Christine Wan from Taiwan grew up as a third culture kid speaking English and Mandarin at home, and English exclusively at her American international school. It’s hardly surprising why her higher education journey would take her abroad to the University of Edinburgh.
What started out as friendly banter among friends that she should become a lawyer because she loved to argue led to a genuine fascination with the discipline. Today, she’s juggling two jobs on top of her studies and plans to qualify as a solicitor in Scotland or join a law firm in London after she graduates.
Below she shares her experience as a law student at the University of Edinburgh so far and how she keeps up with her roles as a LawPALS student leader, her jobs, as well as her studies:
Walk us through your interest in law — what’s the story behind this?
When I was a junior looking to apply to uni, my first choice of major was graphic design. Art has always been a passion of mine and I wanted to pursue a career in this.
However, after assessing my options, I decided against it because I wasn’t confident I would be able to maintain my interest in art throughout uni. I’ve had friends that joked that I would be suited for a career in law because I love to argue.
What started as off-handed remarks led to a genuine fascination with the discipline. I started watching YouTube videos of high profile cases with many plaintiffs being household names.
I liked the critical thinking aspect and the “what ifs” that many legal cases engage with. Simply put, I thought “why not” and gave it a shot.
What made you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland?
Coming from an American international school education in Taiwan, I was dead set on going to the US. However, after looking into the length of a legal career there (not to mention the extortionate costs to study), I considered cheaper and more efficient alternatives in the UK.
I listed five unis in the UK and the only one in Scotland was the University of Edinburgh. After viewing my acceptances from both the US and the UK, I chose Edinburgh because of the city’s rich history and the uni’s prestigious law programme.
Although I was keen on accepting my offer at UC Berkeley, I thought it was too much of a gamble for me. My father had PhD friends who studies at the University of Edinburgh and that gave me the extra push to finalise my decision to study there.
What if you studied law at a local institution? Would it have made a difference?
Studying at a local institution in Taiwan was never really an option for me. I grew up as a third culture kid so I never felt like I completely belonged to the Taiwanese community.
I spoke English and Mandarin at home and spoke English exclusively in school. I grew up around American born Chinese people so a lot of my mannerisms are deemed too western for local Taiwanese people.
If I studied at a local institution, it would have been a huge step out of my comfort zone to challenge my language skills beyond casual conversations. But, I could definitely see myself becoming more comfortable speaking Mandarin and getting more acquainted with those from a local background.
You’re keeping busy with your studies and more. Tell us about your role as a LawPALS student leader.
Every first-year law student is assigned a LawPALS group where two leaders teach weekly sessions to demystify the legal curriculum. Some of our sessions include Approaching Legal Essay, Preparing for Exams and Future-Proofing Your Career.
Although it seems like students come to get tips and tricks on how to ace their academic work, I think the most appealing factor is hearing from seniors about their experience in law school. A lot of them worried about their performance and didn’t know what to expect.
I found that in the programme the most rewarding. There are not as many international students compared to Scottish students but those from an international background come from all different corners of the world.
With responsibilities like your ambassador roles at Rate My Placement and Dentons, is this hard to juggle with your studies?
My job at Rate My Placement is a lot more laid back because I am paid on a commission basis. I can pick up tasks at my own pace and I have found that very manageable.
On the other hand, my role as campus ambassador at Dentons is a lot more demanding. I have online engagement targets to meet while I balance my internship applications and school work.
I think the Dentons Campus Ambassador role has by far been the most rewarding as I’ve gotten to talk directly with trainees and graduate recruitment to get a feel for a law firm culture.
Are your teachers at the University of Edinburgh supportive?
Even before the pandemic, I’ve not really interacted with my professors outside of class. But at the University of Edinburgh, I was allocated my dissertation supervisor and my second-choice topic (which I wasn’t too keen on).
To add salt to my wounds, my supervisor wouldn’t respond to my emails or meet up with me. After two weeks of struggling to communicate with him, I went to the administration to see if I could get a more experienced person to supervise my topic.
What do you plan to do after graduating?
Currently, I’m applying for graduate jobs with various law firms in the hopes that they will sponsor my Graduate Diploma in Law and provide two years of training so I can become a solicitor in Scotland.
Another route I’m considering is joining a firm in London (but that seems miles away). I think this degree will adequately prepare me with the transferable skills I need to be a critical thinker.
We need to know about the food. What’s it like compared to home?
Most people studying abroad would say food is incomparable to home. My favourite place in Scotland is a Taiwanese bubble tea and rice wrap shop called Tebi Island — affordable and delicious.
A close second is Noodle Home which is a Chinese restaurant with the best “Lanzhou noodles” (hand-pulled beef noodles) and lamb skewers. My least favourite would be any restaurant that overcharges for basic home-cooked meals like sweet and sour chicken and fried noodles.