Meet: Viola – exchange student from New Zealand

Bucerius Law School welcomes exchange students from all over the world to Hamburg each fall while its LLB students study abroad.

Education & Study |

What is your home university?

Victoria University of Wellington. 


How is studying different here?

The classes are a lot smaller and there is more interaction with the professor and other students, as well as more focus on technical and practical aspects of the law (e.g. drafting contracts, negotiating, presenting). We were “doing” the law rather than merely learning it for an exam, which solidified a lot of the skills and material we covered.

The structure of classes was also very different; rather than a regular timetable with classes occurring at the same time each week, classes were structured in blocks, sometimes with a whole course being completed in three consecutive eight hour days. It was also possible to take very specific courses, for example one course considered how intellectual property law relates to sustainability and innovation, which I really enjoyed.

Another difference was that my home university still offers online learning and recorded lectures, however, in person attendance is required at BLS and classes are not recorded. Due to the style of teaching mentioned above, I think this makes a lot of sense as students would not get a lot out of a course by simply watching a recording and not participating. Finally, there were a lot of excellent social activities at Bucerius, such as cultural dinners, Christmas parties, and drinks which was a really nice surprise. 


What was the biggest change when you came here?

I found the cultural change to be quite significant; for example, the sense of humour in Germany and New Zealand is very different and the communication style in Germany is more direct.

Germany was a lot more affordable than NZ and of course its location in Europe was a novelty coming from a small island nation that is geographically isolated. I was able to travel to sixteen countries before, during and after my exchange, many of which were in Europe and very accessible with cheap flights and my favourite ride share app BlaBlaCar (which unfortunately we don’t have in NZ!). 


Are you continuing to play soccer here in Hamburg?

I didn’t play for a professional club in Hamburg but I did occasionally join my flatmates in a social league on Monday evenings, which was great fun. However, I did run a lot, which was a great way to explore my local neighbourhood, parks and lakes. 


Why are you working in an environment agency?

I interned at the Environmental Protection Agency after my penultimate year of studies. It aligned with my values of serving New Zealanders and ensuring that we live up to our image as a green and sustainable country. I also wanted to learn more about regulatory law and investigative practices as they relate to environmental protection.

It exposed me to a lot of the nuances that exist in the public service, such as tensions between central and local governments and the importance of relationship managements, and all the hats a regulator wears from proactively educating citizens to advising government departments and ministers to prosecuting large companies for breaching the law. 


How does that connect to your studies? 

It was a fantastic opportunity to see how law is used in real life. I was given a lot of responsibility and my team was extremely supportive; I advised them on an ongoing case we were investigating, including researching, preparing memos, and drafting correspondence.

While I was there, I also prepared some documents for disclosure in the first prosecution the EPA filed. Half a year later, after I’d left my internship, I came across a news article about the case and a ruling in their favour. It was cool to play a small part in a case that set a precedent in the industry and had a broad impact on the environment and wider community. 


Where do you see the biggest challenges in that field?

I think a big challenge for climate change law and environmental protection is the lack of bipartisan support, with a tendency for short-term political motives to override decisive long-term action on climate change. The international aspect also makes it a very complex area of law because it is not enforceable on a global level. International agreements can be abandoned (as Trump demonstrated when he withdrew the USA from the Paris Agreement) nor are we on track to meet the targets we set for ourselves.


How do we tackle that issue in the future?

Bipartisan and international action is important, rather than mere lip service and green washing. NZ recently passed the Zero Carbon Act with support from both major parties which is promising, but it is still unclear whether we will meet the targets we set for ourselves (which also happen to be non-binding).

Economic reliance on exploiting natural resources for profit also needs to be addressed, as well as holding large multinational corporates to account for the environmental damage they cause.

Technology may also play an important role in tackling climate change, for example by reducing agricultural and carbon emissions and developing technologies that counteract global warming.


How do Philosophy and Spanish complement your studies?

Philosophy is useful in many ways; we have looked at logic and reasoning, and how to construct sounds arguments, which is a skill that is fundamental to law. But it also helps me think more creatively as the philosophy behind ethics, knowledge, gender, conspiracy theories, data privacy, and artificial intelligence can all be related to law in some ways, whether this be through a public policy, normative, or socio-economic lens.

Studying Spanish is very different from both philosophy and law, as it is much more black and white i.e. your answer is either right or wrong. It's also quite a fun and interactive subject and a great excuse to travel!


You’ve travelled a lot. What distinguishes Hamburg from other cities?

Hamburg is an extremely well-balanced and liveable city. The cost of living is very reasonable (at least by my standards) and there are plenty of green spaces. It was also nice to have a lake nearby (and subsequently more bridges than London, Venice and Amsterdam combined, as every proud Hamburger will tell you) as I really missed being close to the ocean.

I was also really impressed with the variety of shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. I came to Germany because I love techno, and I was really impressed with the scene in Hamburg. The people were also very open and respectful, and I always felt safe, even when taking the S-Bahn home from Südpol at 7am on a Saturday morning. Hamburg is underrated as a European city, but I hope it stays a bit of a secret to preserve what I like about it most – it is authentic, a bit grungy, and isn’t teeming with (or catered to) tourists. 




Emma Schimmel