It’s easy for each chapter of life to develop an airtight routine, which means often you end up only interacting with those at your school or work. Obviously, this isn’t the case for everyone, but certainly if you live in one of the university’s undergraduate accommodation buildings, you tend to see people at the same stage of life and of the same age as you, from university, at home and at work.
One of my friends is a mature student, and she introduced me to a woman who completed all four part II law papers while pregnant and raising a two-year-old. “I thought it would be good for you to meet someone who isn’t the average law student,” she said to me. The point is to remember that for some people, their degree doesn’t consume their lives – it’s just a part of something far more varied. So I thought about who I wasn’tseeing in my everyday environment. It’s important not to live in too insulated a bubble, as you can develop a blinkered perspective. I think tension between values, seeing people at different stages of their life, with different priorities, is excellent for perspective and making you as well-rounded as you can be.
An easy way to get involved in your wider community is by getting a job. Obviously, it depends on what kind of job. During the year, I worked for the Ministry of Youth Development to design workshops between ethnic youth and policymakers, and then ran the workshops in person. I was able to meet people who worked in Corrections, the Ministry of Education, Auckland Council, and a range of youth and high schoolers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, and so on. They spoke about reconciling the often clashing demands of two cultural identities, and policymakers spoke on the information gaps to know what a fair reality actually needs. Hearing people with such different problems to solve and each using a different toolbox to move forwards was so valuable to center my own experience and remember why I was studying law in the first place – to get the right tools and foundations to help people. It’s also great because it shifts some of the attention students devote to themselves (since as students, we only need to worry about ourselves), onto how you can actually help others with the problems they are facing.
One of my friends works in a warehouse precisely because it gives him a sense of perspective, to work with people who come from all over the world, whose priorities are so different to his.
Volunteering is also great. You can join the University Volunteering Club, which runs regular events like cleanups, tree planting, helping at farms, hospitals, and schools.
I volunteered with the Auckland Community Law Center through the law school’s Equal Justice Project. I helped lawyers with legal research, client interviews, and then synthesized those interviews. The clients were people who couldn’t afford legal advice – some were migrants being taken advantage of by their employers, tenants who needed to enforce their rights against their landlords, or people facing domestic disputes. Again, it was so valuable to see how some people’s lives are crippled by problems completely out of their control, and they are left alone or relying on the kindness and availability of others to help them tackle a very intimidating legal or governmental process. It’s so important to not just want to help, but to learn how to.
If you don’t have as much time or availability, there are handouts for homeless people outside the City Library on Sundays, or outside the Ellen Melville Center on Tuesdays.
Also, if there is an organisation you are interested in, or institutions like corrections, healthcare, daycares or preschools, you can always call and ask if they have any casual or part-time positions available, or are in need of volunteers. This is how I have gotten some of my best work experiences. One good way to get to know the professional community of your degree is to attend the conferences, networking events, and careers expos the university runs (you can usually find out about these through your faculty’s newsletters).
As summer is here now, take this as an opportunity to get to know and help your community, and your life outside university! You will most likely find it enriches you just as much, or as more as your studies.