Volunteer Review: Charlotte Bennett - Law in China
In July 2014 I flew to Shanghai to do a law internship for 4 weeks. Having never even been on a plane on my own I was, understandably, extremely nervous but excited about the adventure to come! I booked my trip with Projects Abroad 6 months before so I had plenty of time to prepare.
The communication prior to my departure made me feel much better about what to expect out there. All my questions were answered quickly and in detail, from more important queries about my visa to mundane things like what plugs to take.
Arriving in China
When I arrived at the airport I was met by Briana, a Projects Abroad staff member, who took me to my accommodation which was about 40 minutes drive away. My apartment was located on the outside of the French Concession (an area which became one of my favorites in Shanghai) next to the Shanghai Stadium.
The area was a typical Chinese neighbourhood so you really got the experience of living like the locals and it quickly felt like home. Briana showed me around the local area; showing me how to walk to the metro station, where the supermarket, bank and post office were and organized a Chinese SIM card. I was then given all of the Projects Abroad staff’s mobile numbers so it was really easy to get in contact if I had any problems and they always replied very quickly.
On my first evening my flatmates, who’d been in Shanghai for a few days, took me out for a traditional Chinese dumpling meal. It felt like we’d been friends for ages as everyone was so easy going. What was also good was that we socialized with volunteers from other flats all the time so I was able to meet people from all over the world.
My placement in China
My law placement was at Sloma & Co. They specialize in maritime and shipping law. Susan and Jason, from Projects Abroad, met me at the metro station on my first day and explained the route I would take to work. The commute was about 20 minutes on the metro and then a 15 minute walk to the office.
The closest metro station to my office was YuYuan Garden: a big tourist destination right in the center of the bustling Shanghai. It was a really good location if I wanted to do something after work. Everyone at my work was really welcoming and made a big effort to get to know me. My supervisor was called Jenny, and we struck up a really good relationship.
The project in Shanghai
My team of 5 people took me out for lunch every day and helped me in any way they could. My main tasks were proof-reading contracts and documents for grammatical mistakes before they were sent to clients. After the first week, however, I found that they weren’t giving me much work to do so I started to be proactive and I asked the members of my team for work to do.
I think they just had to get used to me at first and once they realized that I wanted work and get the most out of my experience, I was given more important tasks to do. These included working on cases which were going to court the next day. My supervisor wouldn’t have time to check my work and this meant that I had to get everything right!
This was daunting, but it gave me invaluable experience for my CV and it was enjoyable work. Besides going out for lunch each day with my team, the partners of the firm also took me to a very nice restaurant for a meal where we were wined and dined with VIP service! Towards the end of my placement my supervisor also wrote a reference letter that will be very useful once I start applying for jobs.
My weekend activities
Most evenings my flatmates and I would meet up for dinner at either a traditional Chinese restaurant or restaurants that would serve western food, if we were fed up with noodles! Shanghai has so many eateries that we were always going to different places and trying lots of different food. Whilst in Shanghai, Susan and Jason organized a social dinner for all the volunteers. This was a really good way of getting to know people and trying out Chinese food as the menu was all in Chinese so we were reliant on Susan’s suggestions!
There’s so much to do in Shanghai, both at night and during the day, and it’s a great city to just wander around and get lost in. Initially, I was surprized that there were nightclubs in Shanghai and the experience was definitely different to home! The highlight of my trip was getting to go to a nightclub on the 91st floor of the ‘bottle opener’ building and the Bar Rouge which has a roof terrace overlooking the Bund with spectacular views.
On weekends I often went outside of the city with other volunteers. The train network is really good in China and much cheaper than at home. One weekend I went to Huangzhou which was about an hour outside of Shanghai and is famous for its West Lake. Despite it being much hotter than we were expecting, and our tour being in Chinese, the scenery was beautiful and we were also able to experience a legitimate tea ceremony!
I was also able to take a day off work to go to Beijing which was one of my favorite experiences. It was nice to see the contrast between the business dominated Shanghai and the more traditional Beijing. The language barrier was harder in Beijing and a funny memory of us trying to order ‘Peking Duck’ will always stay with me- we ended up saying ‘Quack Quack’ which the waitress remarkably understood!
My final thoughts
I went to Shanghai knowing no Mandarin and quickly realized that very few of the Chinese speak any English. Whilst it was frustrating not being able to communicate at times, the locals often helped as best they could and my colleagues helped me learn a few important phrases. The Mandarin and Chinese Culture class organized by Projects Abroad was also a great way of learning a bit of the language and understanding more about the dos and don’ts of Chinese business.
I would recommend Projects Abroad to people who want to go traveling but that also want the security of being able to call someone if anything goes wrong. Being in Shanghai was the craziest time of my life but it has given me amazing memories.
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. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.