Jenny Chui

I moved from Sabah, Malaysia in August 1978 to study Pharmacy at University College London. Boarding school was my original motivation for coming over: my parents asked me if I wanted to go to UK for school and I said yes please! After that, I studied Pharmacy at University College London (at that time my college was called School of Pharmacy, University of London but it has since been incorporated as part of UCL). I wanted to study at the best and the School of Pharmacy was the best for pharmacy. Actually, I didn’t get in first time as my A Level grades were not good enough. My parents were so considerate to let me resit another year and I got the grades I needed in the following year. I always remember my parents’ joy when I got in as my father ordered a roast piglet to celebrate, being the first member of my family to go to university.

I wasn't too scared at the idea of leaving home: I couldn't wait to go to England to study. My father brought me and we met up with my auntie in London. My auntie had gone to England years earlier to train to be a mental health nurse. She also qualified as a SRN later and worked for the NHS all her life, finishing up as a Nurse Trainer and is now retired in Leicester. My parents were very excited for me but at the same time very anxious. Thank goodness I have a little sister so they didn't miss me too much I hope!

The UK was everything I had expected and more. Not too much of a culture shock but the lack of steak at school was shocking as I thought steak was a common meal in England! Eating salads was a big shock though, and the lack of a cooked meal on Sunday evenings at school. Being friendly and open minded helped me a lot to find friends and integrate easily. The most difficult part to adapt to was the “openness” of the girls, for instance talking about sex! Also, I found it strange that I could not disturb anyone who’s on their tea break! Work was work but when it came to having their tea breaks, they couldn’t be disturbed at all, even a simple task like answering a question was met with, “I’m on my tea break!”

The easiest part of life in the UK was the informal nature of everyone: I was asked by my boss to call her by her first name. Despite that, I always kept the Asian value of respecting your elders.

I was homesick for the first 3 months when I was at boarding school. At that time we had one girl in my dormitory who was a bully and she verbally bullied me and another British Caucasian girl because we were newcomers. That was challenging but I tackled it by making many other friends and these friends confronted her one day after I told them what she had been saying to me and she didn’t bother me after that.

I'm very proud of my journey which I could only have done with my parents' support.

Even though I built my life in the UK, I am temporarily residing elsewhere as my British HK husband was transferred to HK for work so I had to follow him. But I would have stayed on in UK had it had not been for that. My children and my friends are here. I still return to the UK every year (if not for the pandemic which delayed my return by an extra year)

I think no matter what, my birth country is always home and it’s also because my parents are there. I always identified myself as Malaysian Chinese. On the other hand I feel very much an allegiance to all things British as that’s the country where I spent my formative years, began my career and met and married my husband. So I’m British at heart too. Both countries are in my heart.

I loved the camaraderie amongst my colleagues during my working life in NHS. Everyone was supportive of one another. I loved the ‘we are all in this together’ attitude and everyone from the porter to the boss worked together with one single purpose, and that was to serve our patients to the best of our ability. One of my most enjoyable moments was when we organised staff nights out for dinner or a show in the West End and having fun together.

Seeing the long queue of patients waiting for their prescriptions to be filled and trying as hard as possible to do it safely was definitely challenging. Plus occasionally getting told off by an irate patient but that’s part of the job. I have no regrets, though, I would do it all over again.

The NHS is such a valuable resource for the people of the UK and a great model of affordable healthcare for everyone; the government should be putting more resources in it not taking it away. The staff are one of the best in the world. Look after it well.


Ultimately, my children are my best legacy in UK! Big moments in my life in the UK was when I qualified as a Pharmacist and when I met and married my husband.

This story is part of Ingat-Ingat (, an exhibition curated by Becky Hoh-Hale about Southeast Asians who came to work for the NHS between 1959-1979.