First-year LLM student at the School of Transnational Law (STL), Victor Contreras Kong, has a law degree and a license to practice in his home country Chile. But if you ask him to talk about the most important school day of his life, you are likely to receive a surprising answer—the day he was rescued from the classroom:
“I was 12. I was at school one day super bored sitting in class. I didn’t want to be there, and a guy comes in and asks who wants to go to see a presentation on the field.” Naturally, when offered an escape, he took it.
The teenage Victor was dreading another few hours in school, and probably thinking another six years to high school graduation would be impossible. But now, he was happily headed out to the field. Unknowingly taking his first steps to becoming the man who would go on to pursue what is already nearly a decade of higher education.
The visitor was a fencer from the Chilean Fencing Federation, there to recruit new students. It was Victor’s first time seeing fencing in real life, and he’s been hooked ever since. Before long, he also discovered that the more he stuck with fencing, the more he was pushing himself forward in his schooling.
As his competitions got bigger and bigger, so did his exams. By his last year of law school at Universidad de Chile, he had competed in multiple World Cup fencing tournaments. Nevertheless, he was about to face the most difficult test of his life, his final oral examination for law school. It is the biggest barrier between those who are and are not qualified to practice law in the country. Final year law students in Chile spend the entire year preparing for this exam. After all that work and studying, when they enter the classroom to take the exam, many are not able to handle the pressure. “There are a lot of stories of people puking from nerves and stuff,” Victor said, “I was kind of nervous, but I’m used to nervous.” He’d learned to handle his nerves through countless competitions. Bout after bout, he was picking up skills that were crossing over into the classroom, like speed, precision, and focus— also essentials to academic success.
Perhaps the most important skill, one he concedes he is still working on, is balance. Victor has never desired to choose one of his passions over the other. He couldn’t really remember when he got the idea to become a lawyer, he just recalls, “It’s like always been there since I was a kid.” He now aspires to gain enough expertise to work at the World Trade Organization or specialize in intellectual property and assist startups. It was when another dream of not just being good at fencing but reaching the Olympics appeared that things got complicated. Only a master of balance, in both the literal and figurative sense, would succeed in accomplishing both. So, for his graduate studies, he needed a city where he could pursue excellence in law and fencing.
Because of his global interests, according to Victor, the LLM program at STL really stood out: “It’s a well-recognized program, not just in China but all over the world. A lot of international enterprises put their eye on it.” Victor wasn’t mistaken; last academic year the percentage of STL graduates employed following graduation was an impressive 97.8%. He wasted no time pursuing those global interests upon arrival. His classes for the first semester included International Intellectual Property Law, International Business Transaction Law, and European Law.
Even more intriguing, STL provided an opportunity to live in and learn about China. Without really knowing why, Victor says he felt drawn to the country: “I wanted something different.” Later in the conversation, he added, “First, they are a major partner in trade with Chile. So for being a lawyer, this is super useful. And also, not just the job part. Just to live in a different country is super cool.” Victor enthusiastically explained that he even found out about a scholarship offered by the Chinese Government, “I applied for the scholarship at the [Chinese] Embassy…and I got it. So, of course, I had to take it!”
As one would expect, he’d done his research and knew that Shenzhen had recently opened an impressive new fencing club. For those wondering, it’s located in the CR Shenzhen Bay Sports Center; a massive complex, which also boasts football, table tennis, badminton, archery, swimming, basketball, art and music schools, Starbucks, and an upcoming performance by Fallout Boy.
Victor didn’t quite know what to expect moving to China with never having been here, but things are going rather smoothly. He is teaching and training at the fencing club, finishing up his second semester of law courses, and accumulating victories in competitions, like his 1st place finishes in the solo and team categories of the South American Fencing Championships. Victor is now the highest ranked fencer in Chile and ranked in the top 100 for his category in the world. His dream is that in 2020 he will have obtained his LLM and be on his way to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
When asked the big questions like: “What next?” “Why fencing?” or “Why law?”, you can sense Victor hasn’t fully formed his answers. He is a lawyer and fencer by nature; these passions propel him forward. He doesn’t want to stop, look back, and be pinned down or neatly defined. Fencers only look back when the action has stopped.
Written by: Nathan Faber