Volunteer Review: Viki Jennings - Law in China
As the taxi pulled away from the airport and began the journey to my new home in the city, I could not help wondering briefly to myself what on earth I was doing in Shanghai. Sky high buildings filled the horizon in every direction, cars honked their horns impatiently as they meandered in and out of the traffic and the streets bustled relentlessly with activity; it was a far cry from the sheep filled fields and hills of Yorkshire I had left back in England only the day before. Yet, at the same time as I felt slightly lost and overwhelmed, I found myself filled with anticipation, intoxicated with a buzz of excitement, something that did not leave me once during my time in Shanghai.
Arriving at my apartment in Pudong, I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of the accommodation and after a quick wander around my new stomping ground, with two very helpful members of the Projects Abroad staff team, I waited nervously for my new roommates to return from work. I couldn’t have wished for nicer people to live with; from the moment we met they were friendly and welcoming and they took me out that very evening for dinner at Judy’s (which went on to become a Wednesday night stalwart) to meet the other volunteers.
By the time we returned to the apartment that evening I couldn’t believe it was only my first day; everyone had made me feel so welcome and the city was so exciting and bright. This is the start of something special, I thought, smiling to myself as jetlag carried me off to sleep.
My chosen internship in Shanghai was Law. I had completed my Legal Practice Course in Leeds two years before and, thanks to recession plaguing the UK, had not been able to secure the training contract I needed to qualify as a solicitor. After two years gaining valuable work experience in the UK, I fancied a new challenge, something different, something exciting, something that would really make my CV shine.
So here I was in Shanghai, with my eagerness to begin my internship marred only slightly by the fact that, if I was totally honest, I had no idea what to expect! I would be lying if I said I was not nervous; what if I didn’t fit in? What if we couldn’t overcome the language barrier? What if my legal knowledge wasn’t good enough? What if they weren’t happy with my work? All of these questions whirred round my head as I arrived at the office to start my first day.
I needn’t have worried; from the moment I walked through the door of the law firm I was made to feel very welcome and my fears and worries soon turned to excitement. Everyone at the firm was so kind, friendly and eager to help me in any way and I was a little relieved to discover that many of my new colleagues spoke excellent English which they were keen to practice.
I could not have been happier with my placement; I feel genuinely lucky to have been given the chance to work with such warm, hospitable and professional people. Thanks to the opportunities, challenges, advice and support that I experienced at the firm, I am confident that I have chosen the right career path and I will always look back at my time at the firm with great fondness.
Living the ‘Hai’ life at the weekends
Whilst of course I took my placement very seriously, there was still plenty of time to explore the sights, sounds – and tastes, that this remarkable city has to offer. All of the volunteer kitchens are sufficiently equipped to cook, however, with every conceivable style of cuisine available in Shanghai and at (often very) affordable prices, dining out can quickly become the norm and provides a brilliant way to unwind after a day’s work, to try new and exciting foods and to get to know other volunteers and colleagues.
From sight-seeing to shopping, go-carting to picnicking, dumpling making to dumpling eating, there is something for absolutely everyone to see and do when the weekend comes around, and with a plethora of expat-orientated websites and magazines offering suggestions and ideas, there is never a dull moment. As day turns to night, a walk along The Bund is rewarded with a stunning view of the illuminated Pudong skyline whilst a multitude of theatres boast exciting acrobatic shows and a vast array of lively bars and clubs will have you dancing the night away.
Of course the weekends also provide an opportunity to travel outside the city to the breathtaking Yellow Mountains, the beautiful Hangzhou, the bustling water towns or even further afield, and the Projects Abroad staff are always on hand, should you need them, to offer tips and advice or to help you to plan your trip and advise on transport.
It bears mention that Shanghai is, or certainly feels, a very safe city in which to live and to spend time, day or night. At no point did I or any of the volunteers feel threatened or in danger and, knowing that Projects Abroad staff offer 24/7 support, ensures you never feel alone or lost.
Having finished my internship in Shanghai, I took the opportunity to travel around China a little before returning home. I bid a very sad but fond farewell to Shanghai and the people I had met there and whom I now called friends, and I boarded the plane for the three hour flight to Chengdu. From here I spent a thrilling but exhausting fortnight travelling on to Xian, Datong and finally Beijing before heading back home to England.
Without question my time in Shanghai was one of the best, most rewarding experiences of my life and I miss it dearly. From start to finish, the Projects Abroad staff were friendly and helpful and I would highly recommend them to anyone considering a placement abroad. I made so many new friends and saw (not to mention ate!) so many interesting and extraordinary things and I cannot conceive of this being my last visit to this fascinating and beautiful country, I will definitely be back!
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.