Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia (PMSA)

10 Students from Te Piringa – Faculty of Law visted Hanoi Law University and the HCMC University of Law in Vietnam under the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia (PMSA) in 2017.

The programme, funded by the New Zealand government and administered by Education New Zealand, aims to strengthen ties with Asia and improve the New Zealand tertiary system. Students selected to receive the scholarships must be studying course/programs that are demonstrated to be linked to New Zealand’s education, economic or trade agenda in Asia.

The 6 week trip is focused around the practical study of the Vietnamise law system, interships with local law firms in Hanoi and HCMC, and immersion in the local culture of the area. As part of the program students will also participate in an international moot competition designed to hone the skills learn abroad and during their study at Te Piringa – Faculty of Law

Even though the students have had a packed itinerary – they have had time to share their journey here:

Report week 1:  Hanoi – a strange, alluring, beautiful city of chaos.

We arrived on a Saturday morning after a long, jaded, 10-hour flight. Miss Van (our host) greeted us with a warm smile and plenty enthusiasm. Before reaching our apartments, we stopped in the heart of the city for lunch. This was where we realised we were no longer in Kansas. The streets filled with busy little Vietnamese people, scooters continuously coming from both directions, chaotic noise everywhere and black, thick powerlines loosely twisted together like vines in a forest. It was a relief getting to our apartments. We all have an apartment each down in what they call the “old quarter” of Hanoi. With endless shops, restaurants and salons to keep us well provided for.

This first week of lectures have been really interesting. We’ve touched on Vietnam’s constitution, criminal system and employment laws. The biggest difference we learned about Vietnam’s legal/political system is that because they are civil law, there is no separation of powers – meaning every legal body and person in power answers to the National Assembly (Communist Party). And one thing all lecturers have said about their field of law, is that with no check and balance corruption present. However, with the influence of Western countries, Vietnam is slowly aiming to address this. For example, by recognising human rights as a fundamental right in their constitution in 2013.

The field trips have been even more fascinating! Ha Long Bay was definitely our favourite so far. We had our own boat the entire Saturday and rode along the emerald waters, and through the 1,963 rainforest islands. We caved, we swam, we ate, we climbed the islands and listened to ancient Vietnamese mythologies told by our tour guide.

Report week 3: Learning the legal system – the reality of the difference in legal systems

Monday afternoon provided our best insight into Vietnam’s Court system to date, where we observed a trial at the Long Bien District Court. We witnessed a young male get sentenced to over two years’ imprisonment, for possession of heroin. This was an eye-opening experience, as he had no legal representation and the Judge grilled him with questions and harsh advice before the final decision was made. This highlighted some major differences between how courts operate between our two countries!

Tuesday morning saw us visit the Ministry of Justice, operating in a beautiful building which was once the Russian embassy. A translated discussion between a few officials and ourselves taught us about the role and powers of the Ministry, which are extensive and highlighted some of the key issues Vietnam faces regarding its checks and balances. After a substantial lunch, we attended our final lecture at Hanoi Law University. It was interesting to note how irrelevant and of little importance case law and equity are in Vietnam, compared to New Zealand where they play such a large role in our law.

The remainder of our working week was spent at various law firms around the city, partaking in internships. Our experiences varied, but in general it was great to see a law firm operating whilst completing tasks, presentations, and research. Some of us were lucky enough to experience a daily "all you can eat buffet" for lunch! Overall, the connections we made and the practical experience made for a rewarding three days which should be beneficial to our futures.

Hanoi Law University were kind enough to invite us to participate in their annual tug of war event on Thursday afternoon. All of a sudden, the largest Vietnamese students came out of hiding and made for very tough opposition! We made it to the final round, before being taken down 2-1 by a team which deserved the victory. Nonetheless, it was an exciting afternoon made even better by the arrival of one Andrew Hong who was kind enough to shout us a round of cocktails at the Top of Hanoi Rooftop Bar to conclude a busy week on Friday evening.

Report Week 4 (20th – 26th November 2017)

After a wonderful Sunday learning to make Vietnamese food and teaching our friends to make mince and cheese pie, we looked forward to what our last week in Hanoi would bring.

We were invited to head over to Baker McKenzie law firm on Monday, where we had a brief tour around the firm and a discussion with several of the lawyers.  We returned to Hanoi Law University in the afternoon for a mooting workshop with the mooting club. We shared some mooting experiences, listened to Andrew’s top tips for public speaking and played a few games with our Vietnamese friends! We spent the evening together with our newly-arrived Dean, Wayne Rumbles. He took us out for a beautiful 6-course meal at one of the top restaurants in Hanoi – a culinary experience Obama has enjoyed too!

The mooting competition, in which Talia and Tayla participated, took place on Tuesday. It was a fantastic effort from all three teams – the University of Waikato, Hanoi Law University and Ho Chi Minh City University of Law. Our Waikato girls took out first place – deserving the win after some intense questioning from the arbitrators!

We enjoyed a day at home on Wednesday to prepare for our presentations on Thursday. Although the nerves ran high, we all got through our presentations and questions without any hiccups the following day. We enjoyed revisiting some topics we had learned about throughout our time in Hanoi and sharing our thoughts with the various lecturers who had journeyed with us as we learned about the Vietnamese legal system.

Somewhat unbelievably, we found ourselves back in the conference room on Friday – but this time for our closing ceremony. We listened to several songs and speeches with both appreciation for all the experiences we have had in Hanoi and sadness at the thought of it coming to an end. We sung our national anthem, Tayla and Mike performed a haka and we received our certificates to round off the formalities. Our mugs from Battrang also made an appearance! After a wonderful last lunch with our friends and lecturers, we said our goodbyes and made the journey back to the apartments from the university for the last time. Our evening was spent packing, going out with friends and, for some, shopping at Charles & Keith and a quick visit to the Women’s Museum.

