An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Hong Kong internship broadens horizons

Foundation intern Ash Stanley-Ryan describes his first month interning at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC).

I didn't really know what to expect from Hong Kong, or from interning at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC). Both the city and the type of work HKIAC deals with were largely new to me. However, slightly over halfway through my internship, I couldn't be happier with my decision to apply.

Ash Stanely Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre intern

On any given day, HKIAC is full of activity. Disputing parties choose HKIAC because it has a reputation for excellence and professionalism (the views from the hearing rooms help too). I have been fortunate enough to be allowed by one set of parties to briefly observe their arbitration, which was an amazing experience.

The staff come from around the world, with nine languages spoken in the Secretariat, and a tight-knit and collegial environment. The depth of knowledge in the office is both daunting and inspiring.

My work includes organisational governance, finding and selecting arbitrators, the Belt and Road Initiative, engaging with UNCITRAL [United Nations Commission on International Trade Law], and drafting official documents, articles and assessments. 

The sheer scope of issues that arise in arbitration means every field of law I studied at university has been relevant. It's also been a valuable chance to compare other legal systems to New Zealand's, since there's multiple interns from around the world, and to see what makes us unique and what lessons we can learn.

Ash with three other interns

Since interns overlap, there's the opportunity to make close friends. The interns come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. We frequently work on projects together and have formed friendships that exist outside the intern room. This has been one of the best parts of the internship so far, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to meet the people I have.            

Outside of work, I've had the chance to do some more typical touristy things, as well as to see some of Hong Kong's culture and more unique aspects.

On the touristy side of things, the intern team taking a trip to Ocean Park was a highlight. Ocean Park is essentially what you'd get if you combined a zoo and a theme park, then placed it into the middle of an island. HKIAC's staff have also recommended some great activities, including short tramping trails that take you away from the city and surprisingly quickly into dense bush and forest.

A carnival street scene

On the slightly less touristy side, Hong Kong is unique in its anachronisms. On the one hand the city is incredibly modern and essentially comprised of skyscrapers. On the other hand an electric tram still runs the island's length on its original track, heritage Star Ferries are still used, and historic buildings are preserved throughout the city.

It's possible to go from an enormous mall to a wet market within two streets. This preservation of heritage means you essentially have old and new meeting in Hong Kong all the time, and can experience aspects of traditional Hong Kong, British Colonial and modern Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese culture all at once.

I would say that knowing Cantonese would be an advantage if you're considering this internship. Most Hong Kongers have a functional, but not necessarily strong, knowledge of English. It is entirely possible to live here without any Cantonese, and people do, but learning even basic words helps.

This internship has reminded me of something it's very easy to lose sight of, especially in an environment like law school: domestic clerkships are not the only measure of graduate success. They're just one of many options. Opportunities to work abroad – especially in East and South Asia, given New Zealand's involvement in Belt & Road – are incredible chances to broaden your horizons and career options.

Ash Stanley-Ryan is a recent LLB/BA graduate from Victoria University of Wellington. He intends to work in the legal or diplomatic fields on human rights.

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3 July 2018