This summer, I served as a legal intern for the International Justice Mission at one of its field offices in Chiang Mai, Thailand. IJM is a faith-based nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., with 17 offices in Africa, Latin America, south Asia and southeast Asia. IJM works with local justice systems around the world by conducting collaborative casework to strengthen these systems, protect the poor from violence and combat slavery.
When I first learned about this organization as a freshman in college, I considered the unique capacity a law degree provides those who seek to defend human rights and catalyze global change. In that moment, decided to pursue law school. I was struck by the global epidemic that is modern-day slavery, and it has since been a dream of mine to work with IJM. I was honored to fulfill this dream by spending eight weeks serving in Chiang Mai, and I am certain my experiences will continue to shape my legal career for years to come.
After taking various international law and human rights classes at OU Law, I was thrilled to use my knowledge in a real-world setting in a way that made a tangible impact. Following a week-long training at headquarters in Washington, D.C., I flew to Chiang Mai to join the office, which consisted of approximately 30 Thai staff and five interns and fellows.
Our office focused on two types of cases: citizenship rights and child sexual assault. There are several hill tribes in northern Thailand whose members are legally entitled to Thai citizenship, but do not have it due to a complex and bureaucratic registration system, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. IJM advocates for the quicker processing of citizenship applications and conducts trainings to ensure hill tribe people receive the protections they are legally entitled to. IJM also works alongside the Royal Thai Police to combat sexual assault by bringing victimized children to safety, providing them counseling and restoration services, and prosecuting the perpetrators of sexual abuse.
While in Chiang Mai, I was also given the opportunity to research other human rights issues impacting northern Thailand, such as the human trafficking and forced labor of refugees and migrants. I explored relevant treaties, Thai statues and the Thai justice system, and wrote proposals regarding potential opportunities for improving the current situation. I also traveled to Mae Hong Son, Thailand, to participate in World Refugee Day and met with other NGOs located in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, Thailand, to discuss their work surrounding migration and forced labor.
Besides the incredible experience of gaining on-the-ground exposure to the human rights field, equally as enriching was the opportunity to work alongside Thai staff, learn about Thai culture and explore the natural beauty of northern Thailand. It was a privilege to get to know the staff, learn about their language, foods, indigenous culture and hear the stories that led them to choose a career with IJM. Thai culture is incredibly kind and welcoming, and it was difficult to leave the friends I made by the end of the summer. I also enjoyed hearing about the differences in law school, the legal profession and court proceedings from the Thai lawyers, and even got to sit in on a sentencing, though I didn’t understand a word.
On the weekends, I loved exploring the mountains around Chiang Mai, hiking, visiting temples and finding waterfalls. The food was delicious, and I enjoyed trying it all. I even learned to make a few dishes at a Thai cooking class. Perhaps the greatest adventure was learning to drive on the left side of the road and navigating my motorbike through traffic to and from work every day. Although my time in Thailand was brief, I truly felt immersed in the culture and enjoyed every minute of it.
This internship opened my eyes to see the real people whose human rights are at risk when justice systems don’t function properly. I could not be more grateful for the generosity of OU Law and the donors who made it possible for me to spend my summer in Chiang Mai and fulfill a dream I have had for some time.
I am proud to attend a school that sees value in providing students with cross-cultural experiences and allows them to spend a summer not only gaining legal experience, but also using their legal education to serve. I know that this experience has helped me to grow as a person and a future lawyer. I will surely carry the experiences of this summer with me as I begin my legal career.
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