The time had finally come on Saturday for us to say goodbye to the familiar faces, places and hang-outs we’ve come to know and love over the last four weeks. Crossing our fingers that our bags would not be overweight, we boarded our flight to Ho Chi Minh City. The skyscrapers and large shopping malls, the bustling roads and 34oC weather which struck us when we landed was in stark contrast to Hanoi!

Our first full day in HCMC today was a fascinating one spent at the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was really interesting to learn more about Vietnam’s rich history and to see up-close the tunnels and tactics the soldiers used during the war. We even made our way through the small tunnels and then enjoyed our first Saigon meal at the end of the tour! It was a wonderful introduction to the vibrant beauty of the South and we are looking forward to the next two weeks!

Report week 5: Ho Chi Minh - The Economic hub of Vietnam

Monday morning in Sai Gon (the city was originally called Sai Gon in the 1700’s by the local Vietnamese, however was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the Vietnam War - our friends from HCMLU informed us that locals still refer to their city Sai Gon. Our first day at Ho Chi Minh City Law University started with the opening ceremony was at 8.40am and we proceeded to take the short drive to the University campus.

Upon arrival we quickly realised that the facilities at HCMCLU were more modern than Hanoi Law University’s. The opening ceremony was warm and welcoming. We were asked to introduce ourselves on stage. The students performed an array of traditional and pop songs, as well as cultural dances which we hadn’t had the privilege of seeing prior. After formalities we played a quiz game with the students which was a great way to mingle and learn more about each other. Due to our close proximity to the university the bus takes us back to our hotel for lunch before our afternoon lectures.

Our first week of lectures was interesting and informative, consisting of Enterprise Law, Dispute Resolution in Vietnam and Mergers & Acquisitions in Vietnam. These took place Monday to Wednesday.

On Wednesday night Dean Wayne Rumbles booked a boat cruise for the law students on the Saigon River. We were unsure what to expect but everyone was excited in anticipation for the evening. When the bus pulled up at the dock and we saw the cruise boat excitement escalated as the boat looked truly magnificent. The evening was a lot of fun.

On Thursday morning the English club organised an amazing race around the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. We were split into three groups and had to decipher clues in the form of puzzles which provided us with different locations. At each location we had to complete challenges such as, singing Vietnamese songs to locals, solving riddles and playing versions of charades. There were many laughs and embarrassing moments along the way. In the afternoon HCMCLU hosted a talk show which we attended with two lawyers practising in Vietnam which was interactive and also very informative. Michael won a textbook, Introduction to Vietnamese Law, for best question.

Friday morning couldn’t come around fast enough as we were off to Mekong Delta for the night and had been looking forward to this trip since we arrived in Vietnam. The bus ride to the boats took two hours, most of us sleeping on the way. Arriving at the dock at 10.30am we boarded a barge to cross the Mekong. On our first stop we met local bee keepers and tried their bee products. We had beautiful honey tea and biscuits. Apparently what also goes great with tea is a large python. A local women/snake handler extraordinaire let those brave enough hold and take photos with the scaly raptor. We then boarded the barge again to proceed to our next stop, the coconut candy factory, where we got to see how it was made and try the finished product. Not everyone’s cup of tea but a few of us couldn’t walk away without purchasing some to take home. Following the candy tasting we took a short walk past some local stalls to be seated under a well needed shaded area for fruit tasting and live music.

Boarding the barge shortly after to head toward our next stop for our river canoe ride along Mekong River. Bustling with tourists and many canoes darting up and down the river. Once on board the vibe was set with palm trees and water coconut trees forming a tunnel over the river, rowers and passengers alike donned in rice hats made for a scenic and stunning Vietnamese experience. Many photos were taken; not for social media purposes I’m sure. On board the barge again we were set for shore. Thai, our educational and comedic tour guide took us for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. After lunch we were back on the bus heading toward Candho City with a brief stop at the ancient French-inspired house showcasing the original furniture’s. After checking into the hotel we went for a group dinner at a beautiful Vietnamese restaurant that was provided for us by HCMCLU. Lovely end to an action packed day.

Saturday morning was a bright and early start with a brief wakeup call at 5.30am; we sleepily made our way to breakfast, checked out and headed for the floating markets. The sun shining as we boarded another barge and headed out towards the floating markets. Locals sell fruit and vegetables in bulk, often advertising their produce by hanging the item for sale on a post at the hull of the ship. The markets however are not limited to bulk produce, locals make the most of easy access to tourists attending the markets, by pulling up to the barges’ and offering hot and cold coffee as well as a variety of other canned drinks and occasionally food. A few of us enjoyed the service and interactions with the local market goers.

Following the markets we boarded the bus; homeward bound. Stopping half way at Mekong Delta rest stop for lunch. The setting was in beautiful gardens with small ponds, bridges and tropically inspired huts with grass roofs and open walls. Another set menu, we got a variety of food including elephant ear fish and deep fried fish paste on lemon grass sticks. All beautifully presented, however only a few were courageous enough to try everything.

Sunday was the second day we had off during our five weeks in Vietnam so many of us used it to relax and recoup. Members of our group visited the War Remnants Museum. The Museum, in my opinion, has done well to display the raw and unforgiving realities of war. Being faced with some gruesome and detailed displays, this was truly an educationally confronting and sombre experience.

I don’t believe anyone travelling to Vietnam can truly understand what the people have suffered and continue to suffer here, but in an effort to try and comprehend the tragedies of war I would thoroughly recommend this Museum. Here’s hoping humanity can learn from past mistakes and have more compassion and less hatred for one another.
Simone Goldstone