Reflections from EBLA: Emily Tang, Jessica Flatters, William Hately & Liam O’Callaghan

Economic and Business Law in Asia, frequently shortened to the appealing acronym EBLA (eh-blah), was a whirlwind of a summer intensive. Taking place over just ten days in December, the intensive was split between six days in Shanghai and four days in Hong Kong. Even though many of the students who went had been to China before, it was a different experience to sit down and learn about Chinese law and society, instead of just roaming the local streets and foraging for food. And for students who hadn’t been to China before, it was new experiences left right and centre.

I know some people might be wondering “What do you actually do on EBLA?” which is a fantastic question. “Economic and Business Law in Asia” isn’t all that descriptive a topic. Essentially, our (sparse) days were structured around classes in the morning, and then miscellaneous educational activities in the afternoon (including visiting a Chinese law firm and local District Court, and having guest speakers from MLS alumni working in Hong Kong law firms). For our classes, we were given a deep-dive into Chinese regulations and business vehicles in the Chinese context, as well as how Hong Kong law interacts with Mainland Chinese law in business. We also had some guest lectures from Jiao Tong University, our partner university in Shanghai, on Chinese securities law and other exciting commercial topics.  

Overall, I would say that EBLA was an amazing ten-day intensive that didn’t feel at all like ten days. We had enough free time at night to experience the cities, their food, and their nightlife, while also gaining an insight on Chinese law and business issues in China that at the very least makes for some interesting dinner conversation. I would highly recommend anyone who’s interested in China – or even just general commercial issues – to consider EBLA as a way to dip your toes in the water. 5/5 stars.

Emily Tang
2nd Year JD Student

I studied a Diploma in Languages in Mandarin, and during my first year of law I felt those many relentless hours of memorising vocab and sentence structures, and those many thousands of dollars, rapidly wasting away from my neglect to continue studying the language post-Diploma. EBLA, for me, was the perfect chance to dust off my limited language skills and try them out in real world situations like asking for directions after getting horrendously lost or attempting to make small talk during taxi rides.

Learning about business practices and attitudes in China during EBLA improved my understanding of Chinese culture in general, and this understanding in turn helped me (mostly successfully) navigate what could have otherwise been quite a culturally-shocking solo-travel experience. Despite studying Mandarin during my undergrad degree, I’d never been to China prior to taking EBLA. This subject proved to be an opportunity for me to pair an exposure to commercial law in Asia with the experience of seeing all the sights I’d been learning how to pronounce for three years.

Following my time with EBLA in Shanghai and Hong Kong (and an itinerary of galleries, museums, bars and markets), I spent the rest of the month travelling in China. In Guilin I came across a small parade celebrating the Republic of China’s 60th birthday as I wandered past rivers and mountains to the colourful Reed Flute Caves. Rock climbing among the incredible mountains of Yangshuo was a definite highlight, as was the touching Massacre Memorial Museum in Nanjing. My transit to Xi’An was interrupted with a delayed flight and hectic stopover in Xining (near Tibet); a real test for my language skills. After finally making it Xi’An, I cycled along the city wall – like that chapter in my Chinese textbook – and tasted some incredible food at the vibrant Muslim Quarter. In Beijing I saw the classic sights, but some highlights would be the Great Wall (of course, but especially going on my own and at my own pace), and the beautiful colours and architecture at the Summer Palace and Forbidden City.

I would recommend this subject to anyone interested in learning more about Chinese language and culture, and how these influence commercial law and practice in China as well as how China interacts with foreigners. I would definitely recommend combining the subject with some travel to other parts of China if circumstances allow, to experience the differences in both language and culture across Chinese cities.

Jessica Flatters
2nd Year JD Student

I knew no Chinese. I knew nothing about commercial law. I knew nothing about China.  From the moment I landed in Beijing airport I was a total fish out of water, sticking out like a very pale 6 ft tall sore thumb. But that’s why I can’t recommend this subject enough, even if you are as completely ignorant as I was, because that made every single day a unique and wild adventure. EBLA was the perfect way to dive into a beautiful and stunning culture, that was nothing like I’d experienced before, and probably somewhere that I wouldn’t have considered visiting either. But I suppose because I was a totally ignorant tourist in a foreign land, I should really just thank the people who made sure I got out alive.

Firstly I’d like to give a shout out to the old man I accosted at a public toilet at 4am after wandering around the streets of Beijing for an hour trying to find my hostel. He spoke no English but I showed him my address and he ran back to his home to get his coat on and walked me the whole 15 minutes to my hostel. A serious legend who saved me from sleeping rough in 0 degrees on my first night, big ups to this man, I wish I could thank him again.

I’d also like to thank the random people that came and went from my hostel dorms, especially the Dutch guy who spoke fluent Chinese. I woke up one morning and this guy just asked me if I felt like coming to the Wall. I said, “yeah, why not, hey,” and he orchestrated the most amazing trip to an obscure, derelict part of the wall that you won’t be finding on TripAdvisor.

Thirdly, Professors Hop Dang and Andrew Godwin ran one of the best taught subjects I’ve ever undertaken at the university. Given their immense combined experience in commercial law in Asian countries, the practical knowledge that I absorbed from them was truly invaluable. Thanks to them, I now understand and appreciate both the challenges and opportunities of working in Asia, and also in commercial law more generally, which I was previously highly sceptical of.

Finally, a big thanks to the other students with much more cultural nuance and experience who showed me the ropes (even if I never fully got the hang of them). EBLA is such a fantastic opportunity to engage with and get to know a diverse group of students with great backgrounds and stories that you can learn from who you might not meet otherwise. I had a lot to learn, and still do, but they taught me a lot, and I can’t thank them enough for sharing the experience with me.

So if you’re considering this subject (and you should be), I’d highly recommend you just go “yeah, why not, hey” and apply, because you’ve honestly got nothing to lose but a hell of a lot to gain.

William Hately
2nd Year JD Student

I had never done an exchange or overseas study trip in high school, undergrad or my first two years of law school. Given EBLA marked my very last subject of the degree, it was fitting that it should be my first overseas study experience and my favourite of the degree.

First, there is the subject itself, taught by Andrew Godwin and Hop Dang – who we soon came to realise are actual giants in the industry as they shared their experience with us. As a budding corporate lawyer, I was fascinated to learn about some of the nuanced differences in how deals and agreements are made under the legal system of the world’s second largest economy. As a former student of history, the ideological basis for the organisation of China’s legal and political system was intriguing, as were our discussions of competition law protecting and facilitating a competitive market economy in what is still (in name at least) a communist state.

Then there is the country itself. I found everyone I met in China to be incredibly friendly and helpful, despite a lack of any Chinese language ability on my part. So much so that I felt comfortable enough to wing it by catching a train from Shanghai to Nanjing on our day off. Though I did not meet any other Western travellers, I really did not need to because the subway system in both cities were so easy and efficient that I quickly lost what little regard I had for Melbourne’s Metro system. Shanghai itself is an amazingly beautiful city (despite smog) and a wonderful place to walk around in.

But let’s not forget the most important part of travel: the food! I think that if you sneak away during a class break to buy a couple of dumplings, which then end up all over your suit jacket, must mean the food has left a positive impression on you. Unfortunately for my classmates who had to suffer me incessantly talking about the dumplings or noodles, that is exactly the impression that food in China left.

In short, EBLA is a fantastic subject. Why it is not as in demand as Global Lawyer or Institutions of Public Law is completely lost on me. I think everyone should consider taking up this unique experience.

Liam O’Callaghan
Class of 2018

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