Arrival in Canada
On September 6, 2018, my family from Thailand (my wife, my two daughters— 4 and 7 years old— and I) landed in Vancouver International Airport, British Columbia, Canada with full excitement. It is the first time that my family traveled abroad together, and the first time we visited Canada with a plan to stay here for four years. I chose the University of Victoria for my Ph.D. study because the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law (UVic Law) has an excellent graduate program on Law and Society that matched well with my interests. An additional reason is that I got an excellent two-year financial support offer from the Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship program, managed by the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI), that made it possible for me to come and stay here.
Today, it is about one year since the first day of my participation in the Law and Society program; it was an exciting and productive year. Throughout last year, UVic Law and CAPI, through their diverse and fascinating activities, helped me to start my academic life with a strong foundation.
Entering to Law and Society Scholarship
UVic Law and CAPI have exposed me to a variety of scholarship that I have never experienced and significantly broadened my academic horizons. UVic Law provides comprehensive curriculum to their graduate students that introduces them to a vast body of literature that extends beyond traditional legal scholarship. For example, last year, in my Graduate Seminar in Law and Society class, students were assigned to read three provocative articles for a class discussion every week. As such, I have gotten to know a large body of inspirational writings such as “The Problem of Theory” written by Elizabeth Grosz, “Anxious Reconciliation(s): Unsettling Foundations and Spatializing History” by Brenna Bhandar, “Society Must Be Defended” by Michel Foucault, “Sovereignty and Enclosure” by Wendy Brown, “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age” by Nancy Fraser, and “Another Angelus Novus” by Boaventura de Sousa Santos. These kinds of works have shifted me from a positivist perspective to a healthy and diverse ways of studying. In addition to the comprehensive curriculum, I have benefitted from a lot of interesting public seminars hosted by UVic Law, such as a colloquium on the topic of “Solidarity, not charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival,” a public talk on “The Constitution of Environmental Emergency, and Unsettling Racial Regimes of Ownership.”
CAPI has also organized many academic events that have exposed me to intriguing issues related to the Asia Pacific region. For example, I attended a public seminar on the “Economic Re-emergence of Asia Pacific Rim” to learn about the prominent roles of Asian countries in a current global economic development. I participated a public talk on “Islam, Law, and the state in the Modern World,” “Democratization, governance, and reform in complex political environment: The Case of Malaysia” to understand Malaysian politics before and after the election. I also attended public seminar on “The Huawei Case & Canada-US-China Relations” to know more about heated relationship between the US, China, and Canada. Finally, I attended a public talk on the “Plight of the Relational Self: Injury, Law, and Modernity in Thailand and the US” to understand the relationship between law and modernity in my country and the US. These exciting activities widened my knowledge about the relationship between law and society in Asia.
These kinds of interdisciplinary academic activities have introduced me to new areas of knowledge and theory as well as many innovative methods to study law and legal texts. These new theories and approaches have broadened my understanding of the relationship between law and society in a way that I have never comprehended before attending this program.
Connecting to Environmental Lawyers
In addition to widening my understanding about law and society, UVic Law and CAPI have connected me to scholars and practitioners in my field of interest—public interest environmental law— that has enriched my research project. I decided to come to UVic Law because of its reputation for Law and Society research, but I had no idea about who were experts in public interest environmental law. UVic Law connected me to Professor Deborah Curran, an expert in environmental law in British Columbia. Deborah had practical experience by practicing environmental law for many years. Currently, she teaches environmental law at UVic Law as well as being the executive director of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre (ELC), which provides free legal services to disadvantaged people navigating environmental issues. Combining theoretical and practical knowledge, Deborah has become a well-fitted supervisor for my research on the impact of public interest environmental lawyers in the development of environmental rights. The program also connected me to Calvin Sandborn who is a prominent public interest environmental lawyer in British Columbia who has practiced law as public interest environmental lawyer for many years. Currently, he is the main lawyer at the Environmental Law Centre. I learned a great deal of public interest environmental law by taking his class and doing an internship at ELC.
Furthermore, UVic Law and CAPI have re-linked me to the community of public interest environmental lawyers—Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW)— by providing me opportunities to participate in a meeting and a conference hosted by ELAW. ELAW is a large community of international public interest environmental lawyers—more than three hundred advocates in eighty countries all over the world— that come together to support each other to protect the ecology. I used to participate in this community many years ago but lost connection because of distance and budget issues. However, this year I joined its annual meeting to exchange ideas about public interest environmental issues such as climate change lawsuits, plastic law reform, human rights defenders, and indigenous rights movements. This meeting helped me to see the broader context of my project and exposed me to many useful sources for my research.
Through UVic Law and CAPI, I have a supervisor who is an expert in my field and I have re-connected to the large community of public interest environmental lawyers who work on issues related to my own research. These two factors have helped me to begin my research smoothly.
Developing Skills and Engaging with Academic Communities
Finally, I had opportunities to develop crucial scholarly skills through engagements with scholarly communities. Throughout the last year, I engaged with academic societies and have gradually become a member of these communities. Under my supervisor, I developed my writing skills by attending a monthly writing workshop where I have presented my short papers to colleagues as well as provided comments to their works. This series of workshops has significantly improved my academic writing skills. It also introduced me to the environmental law community at UVic Law.
Furthermore, I have had opportunities to develop my public speaking skills by presenting my research at different conferences. For example, in February I presented my initial research at a public interest environmental law conference organized by the University of Oregon’s Faculty of Law. At this conference, I, for the first time, presented my paper, “The Role of Public Interest Lawyers and Environmental Rights,” in a formal setting to audiences from different backgrounds. From the audience members’ comments, I recognized my paper’s weaknesses and revised some critical points. Later, I had an opportunity to present my revised paper at another conference. This time, I presented my paper to law and society scholars and law students at Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law in Bhutan. During my presentation, I could notice from audience members’ responses that my paper was stronger than the previous version. I had productive conversations with the attendants and got many comments and suggestions that I could use to improve my essay.
These activities helped me to advance my scholarly skills as well as linking me to academic communities. I am aware that I am at the beginning of my career, but I am confident that my skills and my research can contribute to improving these scholarly communities.
Preparing for the Next Exciting Year
I started my first year at UVic with cheerful spirits. Throughout the year, I developed a firm foundation for my academic career. This foundation is a result of the comprehensive curriculum, and robust scholarly activities provided my UVic Law and CAPI throughout the year. Through a variety of academic activities and connections, I have significantly broadened my knowledge horizons, gotten to know experts in my field, have had opportunities to foster my academic skills, and have gradually become part of varied academic communities. It was intensive year but a productive one that prepared me for the next exciting year.
Songkrant “Kan” Pongboonjun is completing a PhD in Law at the University of Victoria through CAPI’s “Regulating globalization in South and Southeast Asia” project, which has the goal of “activating a dynamic community of young global leaders around the world to conduct interdisciplinary research on innovative governance and justice strategies to mitigate the harsher effects of economic globalization in South and Southeast Asia.”
About the funder:
The Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES) is managed through a unique partnership of Universities Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and Canadian universities. The QES-AS is made possible with financial support from IDRC and SSHRC.