Bullying, a pervasive issue in schools across Malaysia, affects many young lives, shaping their future in profound ways. Ian Chew’s story begins in this all-too-familiar setting, where the shadows of bullying loomed large.
His journey from a bullied teenager to an inspiring figure offers a beacon of hope to those facing similar challenges.
“Am I a weirdo?”
In high school, Ian was frequently the target of bullying. Isolated by his peers, he faced a barrage of hurtful nicknames and physical harassment.
These incidents, deeply scarring, left him feeling vulnerable and alone.
In high school, I was often alone. The bullying wasn’t just physical. It was the words, the isolation, that hurt the most.
“The most distressing moment for me was when I was physically bullied in an empty classroom which, to this day, I can still remember how intensely uncomfortable it was,” he said.
This cycle of bullying continued to be a silent burden in Ian’s heart until he could take it no longer and finally poured his heart out to his parents, who then stepped in to intervene, bringing in much-needed respite.
Ian later went on to attend college where, while it had its own set of challenges, he was more aware of the power of speaking out and often sought help from his lecturers whenever he was bullied.
Interviewed strangers during university life
Ian’s transformative journey took a significant turn with ‘Humans of Sackville’ when he was furthering his studies at Mount Allison University in Canada after securing a scholarship.
The project, largely inspired by the ‘Humans of New York’ initiative by American photographer Brandon Stanton who would interview strangers on the street, was initially seen to be a daunting task by Ian.
But with time, he began to see that it actually helped him confront and overcome his social anxiety.
“Each conversation was a step out of my comfort zone. I was building my confidence, one story at a time.“
One of the most impactful encounters during the ‘Humans of Sackville’ project was when Ian met a French Canadian man, whose story of transformation deeply resonated with him.
Once deeply entrenched in gang life in Toronto and surrounded by violence and conflict, the man’s path took a dramatic turn after meeting a woman who saw potential in him.
She asked him a simple yet profound question: ‘You seem pretty smart. Why don’t you do something else?’
“At that moment of insight, it ignited a change in the man, leading him away from gangs and towards a new life as a forest technologist.”
“I was particularly struck by his transformation and the deep gratitude he expressed towards his wife, who he fondly referred to as his ‘angel’ and spoke of her with such love and admiration.”
“It was a powerful reminder of how a single person’s belief can alter the course of another’s life.
“His story was about change and hope. It made me realise that everyone has the potential to transform their life,” he added.
As Ian’s project gained momentum, he found a sense of belonging and acceptance, shifting his perspective on his Asian identity in Canada.
“I went from feeling out of place to being a part of something bigger. I learned that my voice mattered.“
“I used to feel out of place in Canada, especially being an Asian person. But through this project, I felt more accepted and realised I could actually make friends and connect with people!”
As of now, he still working through his social anxiety and past bullying experiences, and has created a website, Deeper Conversations, aimed at helping others improve their conversation skills and manage similar challenges.
Making it to TEDx
As word of Ian’s journey and the stories he gleaned from the streets of Canada grew, he soon found himself standing on the stage at a TEDx event and speaking to a thousand-strong crowd.
As he stood on stage illuminated by the spotlight, he shared his story with an audience which was captivated by his story.
“At that moment, I discovered my love for public speaking, which was a stark contrast to the boy who once felt invisible in the hallways of my high school.
“I couldn’t have shared my story without the advice and support from my mentors, who gave me the courage to do so. On top of that, I had to reach out and make connections with others, including on LinkedIn, or else I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.
Ian Chew, who overcame years of bullying and social anxiety, shares simple yet powerful advice for those facing similar challenges: Acknowledge your feelings.
It’s okay to feel stressed or anxious. Speaking up and asking for help can make a big difference.”
Remember, you’re not alone, and these challenges don’t have to define your future. Small steps can lead to big changes, and there’s always hope for a better tomorrow.