Before coming to study law at the PKU School of Transnational Law, Hannah Getachew lived in England, Canada, France, Kenya, and Beijing among several other places—so needless to say she’s quite used to living ‘abroad.’ Although her list of previous residences is fairly long, the place that she truly calls home is Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a city she describes as very communal and family-oriented. “In some ways it’s a lot like China, there’s a lot of construction. You never know which roads are open and which ones are closed; things look different every day.” Hannah’s words definitely apply to Shenzhen and its rapid thirty-seven years of development, made evident by the construction site within view from our booth at Starbucks.
After studying International Development and Economics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, she backpacked through India for six weeks, and capped off the trip with a two-month internship for the Research Foundation for Good Governance in India. She credits this opportunity as the bridge between her development studies and law school, which she attended afterward at Queen Mary University of London. Hannah has her internships and work experiences to thank for eventually setting her on the path she is on today. Of particular influence was her time spent as a researcher on climate change law and policy at the African Climate Policy Center in Addis Ababa. Though she had previously been interested in the subject, this job experience convinced her to fully pursue international environmental law. Fast forward to the present, where she is currently enrolled in STL’s LL.M. program for one year.
“So far I’ve taken Drafting Bilingual Contracts, East Asian Economic Structures and Cross-cultural Negotiations,” she says of her first completed quarter. While STL has already provided her with a great deal of technical, transferable skills, she was surprised by the personal effect that Professor Ray Campbell’s Cross-Cultural Negotiations class had on her. “That was my favorite class because it had the academic side but it also taught me a lot about myself as a person; it helped me grow in ways I wasn’t expecting.” The course is structured so that after six weeks of theory-based teachings, all students put their newly learned knowledge to practice. Each student is assigned a situation in which they need to represent one side. After a weekend’s worth of preparation, each person negotiates with their partner representing the opposing side of the case. In the following class session, each pair presents on whether or not they reached an agreement. In seeing everyone else’s presentations, students can pinpoint where there is room for improvement and in which areas they were successful. “One week I might be negotiating with someone who was very competitive, or the next week was someone really collaborative, while the week after would be someone who was aggressive.” While the concept of the class can seem daunting at first, the classroom is nothing but friendly and encouraging. “I saw a difference at the end [of the course]—I’m better at putting my foot down when the situation calls for it. It’s a supportive atmosphere.”
Despite having only been in Shenzhen for three months (at the time of interview), she has acclimated well to life in China, but that isn’t to say it was a simple transition. “I think my experiences at the start of it and now are completely different. It was a big adjustment: coming to Shenzhen and getting my life together, understanding the academic curriculum, and sorting out my group of friends.” With the help of her student host and Campus Advisor, Kelly Kou (a 3L student at STL), she adjusted to her new life in Shenzhen smoothly. From language barrier issues to navigating the vast expanse that is Taobao (China’s answer to an eBay/Amazon equivalent), she says that for “everything and anything that comes up here, [Kelly] is so supportive and that makes a real difference.”
As for her international student peers, she finds it easy to connect with others no matter where they are from due to a few shared personality traits, including being open-minded and adventurous. “There’s this community of individuals that see the world in the same way, which you wouldn’t necessarily have somewhere else,” adding that because everyone has uprooted their lives and moved to China, it’s easy to quickly form close bonds with others.
As our chat comes to an end, I ask Hannah about what the future looks like for her. She explains that she would like to stay in China after completing her program in June. She has her eyes set on Beijing, a city she fell in love with during a stint at Peking University for an intensive language course. Eventually, she would like to work on issues of international environmental law in the field of South-South development and multi-national treaties, fulfilling her goal of being an environmental lawyer.
To learn more about the PKU School of Transnational Law and its program, please see the official website here.