Alumni story: Cathryn Neo
Cathryn Neo moved from Singapore in 2012 to study a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at the University of Tasmania (UTAS).
When picking a place to study, Tasmania was at the top of Cathryn’s list. She said it was the lure of nature being on her doorstep that first attracted her to this Australian state.
“I always choose nature over the city anytime, and so the draw of being able to immerse myself in a completely different lifestyle, while studying for my law degree, was a huge pull factor,” she says.
While studying at UTAS, Cathryn was fortunate to represent the university in the annual Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, held in Canberra. The competition involves law students competing against one another to address timely issues of public international law, giving them an opportunity to improve their oral and written advocacy skills. This, combined with having excellent university mentors, is what gave Cathryn the drive to pursue international trade law.
Cathryn says, “A lecturer at the university who was well-versed in international law encouraged and supervised me in my honours research paper. Another lecturer gave me the opportunity to work with him on his research relating to ombudsmen”.
Cathryn believes that these experiences are what helped to shape her into the lawyer she is today, and she still applies all her learnings from UTAS to her day-to-day work as an international disputes lawyer.
While studying in Tasmania, Cathryn wanted to be part of the community as much as possible. She was involved in UTAS’s Student Legal Service (a free service that offers legal advice to Tasmanians) as well as the UTAS Law Review, which gave her the opportunity to meet many practising academics from around the state. She also worked as a student tutor, which she says helped to keep her in touch with the international student community.
“Being an international student myself, I was able to relate well to the struggles faced by many international students in their law modules, and was happy to be able to guide and mentor my juniors in this regard,” she says.
She worked part-time in a local restaurant, where she mingled with locals and tourists alike, sharing her love of Tasmania. And in any spare time she had, she travelled around the state, taking in as much as she could.
“I would go on nature hikes around the state, and was very lucky to have the opportunity to personally witness an aurora australis – dancing southern lights that are much harder to catch in other parts of Australia,” she says.
After finishing her degree, Cathryn returned to Singapore to become qualified as an advocate and solicitor. She also completed the Australian solicitor qualification online and became dual-qualified. Because of this, she was given the opportunity to practise as an international arbitration lawyer in an international law firm.
Cathryn says, “I was very lucky to be able to keep my Australian connections in some sense, as the firm I am in has numerous offices in Australia. I have been able to therefore apply what I learnt in both Singapore and Australia in my time [here]. My role also requires me to work alongside my counterparts in other parts of the world, such as London, Indonesia and China”.
Cathryn is so happy with the study experience that Tasmania offered her. She wouldn’t hesitate to recommend travelling to the island state to other students who might be wondering where to study in Australia.
“Give Tasmania a shot, especially if you come from a cityscape like Singapore. Immerse yourself in the student activities and make friends beyond your academic peer group in your faculty. Take the time to help the community and give back, because you gain so much more,” she says. “Having lived in Tassie for my three-year degree, I know I made the right decision. Tasmania and its untouched beauty and serenity will always have a place in my heart – I hope to retire there some day!”