An international student who was put in hospital when he was attacked within hours of arriving in Sunderland has graduated after overcoming the setback to become a role model to his peers.
Justin Chew arrived in the city from Malaysia in September but on his first night was verbally and physically abused, resulting in a broken jaw.
The long recovery process saw him battle thoughts of leaving, but he turned his mind to embracing student life.
His attacker Mark McManus, then 21, of no fixed address, admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm and two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm at a previous hearing and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Justin went on to become student representative, a student ambassador, helped form the Malaysian Society, and completed the University of Sunderland Professional Award (SuPA) – designed to develop employability skills.
The 21-year-old 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.
That was a particularly traumatic experience finding out all this in a short space of time.Justin Chew
“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 was not alone, and helped to set up communication with his family in Malaysia, and even organise his room as he had not 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.”