Studying Law in New Zealand: Student Profile

Studying Law in New Zealand: Student Profile

QS Staff Writer

Updated October 31, 2023 Updated October 31

Mara Kawehiwehi Hosoda shares her experience of studying law in New Zealand, and advice for others considering applying to university in a new country.

Originally from the US state of Hawaii, Mara Kawehiwehi Hosoda is currently a law student at New Zealand’s University of Otago.

Mara was in fact studying at Occidental College (the alma mater of fellow Hawaiian Barack Obama) in California when she got her first taste of New Zealand.

“Studying abroad in junior year was the norm at my US institution,” she reflects. “Students who had travelled abroad came back so mature and with great stories. This inspired me to go travelling and to get international experience. I thought it would lead to great education and work opportunities.”

Student-centered city

She chose New Zealand, as she perceived similarities between the status of the Maori and Pacific people of the country, and Native Hawaiians in the US.

Her decision to go to Otago in particular was motivated more by necessity than choice: “Otago was the only New Zealand university that my US institution allowed me to travel to.”

It turned out there was a reason that Occidental favoured Otago. “Otago is a great place for international students. There are many friendly support services, events and activities to participate in. Dunedin city (in which the University of Otago is based) is very student-centered so there’s lots of student discounts and everything is within walking distance.”

Law tends to be studied at graduate level in the US, but rather than enrol at law school there, Mara opted to return to Dunedin to study a bachelor’s degree in the subject.

“My dad is a pretty awesome lawyer back in Hawaii; he was influential in my choice to study law generally. But ultimately I decided to study law in New Zealand because the Otago law staff, students and alumni were so friendly—really smart academics, but grounded and approachable at the same time.”

Challenging, but enjoyable

New Zealand’s slightly more flexible system also appealed. “The New Zealand law degree admission process is more accessible than the one in the US, especially if you are unsure if law is for you,” she explains.

“Instead of submitting a full application with LSAT scores and recommendation letters, in New Zealand you gain admission to the law degree program based on your mark in the first year introductory paper.

"The first year paper gives you the chance to try the law degree and see whether it is a good fit for you.” It was, she continues, a good fit for her and she fully intends to pursue a legal career – starting out in New Zealand and other common law countries before moving back to work with her father in Hawaii.

“Alternatively I would like to pursue an academic career working as a lecturer and researcher for a university.”

How has she found Kiwi legal education? “Second year law, when you learn the basics of contract, criminal, public and property law all at once, was very challenging, but really it provided a good foundation for any area of law you go into.

"Now I am enjoying taking elective courses, especially from lecturers who are passionate about their subject and leaders in their field. The lecturers,” she adds, “really make a difference!”

There are also plenty of opportunities for her to get some useful out-of-classroom experience too: “During my time at Otago, I’ve facilitated tenancy advice to students with housing problems alongside a qualified lawyer and been a part of a Pacific mooting competition and conference in Vanuatu.”

Adapting to local life

Speaking of outside the classroom, how has she found the social aspect of university study – surely a key part of any young student’s experience?

“I love life in New Zealand! Friends are very easy to come by, especially at Otago. Most students are away from their homes and families as well, so we become each other’s family at Otago.”

But, of course, there are challenges – ones that should be heeded to anyone thinking of heading to New Zealand and expecting a climate similar to that of hot-all-year-round neighbor Australia.

“The hardest thing for me to adjust to in Dunedin was the cold weather. Coming from Hawaii, I had never seen snow, sleet or hail before so I did not know how to dress appropriately or how to use a heater.”

It’s all useful life experience though, and she says that she “learnt quickly, especially during the Dunedin winters!” Mara would encourage others to follow in her footsteps:

“[Studying abroad] really matures you and gives you a different perspective. My advice would be do research about the country and university to decide if it would be a good fit for you and start planning early to figure out logistics like your passport, visa, financial aid, and housing.”

But get these basic administrative issues in order, and you can hopefully have as fulfilling a time as this ambitious young legal scholar is having!

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in October 2023