Besides that, Christina harbours some guilt for drowning herself in her workload and forgetting to spend some time to train her juniors in mooting. She would have loved the opportunity to coach a moot team to impart the knowledge and skills she had once sought.
When asked about her career plans after she graduates, Christina wishes to continue her pupillage — perhaps a cliché path, but one that is necessary for any aspiring lawyer. In the future, Christina aims to pursue a career in employment law and possibly obtain a master’s degree in public policy. Her prospects are indeed bright, and we are sure to keep an eye out for Christina’s impending engagements.
As a final remark, Christina expresses her gratitude to her loving parents, who have been her anchor throughout her entire journey. Christina also extends her appreciation to the group of friends surrounding her — Caysseny, Aleysha, Badrul, Nabihah, Florence and David. Aside from that, she is eternally grateful to her lecturers, moot coaches and everyone she has worked with for the guidance and patience they provided throughout her journey as a student in the Faculty. Every experience she has had in law school was great, and it would not have been possible if not for the support of the people around her.
Christina with some of her best friends, Ms Aleysha Kaur Bhatia, Ms Farah Nabihah, Ms Caysseny Tean Boonsiri and Mr Badrul Amin Roslan
Written by Yasmin Talib.
Edited by Azra Athirah.
Reviewed by Celin Khoo Roong Teng and Luc Choong Guong Sang.