September 21, 2022, by Rebekah

Global Placement Grant – Legal Practice Internship in Valencia, Spain.

by Emily Birkett, Law student 

I had the wonderful opportunity this summer to travel to Valencia and work alongside a Spanish criminal lawyer thanks to Euroace; an organisation offering cultural exchange projects in partnership with International Volunteer HQ, the world’s largest volunteer travel organisation. During my two weeks there, I also met people on many other programs from all over the world and lived with a Spanish host family.

The interview process wasn’t too difficult. It helped that I had (and still do have) such a passion for the degree that I am doing, and I’m sure this stood out clearly in my interview answers. I did have to pay a lot to secure the internship, which without the University Global Placement Grant scheme (now reopened after Covid-19!) I would not have been able to do. I definitely advise reaching out to the University for any help they may be able to offer, as well as fully researching the organisation and type of work that your internship will entail.

The life of a lawyer can quickly be summed up into three words: Coffee, efficiency and stress, and maybe a little more coffee if time allows! Most days we were travelling to up to four different courtrooms or police stations and dealing with sometimes six different cases at a time. My role was to listen and translate the facts of cases from Spanish to English, as well as advise and speak to the defendants before and after their trial. Having not studied Spanish since GCSEs, I was surprised at the speed at which I was able to pick up new words and phrases. Duolingo was an advantage (I recommend downloading it on your phone at least a month or two before you go), although being surrounded by the language at all times, especially living with a family that spoke little to no English, it was vital and necessary to learn as much as possible. I kept a notebook to write new and important words I came across with me at all times.

When the accused are in the holding room, their nationality is recorded and if needed, an interpreter is provided. There was a chance for each statement to be translated into English before it was brought before the Court, but this had to be done quickly. Some cases were inevitably sad, patterned with themes of desperation, hopelessness and occasionally a feeling of injustice. However, in order for any society to thrive there must unfortunately be both consequences of our actions and standards to be adhered to.

Of course, there is always time to be a tourist, and when I was not needed for work I was doing as much of that as possible, such as climbing the steps to Peniscola castle, drinking sangria on the beach, watching a flamenco show one evening and even spending the day at the Oceanografic, Europe’s largest aquarium. Euroace did offer me five free Spanish classes too, which were actually very fun, and gave me the chance to get to know other interns!

A top tip to think about is the cultural differences you may experience whilst you are there. My Spanish host family were occasionally difficult to live with and the language barriers were more than just apparent, which meant I relied heavily on Google translate. Mealtimes were inconvenient; the Spanish lunch being eaten at around three o’clock in the afternoon, a siesta after that when all the shops would close, and then dinner sometimes not until eleven o’clock at night. I had to keep a bag of snacks with me to keep me going, and often lost my appetite and was ready for bed by the time dinner was served. Even the youngest children, aged 7 and 10, often didn’t go to bed until two in the morning! Despite this initial culture shock, I eventually grew more accustomed and was able to adapt to some degree as the days progressed.

There are so many benefits to doing an internship abroad. I feel like I have gained a level of adaptability I can evidence and that not many other law applicants will be able to demonstrate. I also have the ability to grapple with other languages and travel overseas now completely on my own. For law in particular, you need to be able to keep up with instructions and a lot of information at once, which having to translate everything at the same time into English as well as understand the facts of a case has taught me to do.

My internship has put a spin on where I would like to be after university and narrowed my focus on the kind of work I want to be part of. For me, I will never really have the chance to be involved in this kind of experience ever again, and I am so glad I decided to do it, against all my apprehensions and concerns. For anyone still not sure where they want to be after they graduate, or even those needing a reminder of why they chose their degree in the first place, seeking work experience abroad is one of the best choices to make, and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

As the Spanish would say, “Buena suerte!”

Posted in Global Placement Grant