Julia Zainal’s gentle and compassionate disposition is a breath of fresh air amidst the severe legal scene. Her selflessness and generosity have made her an endearing figure here in the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya (‘UM’).
Hailing from Selangor, Julia grew up with parents who always placed a lot of importance on education and consistently ensured their children were right on track. Her ambitions of becoming a lawyer and entering the Faculty were formed from a young age, thanks to her beloved father.
‘While my father is a UM graduate from the Faculty of Economics, his dream was to read law at the Faculty of Law. Thus, for as long as I can remember, he has always wanted someone from the family to pursue law due to his high regard for it.’
Soon after that, her father’s dream became her lifelong pursuit. After finishing secondary school, she decided to pursue her Foundation in Law at Universiti Teknologi MARA (‘UiTM’) before making her way to UM.
Julia has ceaselessly challenged herself — through various experiences — to reach her fullest potential upon entering law school. Always open to exciting adventures and learning new skills in order to help others, it was thus a stroke of fate when she came across the Kalsom Movement (‘TKM’) while scrolling through Instagram.
The Kalsom Movement allowed Julia to experience the beauty of altruism
The organisation was entirely independent, comprising a circle of like-minded student volunteers working towards tackling educational inequality. Julia — intrigued by the movement’s values and motivated by her altruistic nature — became a TKM facilitator in 2021 and later served as Programme Director in the next tenure.
As Programme Director, she spearheaded the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Camp. The programme focused on encouraging Form 4 students to be more interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (‘STEM’) by providing a platform to learn about practical modules. The focus of this programme was entirely different from Julia’s course of study. However, her limited expertise did not stand in the way of success. She aimed to provide the best possible experience to the beneficiaries. Julia aspired to equip them with the necessary knowledge and experience to pursue a varied post-secondary education. Thus, she made sure to recruit facilitators who possessed the relevant skills to design and execute the programme’s modules.
By also incorporating the analytical process of determining the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (‘SWOT’) of day-to-day situations, Julia managed to plan out modules that are both practical and relatable to these children. The committee not only aspired to plan successful events, but also aimed to create an impact on students’ lives.
Julia’s first experience as a facilitator at the Kalsom Movement, an organisation close to her heart
‘Regardless, I had an extremely supportive work environment that made me feel the less alone in going through the challenging parts.’
Julia currently holds the position of Vice President of the Programme & Module Department. She now takes on an entirely different role — one that demands more time, energy, and leadership. Julia ensures she has a clear sense of direction and the foresight to tackle potential problems in leading the new Programme Directors. It is truly no surprise that Julia has continuously showcased excellent leadership in the face of numerous hardships and challenges.
Julia has since grown to become the current Vice President of the Kalsom Movement
‘Being both a student and an active volunteer is definitely the biggest challenge of all. Nevertheless, I hope that partaking in volunteer work will be an enriching experience for the members.’
Her volunteering spirit continued throughout her time in university, leading her to join the university’s Community Outreach Programme (‘COP’) as the Head of the Student’s Welfare & Logistics Bureau. She reminisced about the warm friendliness that surrounded the organisation and how the members would treat each other as friends instead of mere colleagues. In her tenure, Julia introduced ‘Welfare Wednesday’, an internal initiative to mitigate the pressures of a stressful law student. Every Wednesday, her bureau members would organise activities centred on well-being to conduct weekly check-ins with the committee. Such activities ranged from the ‘health is wealth week’ — whereby members were encouraged to engage in relaxing activities to take their minds off law school — to writing pen pal letters and ‘makan-makan’ gatherings.
Julia also recalls one of the highlights of her tenure in COP: a volunteer trip with Kechara Soup Kitchen to distribute food to the indigenous Mah Meri Cultural Village in Pulau Carey. She also fondly remembers her volunteering experience in Indonesia, where she conducted a teaching trip for Rohingya children on the topic of bullying. Julia states that she will forever hold the experience close to her heart, tearing up as she recollected her time there.
‘There is a vivid memory of me being in a mosque in Ciputat, Indonesia where I encountered a five-year-old girl trying to make conversation with me. We were the ones who were supposed to engage with them, but it was so heartwarming that they were more warm and welcoming to us.’
A memento left by the Community Outreach Programme 2022/2023 team at
Rumah Belajar Matalangi, Desa Kebun Sayur Ciracas, Indonesia
Her time in Indonesia was also made better with COP’s collaboration with Rumah Belajar Matalangi — a non-profit organisation that aims to make primary education more accessible to children. Touched by the children’s enthusiasm for education, Julia was warmed by their compassion and eagerness despite coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Despite the long, tiring nights and seemingly endless work, moments like these remind Julia why she pours her energy into volunteer work in the first place.
