An international perspective on law
In part two of the Undergraduate Laws Scholarship this year, Alicia Tan Shu Qi currently studies at SOAS, University of London in Bloomsbury. SOAS is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Tell me about a bit about yourself and your education journey? I’m from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I did Cambridge GCSE and Cambridge A-levels. I took up the LLB degree at the Brickfields Asia College (BAC) teaching centre. I am passionate about English poetry, art and law.
What influenced you to study in the LLB and why did you choose the University of London (UoL)? It was a personal choice for me do a law degree. After some research on the syllabus, the prospectus and potential career prospects, I chose UoL because the programme offers wide coverage on different topics in law and I will get increased exposure to modern legal issues.
At the same time, it is an international degree, well recognised across the globe in many commonwealth jurisdictions. It gives a global perspective on legal issues, and how law develops to suit societal needs.
How did you feel winning the scholarship has benefited you as a student and as a person? I was really shocked when I found out I had won the scholarship. I really couldn't believe my ears even though I applied for it.
I get to study where Common Law was born and it is the closest I can get to my own subject. It really changes my career prospects. I could have taken the Malaysian bar. Now I am offered the opportunity take up the UK bar. Being here I can get all the materials and information about the Inns of Court, my college offers many opportunities to find out more.
Alicia has only spent a month in the capital and is already investigating the art galleries. She has seen Picasso and Monet at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. I asked her about the best part of academic studies at SOAS. The best part is they don't really just offer a Eurocentric prospective on law. SOAS shows all kinds of perspectives, such as how colonialism shaped public international law, and how a feminist perspective can encourage interstate comity. I would say it is a very good centre for comparative legal study.
You studied at a teaching centre in Malaysia, how does that compare to studying here, are there differences? Well I am encouraged to explore my own subject in a freer manner and I was prescribed extra reading to further my knowledge in a certain area. I would say it is different to the approach back home. Here we are also encouraged to speak up and provide our own perspectives and tutors encourage active participation in classrooms and I also get feedback from all my peers on my work. So instead of benefiting from just one perspective in answering exam questions, I get the help of all of my peers in doing so. It is really different.
How do you prepare for your lectures, what advice are you given before that is helpful? Lecturers compose a weekly orientation guide which highlights the core reading for the lecture and recommended reading for tutorials. In the lecture itself, the lecturers lay out the general framework of the law as well as the grey areas of law that are very important for the argument. They also set out the possible aspects for the future development of law. Especially for tort law, my lecturer tells us all about the historical developments of how this area of law has changed and transcended into a new form in this modern era. And the lecturer usually ends the class with a question. ‘What do you want the law to be like in the future, and what is your take on this issue?’
What is the most rewarding part of your studies, the really great bit? Hard to say, I take part in the tutorials and I actually get rewarded for my work. I do my work in advance and get to share with rest of the class. I get really good feedback from the tutors as well and they point out all the extra stuff that I could add into my essay to improve it.
For me, the best part of my studies is the whole journey from understanding the basics to discovering what's beyond those horizons; how would this affect the future and should there be any improvements made to the current law?
How would you rate the level of support, and that can include access to materials, resources so far in your first month? I think the support is really good. Along with the materials on the Moodle, they have discussion forums as well. So if you have any questions after class you can post a question and your lecturers and peers will guide the session.
The person posting the discussion forum offers his point of view and other students talk about their points of view the next day, and the lecturer will also offer direction. It is a helpful guide.
I balance between using the University of London resources and my own text books so I merge them together. It really gives you, how do you say, a full perspective of everything so you don't leave any gaps out.
The SOAS librarians conduct interactive sessions on how to do legal research on UK law together with other Asian and African countries, as well as sessions on using specialised citation software. The librarians are very professional and they can provide really accurate advice as to where to find materials that are relevant to your point of research.
Do you get asked about your career prospects at this point? Yes, every student is assigned a personal academic advisor to advise on career and study progress. My academic advisor is part of the academic circle of the Inner Temple, hence I get valuable advice.
Recently my academic advisor and I discussed the differences in law careers in Malaysia and the UK. I found out all the training contracts and vacation schemes in the UK are more suited to solicitors. My advisor gave me some insight as to which programmes are offered by the Inns of Court, and what they offer in terms of if you want to become a barrister. They actually offer meetings with universities, as well as how to get referrals.
Are you working or doing any societies or volunteering? I have joined the Law Society, The Bar Council and I'm really interested in International Lawyers Without Borders. They are more focused on laws relating to human rights, environmental protection and even animal trafficking.
Alicia has a particular interest in the law on animal trafficking, I asked her to elaborate on that. Yes, it interests me quite a lot. Animal trafficking is an area of law that spans between a few countries, and internationally as well and it effects our environment. Animals must be protected, they are vital to the foundations of our increasingly fragile ecosystem.
Do you have any advice for students who want to study via distance learning? Well, it is actually simple. You get all the materials you need, but you must always follow these. Follow the subject guides and definitely attend your lecturers and tutorials. Most of the time the lecturers of the tutorials put into context what you are about to learn. So prepare before classes and once you go to the class you will be able to absorb everything that the teacher gives you. If you wish to deepen your knowledge on a topic, refer to the reading list in the subject guide. Most of the reading materials are available in the online library.
What is your plan going forward in your studies? I am in my second year till June 2020. Then there is a three month break in which I am looking for volunteering opportunities. I applied for Detention Action which supports people in immigration detention. I have to translate Mandarin into English for the immigration detainees. At the same time, I will take some time during the break to study for my modules next year.
Would you recommend studying the LLB through the University of London? I definitely recommend it. You get a lot of support from the University itself. Despite being so far away you get all the reading materials online and you get recorded tutorials and videos of what is the module is all about.
That is not all. To accommodate the research interests of students for coursework or further reading in a specific module, the library has subscriptions to many online journals and e-books. When I was doing my research on the Islamic courts of Israel, I managed to find articles from the Israel Law Review using my UoL student portal login, which was really a pleasant surprise for me at that time.
It is a real privilege to be with the University of London, I really would like to say thank you, to give my gratitude to Undergraduate Laws for offering me the scholarship. This has become one of the most beautiful memories of my life.