Summer volunteer in South Africa law


By Douglas Esser
Before he begins his final year as a law, economics and public policy major, Avi Socha is picking up perspective in Cape Town, South Africa, at a nonprofit legal firm called Projects Abroad Human Rights.

The office located in Cape Town provides free legal services. Its goal is to raise awareness of human rights and emphasize the right to legal representation for the indigent. No legal experience is required, but most interns have law-related majors. Socha is one of three Americans among 20 volunteers.

Working with attorneys and paralegals, Socha has been involved in drafting wills, transferring deeds, applying for a disability grant, applying for citizenship and more complex cases such as helping a taxi driver expunge a criminal record so he can drive for a ride-hailing company.

Seeing how a legal system operates builds on Socha’s plan to attend law school after University of Washington Bothell.

“Every day I learn more about the legal field, and almost 85 percent of what I work with here can be applied to American law/law firm operation,” Socha says. “The principles/objectives/mentality, if not the execution, is extremely similar.”

Socha says South Africa is a wonderful and diverse country, but he’s also seen “what a soul-grinding monster government” can be amid high unemployment and poverty.

“My respect for the U.S. system has quadrupled since my arrival here,” he says.

During the two-month program, Socha also is writing weekly essays as part of undergraduate research for Ron Krabill, associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. The research is about national elections, which take place Aug. 3 in South Africa.

Part of Socha's experience is making a network of friends from around the globe. Volunteers stay with a host family and have opportunities to explore and enjoy Cape Town. Meanwhile, the work can be intense, says Socha.

“It’s all hands-on nitty gritty real world legal action,” he says. “The amount of career-vital information I have absorbed is frankly unquantifiable.”

Socha has learned or sharpened skills in summarizing a legal brief, analyzing a scenario and presenting a preliminary course of action. While learning firsthand about the history of apartheid and a diverse culture, Socha tested whether his interest in law is founded.

"Success! I got all those and more," he says, and is sure he is dedicated to the right field.

Opportunities to study abroad or do research abroad are open to UW Bothell students. It's important to consult with the Global Initiatives Office and follow the University’s guidelines for ensuring health, safety and security abroad.

Headquartered in the United Kingdom, Projects Abroad says each year it places 10,000 people who pay for a variety of projects and internships abroad. The organization provides in-country support.

Avi Socha

Photos were taken off the side of Lion's Head, a mountain overlooking the cape.

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