Gayathri Muthukumar - Law & Business in China
Arriving in Chengdu
This was the first time I had ever travelled abroad completely on my own – no friends or family to share in my experiences, so to say I was a little nervous would be an understatement. I was petrified! I had no idea what to expect, and what the people would be like, and I certainly had no idea what to expect when it came to food!
When I arrived at my host family’s home, I was so relieved to find that there was nothing to be afraid of at all. They were some of the nicest people I had come across, and made me feel welcome at once. I’d already begun considering myself part of the furniture!
Everything about Chengdu was explained to me clearly by the Projects Abroad member of staff who brought me to the home, and I was already starting to feel more confident about my surroundings, as well as more and more excited about what lay in store for me in the next couple of weeks.
Language lessons in China
On the first official day, we were taken to the Projects Abroad office to be given a crash course on the Chinese way of life, as well as a little Mandarin, and thank goodness for that! Coming from England, I had absolutely no idea what the proper Chinese way of life was, and it’s safe to say that the crash course saved me from embarrassing myself in front of my Chinese colleagues in the law firm.
Learning some Mandarin was especially useful, as it not only helped me in my work experience, but gave me a basic understanding of the complex language, making me more confident about working in a completely Chinese law firm, so that I would not be reduced to having to play charades every time I had to get a point across.
The Law firm
Working in the law firm was nothing short of absolutely amazing! The lawyer working with us did everything in his power to make us feel comfortable, and we were each given our own cubicle – it really felt like we worked there! Being a future law student, I genuinely found this work experience to be most valuable, for the reason that it not only taught me about Chinese law, but taught me to look at things from different perspectives; something I know will help me in my future studies as a lawyer.
We were asked to research famous Chinese cases that had proved to be a turning point in the Chinese judicial system, and then would be called to discuss our findings and points of view in the boardroom. This not only helped me to get my own ideas in order, but also helped me to see how different people think, and the different ways of looking at the singular problem. Learning about different cases was invaluable in enhancing my researching skills and deepened my interest in the law.
As well as this, we were given lectures on different types of law including marriage and business law. These were especially useful as we were given a real insight into the workings of the Chinese legal system, and we were able to compare and contrast the legal systems with that of the countries we originated from. It was interesting to see how different countries would tackle the same kind of crime, and the variation in prison sentencing.
We were taken to lunch with one of the clients of the law firm, as well as given a tour of the plastic surgery hospital he owned. This was especially interesting as we were given the chance to see first-hand how contracts and deals are made between lawyers and clients.
Trips around Chengdu
While I was in Chengdu, I got to experience a lot of the Chinese culture, more so than I would have had I been visiting as purely a tourist. As a group we were taken to see the famous Sichuan opera, an unforgettable show filled with music, dance, comedy and so much more! Although we probably understood a grand total of one word in the whole show, it’s safe to say we thoroughly enjoyed the abundance of traditional Chinese arts.
A few days later we were taken to see the most famous places of Chengdu, warranting many photo opportunities and Kodak moments! Seeing the pandas was probably my most memorable moment, they’re so cute! Afterwards, we visited the traditional Chinese market in Chengdu, which was absolutely beautiful. It was the perfect fusion between the old and the new, and gave us the chance to get amazing souvenirs!
As well as this, our host families did everything in their power to make us feel welcome and immerse us in their culture. My friend Claire and I were taken to a typical Chinese restaurant, famous for its delicacies specific to Sichuan. The food was absolutely delicious, and it was so different compared to the Chinese food I was used to back home – in a good way! Not only this, by the end of the two weeks, I was an expert in the usage of chopsticks.
Next on the agenda was KTV. This was probably my favourite activity in the whole trip, just because it was so different to anything I had seen before, and it helped us bond with our host family so much more. It involved booking a small room with sofas, a table and a large screen, where we could sing our hearts out using the karaoke machine. There were many memorable, amusing and truly spectacular performances that night, and it’s one of the things I miss the most when I think back to my time in Chengdu.
The shopping in Chengdu was brilliant. The large choice of shops and markets made it so worthwhile, and there were many successful shopping trips in my two weeks in the city! With the great variety and low prices, my time away from the law firm was never boring.
Meeting friends for life
By the end of my two weeks, there is no exaggeration whatsoever when I say I was upset to leave. I’d met such amazing people from all around the world, and made memories I’d never forget. It’s been nearly six months since I came back from volunteering in China and I’m still close with many of the people I met, and I’m sure I will still be in touch with them for many years to come.
Going on this trip not only changed my outlook on a career in law, but also opened my mind to so many new experiences and points of view; something I will value for many years to come.