AFS returnee Wong Li-Ann is not your usual medical student but also an accomplished jewellery maker whose pieces are popular with both the young and young-at-heart. Proceeds from her sales are partly donated to Women’s Aid Organisation, a cause that is close to her heart. 

Currently on a gap year, Li-Ann began making handmade accessories incorporating traditional Chinese knots as a hobby, gifting them to family and close friends. They encouraged her to start a business so that others can also enjoy and wear her pretty crafts. As a result, she set up Jia Handmade, Jia being the Chinese word for home or family, which quickly gained interest and a fan base on Instagram. Li-Ann however, hopes to be a surgeon one day as she loves the hands-on action and being in the operating theatre.

Budaya Beat met with her online recently to find out more about her and her steadily growing business.


  1. Where and when did you go for your AFS experience?

I went on an Intensive Programme to New Zealand in 2012 and found the short stay so enriching that I decided to go for a full year exchange experience, this time to Japan from 2014 to 2015.

2) What were a few things you got out of your intercultural experience?

Other than the exchange being a one in a lifetime experience, I also gained meaningful relationships that I treasure and valuable insights on cultural awareness and intercultural communication, thus being able to be more understanding and collaborative when engaging with people from all walks of life. 

It has also made me more confident and resilient in my ability to adapt to a foreign environment and specifically, adapt to change, which I believe is a necessity in an ever-changing world, especially in such uncertain times such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. 

Moreover, putting myself in an environment (my exchange was in a small town called Asahikawa in Hokkaido, Japan) where people spoke little to no English, forced me to quickly adapt and learn a new language (Japanese) which I can still converse in up to this day. It has also given me the opportunity to hone independent lifelong learning skills which I have further polished in my years in medical school. 

3) How has it helped you in your life now and in your career?

I believe all the experiences that I gained during my exchange has shaped me into the person I am today, and overall a more understanding and emphatic person which I strongly feel are important qualities as an aspiring doctor. It has also taught me to be more resilient to hardships, difficulty, stress and change. 

Moreover, the exchange taught me the importance of cultural competency and lifelong learning long before it was introduced in medical school, which I am certain will definitely play a role in my career in many years to come.  

4) Where did you learn to make these crafts and jewellery?  

I have always been a person who enjoyed arts and crafts, and I have been making handmade items from a young age. What started out as a hobby, and making items for my friends and family snowballed into something bigger and I only recently started making jewellery and founded Jia Handmade (Instagram three months ago where I could share my love for arts and crafts with everyone. Being a medical student (who has spent a majority of her life buried in books!) and having no prior knowledge or formal education in business, jewellery making and graphic design, forming the start-up was a steep learning curve but an enjoyable and fulfilling journey nonetheless. 

5) How long does it take to make each piece?

The time taken to make each piece varies depending on what I make (not including the time taken to find reliable suppliers for materials, designing and R&D of the item) and varies from 30 minutes to 3 hours. A simple pair of earrings takes about 30 minutes to make whereas more complex items such as intricate beading work and items that incorporate traditional Chinese knots take much longer.

6) Why pick WAO for your cause?

Since the implementation of the Covid-19 MCO, there has been an alarming rise in cases of domestic violence, and I realise domestic violence deeply affects victims who may not only face physical injuries but also lifelong debilitating psychological effects such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Henceforth, I have collaborated with a few of my friends in medical school to raise funds for the WAO in support of the provision of free shelter, counselling, and crisis support to women and children who experience violence. 

As Jia Handmade embodies the spirit of home and family, I believe that everyone has the right to feel safe at home, and I stand up for all the women who are affected by domestic violence. I strongly advocate for women empowerment, because I believe that women have the power to stand up to their abusers and that violence should never be the answer. 

Doctor in the making! Liann at Segamat Hospital for her internship
With a fellow AFSer in traditional Japanese attire
With colleagues at a Rotary Dialysis Centre in Kulai


Her handcrafted jewellery collection under the label Jia can be found on Instagram under
With her host family celebrating cherry blossom season