In our age of globalisation, the pursuit of higher education for students is no longer confined to one’s home country. My experience of a global education has truly been transformative. In particular, the opportunity of studying, teaching, and researching at the University of Oxford has had an immeasurable impact on my professional and personal development to date.
Back in late 2008, while I was working at a law firm in London, I visited an Australian friend in Oxford. She was studying for the Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) degree, one of the most prestigious law Masters programmes in the world. During that visit, I fell in love with Oxford as my friend showed me around the magnificent quadrangles, libraries, and gardens and shared with me the weird and wonderful tales of a place that was so steeped in history. A year and a half later, I returned to the city of dreaming spires as a BCL student at Christ Church (one of the ‘Harry Potter colleges’). I stayed on in Oxford for almost three more years to complete a doctorate in law.
I gained from my Oxford education a passion for lifelong learning and never-ending curiosity about the world. I learned so much from the most brilliant legal minds in the world — my professors as well as my peers. My time in Oxford helped me develop greater self-confidence, a strong sense of purpose, and perhaps most importantly, a truly global outlook. I met so many extraordinary individuals from all corners of the world and from a diverse array of disciplines.
The immense intellectual stimulation I had in Oxford inspired me to pursue a new career in academia. Perhaps the most exciting aspects of being a legal scholar and teacher have been the opportunities to contribute rigorous research and novel ideas to shape critical areas of public debates, as well as to train young lawyers how to think critically about the law, the role of law and lawyers in society.
Earlier this year, it was an honour to be selected as a finalist in the Social Impact category of the British Council Education UK Alumni Awards 2016. A major project that I have been working on over the past two years was recognised at the Awards. The project is a study of the most pertinent legal issues facing an ageing population in Hong Kong (See blogpost: http://elderlawinhongkong.blogspot.hk), which draws on comparative perspectives from the UK and other countries.
The project findings have been incorporated into a course on Elder Law that I have initiated at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It is the first course of its kind to be offered by any law school in Hong Kong. It recently won the Faculty’s inaugural Innovation in Teaching Award. This project has an important knowledge transfer component that seeks to provide relevant legal training for professionals working with older persons, such as health and social workers. It is my hope that this project will contribute to ongoing legal and policy developments at local and global levels that would enable people to grow old in good health, live with dignity and autonomy, and participate as active and full members of society.
I have been very lucky to have the opportunity of returning to Oxford at least once a year as a visiting academic. Having experienced the transformative power of a global education, I actively encourage my students to undertake short-term exchanges during their degrees and consider pursuing postgraduate studies abroad. I have seen the wide-ranging, positive changes in my students’ global outlook, intellectual development, and personal maturity upon their return to Hong Kong.
More than anything, I will always cherish some of the happiest days of my life in that magical place.
Professor Mimi Zou is Associate Director of the Centre for Rights and Justice and Assistant Professor in Law Faculty at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This interview was first published by the British Council.