The Community Outreach Programme members of the Student Exchange Programme
A sweet memory which she will forever cherish: her time with her host university, Universitas Indonesia
Do not let her pleasantries and warm smile fool you; Julia’s leadership qualities and high standards make her extremely conscientious. She expects the very best from not just her team, but herself too. Be it brainstorming for ideas or delegating tasks, Julia ensures that all necessary steps are planned out with a clear vision and firm expectations. Furthermore, she ensures to prioritise the emotional and physical well-being of her members throughout any event, for it is crucial in maintaining team morale and realising her team’s fullest potential. All in all, Julia’s high expectations have helped her direct with a firm hand and compassionate heart while making her a better leader.
Outside her law school and her volunteer work, Julia is a creative at heart. So, it comes as no surprise that her favourite pastimes include indulging in film and music. She enjoys scrolling through Letterboxd, a social media platform that allows one to share film reviews and find new movies to watch. She also likes spending her time listening to self-help podcasts like Aida Azlin.
‘I enjoy spending time with people or things I find comfort with, particularly my family, friends, music, films, and a simple passion project of someone I can relate to.’
With her love and appreciation for the arts, it comes to no surprise that Julia has a flair for the stage. Being an emcee for multiple events has given her the opportunity to get comfortable in front of an audience.
‘The very first time I emceed was for Freshies Night during my first year. Funnily enough, even that was a last-minute request by one of the committee members to replace the female emcee that they had.’
Julia — as a Yayasan Bursa Malaysia Scholarship recipient — was also able to emcee a few events for Bursa Malaysia. Most memorably, she has emceed an International Volunteer Day celebration before the Chairman of Bursa Malaysia, the Director of Group Sustainability, and the Director of Group Human Capital: all of whom were present as special guests.
Julia emceeing for Bursa Malaysia’s International Volunteer Day Celebration
Emceeing, however, is not the only thing Julia excels at on stage. She has also proven to be a talented stage actress, earning the crown of Anugerah Pelakon Harapan 2020 in UM’s Theatre Carnival (‘Kaviter’) — an annual week-long theatre showcase and inter-residential college competition.
‘It was quite surprising to get the award. I was never really exposed to real theatre; my first experience which led me to join Kaviter was during secondary school when I was in the drama team for a regional English drama competition. It was not until that incident that I realised I had an interest in theatre.’
Julia joined Kaviter in her first year. Looking to push herself out of her comfort zone, she entered the world of drama along with her fellow Kolej Kediaman Tuanku Bahiyah teammates. The pressure from her coach — a Bachelor of Drama graduate — plus the countless rehearsals certainly posed a great challenge to Julia. However, she persevered thanks to her grit and the support from her team. She played an older, grief-stricken version of the female lead, having to portray the character’s story by tapping into the character’s essence and values.
Julia as her character, Amylia Tua, after her theater performance for Karnival Teater UM 2020
She was able to invite her friends and family to share this special and significant moment with her. Going forward, she hopes to take part in more acting gigs and short films soon. Truly, the future is limitless for Julia.
Whether it be starting practice, pursuing her postgraduate studies, or working for a cause she believes in, Julia intends to keep her choices open as she approaches the end of law school. The unknown future is inevitably terrifying. Nonetheless, she trusts that life will bring her to the right path eventually.
Julia and her beloved parents
Julia wishes to express her sincerest gratitude to her family, who has had her back and believed in her no matter what. Though it was not always smooth sailing, she owes all her success and achievements to them. She also conveys her utmost appreciation to all those who have played a significant role in her educational journey as they have generously provided her much guidance and wisdom. Additionally, she thanks her friends, who have seen her grow — in the last four years — into the graceful and selfless soul that she is.
Julia and her friends cannot wait for their next milestone together: graduation
Julia’s happy place: her closest friends and the beach in Penang
Lastly, she is eternally grateful to all the people who have helped her and left a positive impact on her life.
‘I hope that I have left — and continue to leave — a positive imprint on the lives of those who have known me and will get to know me in the future.’
Julia’s warmth truly sets her apart from the rest. Her gentle demeanour and cheerful nature have undoubtedly left a mark on all those who have been fortunate enough to cross paths with her. While the future may be uncertain and daunting, Julia’s inherent kindness and sincerity will surely carry her to the greatest of heights.
Written by Parvaneetha Subramaniam.
Reviewed by Siti Nur Radhwa, Chrystal Foo, and Pravena Sreetharan.