London, Tehran, and Back

Holly C., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
A Legal internship at Lawyers Without Borders, United Kingdom, October 2019

 

Hello! I’m Holly, a Law and Business student passionate about advancing human rights.

Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB) seemed like the perfect home for my International Legal Placement. Like all other LWOB outlets, the London office is dedicated to protecting marginalised persons across the globe through advocacy and legal aid. LWOB’s purpose is simple: support organisations that provide justice for those who cannot access it.

I joined LWOB on board as a legal researcher; I was promptly tasked with researching and creating a memo for marginalised Iranians who have had their personal property confiscated on account of human rights violations.

Over the course of this internship, I canvassed legal precedent in other Islamic Republics, investigated societal and political constructs that perpetuated such violations, and provided advice as to how non-governmental organisations could assist victims in recovering assets.

Throughout law school, we are constantly asked ‘why’ we do what we do. But we are infrequently asked ‘for whom?’.

This internship was an immense challenge and privilege. I felt honoured to be assisting individuals who had faced adversity that we cannot fathom in the West; yet, I was daunted at the responsibility of playing a part in shaping their future.  The fact that these people had already endured so much only increased the pressure. I was amazed at how the staff at LWOB worked so tirelessly for their clients in a resource-constrained and high-pressure environment.

Amidst a backdrop of a cold, grey and busy London, our decisions at a desktop dictated the outcomes of people’s livelihoods, homes and property on the other side of the world.

In many ways, my days looked like that of any other law student. However, rather than researching contract law precedent, I was scouring cases for rulings on governmental victimisation of LGBTIQ communities; rather than accessing Austlii, I was downloading a VPN to search Iranian, Iraqi and Pakistani legal databases.

This experience no doubt developed fundamental legal research capabilities. More importantly, though, I built a tolerance for risk, learning invaluable problem-solving techniques in situations that were rife with legal uncertainty. I learnt how to make decisions about what course of advice to include in my task memo. This, in turn, fostered my ability to discern reason from irrational fear in high-pressure situations.

More broadly, I was exposed to a novel culture, language and social structure. In this way, I developed an appreciation of the complexities in navigating to cross cultural communication during delicate legal proceedings.

Finally, I learnt the importance of ensuring all material is appropriate for the client in question. The humanitarian and legal aid sector has a reputation in some parts of the world for generating solutions without consulting those who will be most affected – that is, solving the problem from a Western perspective which fails to appreciate local customs and norms. As such, the advice provided for this groups must differ greatly if it is to be effective. Cases such as these demonstrated the crucial importance of always keeping the client front and centre, even when they are more than 5000 kilometres away.

My placement at LWOB in London was formative, both personally and professionally. Yet, development did not come in the way I expected. This internship was a valuable stepping stone towards a career within humanitarian law. Yet, it also illustrated the limitations of providing aid within the legal system. If we are to achieve meaningful improvements in access to justice for marginalised groups, I am now of the firm belief that legal professionals must engage in structural and political reform within the countries from where their clients originate.

A semester at Leeds

It was quite late in my degree by the time I decided to do a student exchange, but I’m so glad I did because it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I chose the University of Leeds due to its academic reputation and atmosphere.

Culture

Before arriving in Leeds, I didn’t think there would be much of a cultural difference between England and Australia. But after living there for six months, and immersing myself in the community, I definitely noticed a few stark cultural differences. From simple things like what’s available at supermarkets, to how the locals interact with you and each other – sometimes their English accents are so difficult to understand it sounds like they’re speaking another language!

The University

Within the university, there was such great community spirit with a seemingly endless number of clubs and societies for literally any activity you could imagine! In terms of study, I found Leeds to have a reasonably similar teaching style to QUT. However, Leeds was very strict and rule-abiding about a lot of things. Attendance for tutorials was compulsory and recorded, so if you missed more than two or three classes you were contacted by the unit coordinator. They also took down lecture attendance! Lectures were sometimes recorded (depending on the subject) but the slides were always available online.

Travel

The UK is a fantastic base for easy and cheap travel throughout Europe. There is a small airport at Leeds but I preferred to use Manchester airport (1 hour train away) because flights from there were usually cheaper and more regular. My main mode of transportation throughout the UK however was buses. Although they do take a bit longer, they’re so much cheaper and I didn’t find them too uncomfortable! Transportation is something to consider early on though, because if you’re planning on catching trains then it’s definitely worth investing in a discounted rail pass from the beginning.

Accommodation

I stayed in student-based accommodation at Mary Morris House – a student apartment block in a nearby suburb of Headingley. There were frequent buses to the city but I usually just walked for 30 mins. Headingley was a lovely suburb to live in though – it mostly consisted of students and the main street was primarily full of pubs and op-shops! In terms of cost of living, it was quite similar to Brisbane, slightly more expensive due to the exchange rate at the time but very doable to stick to a limited budget for day-to-day living.

Leeds

Yorkshire is such a beautiful part of England- from York itself to surrounding towns; the country is full of such rich history. As an architectural design student, I was just in love with the ancient buildings and gorgeous streetscapes as well as the landscape in the nearby moors. Leeds is such a massive student city and has so many international exchange students who are always looking to make friends and have a good time. The city is full of gorgeous old buildings and there are always activities on a daily basis!

Overall, this experience was even better than I’d hoped for! Meeting so many incredible friends and travelling so frequently, I loved every minute of it and would absolutely recommend doing an exchange!

London Living

Alexander Aikman., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Creative Industries

University of Westminster, United Kingdom (Semester 1, 2019)

The University of Westminster is located in central London. The campus is compact and modern in its layout. One of the best parts about university life for me was playing rugby for Westminster. Joining a sports team was a great way to connect with people and I would highly recommend it for anyone going on exchange.

As expected, the cost of rent and groceries within London was steep. However, there are a lot of discounts on offer for students. Including a discounted travel card for the tube and bus services. There were also a lot of free attractions to be taken advantage of during my exchange. These included the British Museum, Borough and Camden Markets as well as Hyde Park to name a few.

Another one of London’s perks is the travel. Trains from London go across the UK. Allowing for easy exploration across the country on weekends. Better still were the cheap flights across Europe. I spent much of my free time travelling to other countries. Every holiday and long weekend I would travel somewhere new. Travelling to Norway with friends from Uni and travelling solo across southern Europe were true highlights of my trip. And I would encourage anyone to try travelling both in a group and on your own.

The exchange program is an opportunity to try new experiences. The best advice I can offer is explore as much as you can. Travel to someplace different. Meet new people from other countries and experience their culture. Finally, if you’re going to a big city such as London, then be travel smart. A healthy dose of paranoia and scepticism will save you a lot of grief. But above all, make your exchange memorable.