My decision to commence a legal internship in Shanghai with Projects Abroad had not been random or impulsive. After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Law in Ireland and the UK, I had become disheartened by the lack of quality job opportunities available for legal graduates in London which did not necessitate years of paralegal experience.
The legal profession in the UK was in a period of flux and I decided it would not be a financially intelligent decision to invest thousands of pounds in completing my professional legal training in the UK if I was not guaranteed a training contract upon graduation. I felt the need to gain some work experience abroad to add to my credentials and give me the freedom to re-strategise my career path.
Given the global attention paid to China and the strength it’s economy I began researching summer internships in firms based in Shanghai; the commercial hub of China. I stumbled across the Projects Abroad website, and after tirelessly researching the authenticity of the programme, I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for their legal placement in Shanghai.
First impressions of Shanghai
I took a flight from London Heathrow with a stopover at Moscow airport and appeared to be one of only a handful of non-Chinese nationals on board the connection aircraft to Shanghai. Yet I was greeted with such friendly curiosity from the extended Chinese family sitting around me who almost immediately began sharing their tips for visiting Shanghai. This was my first experience of that now all too familiar sensation of feeling extremely foreign yet unconditionally welcomed in China.
Stepping off my plane at Pudong Airport was like stepping into a different world. It goes without saying that arriving in China at first was a culture shock and a world away from my small little hometown on the south coast of Ireland. Everything is different in China; the people, the food, the language, the pace of life. Yet I was surprised by how incredibly easy it was to adjust to living in this foreign land and how supportive Projects Abroad were throughout the entire process.
Shanghai itself is a particularly easy city to navigate around, with central Shanghai being incredibly commercialised and tourist-friendly. On a whole, I found Chinese people extremely welcoming, very willing to help and make my stay in China comfortable.
My Law placement
My placement was at a Chinese law firm specialising in maritime law. Given that I had recently completed my master’s degree in International Law at the University of Nottingham, I was excited to gain a perspective of how international maritime law operates both in a domestic context and, particularly, in China. As Shanghai is one of the largest maritime ports in the world, I felt that I could gain a fantastic insight into the operation of international regulations and case law at this firm.
Throughout my internship, I was presented with a variety of tasks including writing claims submissions in English for hearing at a maritime tribunal and conducting legal research for upcoming cases. Most of my work was focused on cases where English law was applicable, such as in intercontinental disputes between cross border parties. This was an extremely interesting aspect of the job for me and provided me with a very on hand perspective of maritime law in an international context. In addition, the people at my internship were so incredibly warm and helpful and even took myself and another Projects Abroad intern on a trip to Qibao Old Town to try some famous local dumplings!
Staying in Shanghai
Towards the end of my internship, I had more clarity about the direction I wished to take with my career. While I still had a love for law, I realised that the type of jobs on offer at law firms in the UK were not in the areas of law I was interested in and that I would be happier pursuing something I was passionate about. I came across a six month contractual position in digital marketing and business strategy which had become available at the Shanghai office of a UK multinational company and, on a whim and with a reference from Sloma & Co., decided to apply. After two interviews, I was offered the position and took my second leap of faith and accepted almost instantly.
Throughout the process of extending my stay in Shanghai, I felt completely supported by the Projects Abroad team, from extending my visa to rescheduling my return flight. I absolutely adore what I’m doing now and have matured so much throughout this entire process of living in China. After living in Shanghai for six months, I have fallen in love with Chinese food, culture, language and history, and these are passions that I will take with me when I return home in March.
Since I’ve come to China, I have visited the Terracotta Warriors, hiked the Great Wall, cruised down Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, drank a mojito in the 92nd Floor of the Shanghai World Financial Centre, held a ten minute conversation in Mandarin with a taxi driver and met some of the most interesting people from every corner of the planet.
I would not trade my experience with Projects Abroad for anything in the world; it has opened my mind to opportunities and experiences beyond my previously narrow perceptions. If it weren’t for Projects Abroad, I wouldn’t be sitting in the 17th floor of a high rise office building on West Nanjing Road writing this article, full of confidence and optimism about my future career.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.