A virtual international experience
They can't travel overseas at the moment but UTS Law students can still learn from a different kind of international study.
For many university students, an international internship is a highlight of their study and UTS Law students are no exception.
International Program head, Professor Beth Goldblatt says students who undertake these opportunities learn that their legal skills have global applications:
They learn that the law is context-dependent and they gain invaluable insights into other countries’ legal and political systems – they are then able to view their own country and its legal system from the outside based on these new insights.
In normal times, the Law Faculty offers a range of opportunities to gain both study and cultural experiences overseas – but these are not normal times.
In 2020 the COVID pandemic has halted overseas travel but instead of shelving their plans, over the Winter months a group of Law students participated in ‘virtual’ internships instead.
The students covered a range of countries and experiences including the operation of the death penalty and legal aid in Asian countries, compliance with international human rights law through the UN, and assisting with projects run by the Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law (BCCEAL) in the United States.
While it wasn’t the same as actually being there, Pia Gonzalez says there was an intensity about the virtual experience because she was able to look at the death penalty in several countries for her work with the Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP):
I looked at Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines and came to understand the politicised nature of the death penalty and how it is used to exert influence, dominance and power.
As part of her internship, Pia co-authored a submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the plight of death row inmates in Vietnam.
In a first for the international program, several students interned with Berkeley University in the specialist Center on Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law.
More than 600 academics, activists and advocates from around the world work with the BCCEAL across a number of issues-focused groups including social and economic rights and the impact of COVID19.
JD student, Malia Emberson-Lafoa'i chose to research the plight of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon and Hong Kong and found that the pandemic is exacerbating the existing inequalities in the sponsorship systems:
These systems are already flawed and COVID19 is creating a very dangerous power dynamic – migrant domestic workers often have poor literacy and their vulnerability and desperation makes them easy targets for exploitation.
Malia and her internship colleagues worked on a webinar on the domestic workers issue with academics and other global members of the group.
In other Berkeley internships, Tegan Dennehy looked at racial inequalities and COVID19 and helped organise a ‘flash conference’ on the issue.
All the students had to adjust to time differences and using online platforms as a substitute for actual contact and they did not have the benefit of the day to day living experience in a different country.
Professor Goldblatt says there’s no doubt the students missed some of the growth that occurs when we travel elsewhere but there were other advantages:
They didn’t get to immerse themselves in the working and living spaces of other countries but they certainly learnt a great deal about law in different contexts in their placements. They also gained some unexpected skills such as remote communication, self-management and work across time zones.
Tegan Dennehy plans to continue with her remote work for the BCCEAL and says the experience has broadened her world view:
I think the virtual internship improved my sense of connection to the world and it’s given me a passion to research further in this area. I think I will be a more well-rounded graduate as a result of this whole experience.
Pia Gonzalez says her virtual experience was invaluable:
It helped me develop a deeper understanding of the law and appreciation of the versatility of my degree – I also learnt resilience and how to cope with the confronting nature of issues like the death penalty by contextualising the emotion and adopting a professional approach.
The UTS Law Faculty is offering a range of virtual internships over Summer for both under-graduates and post-graduates.