The doors of opportunity kept opening for Victoria Barker, through undergrad and now law school, taking her to Canada, Eastern Europe and Russia. Her commitment now is to help people realize their strengths and the power of their own voice.
Greater Atlanta Christian School
University of Georgia
B.A., International Affairs; B.A., Russian
University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
I’ve been at UGA for nearly six years now. I vividly remember being so overwhelmed with the decision of where I would attend college until one of my high school teachers reminded me of the blessing it was to have multiple options to consider. Despite numerous moments of undergrad and now law school where I have felt overwhelmed by the different decisions before me, or all that I felt I had to accomplish by the end of each semester, I am constantly reminded of the incredible blessing that I have to be at a university that affords me with a challenging education and diverse paths that each lead to different outcomes.
During my undergraduate career at UGA I was heavily involved in the School of Public and International Affairs and the Russian department. In SPIA, I conducted research under Professor Clay. My research focused on motivations behind women’s use of terrorism as a societal change mechanism. I had the opportunity to share some of my findings at the 2014 Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice. In the Russian department, I was continually challenged to gain a deeper understanding of the Russian language and culture by Dr. Krasnochekhova, Dr. Thomason, Dr. Byrd and Dr. Spektor. During my sophomore year, I was selected by the U.S. State Department as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship to study Russian in a two-month language program in Kazan. During my final semester at UGA I was selected for the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Fellowship with the Center for International Trade and Security. Through this fellowship, I found a new interest in security and non-proliferation studies and was taught and mentored by the incredible practitioners at CITS.
From the very beginning of my time here, UGA gave me a lot of incredible communities to grow in. As an Honors teaching assistant, I had the privilege of connecting with first-year students from their very first day on campus. One of the highlights of my time at UGA involved my work with The Bethany Project, which aimed to connect with women who were being exploited through Athens’ adult-entertainment industry, and through intentional relationships and friendships, provide these women with opportunities to provide for themselves and their children outside of this industry. Additionally, the Dean William Tate Honor Society provided me with an incredible network of mentors and peers throughout my time at UGA, as did the Palladia Women’s Society, the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, the Blue Key Honor Society and the Rotaract Student Service Award.
During my time at Georgia Law I have been involved with the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. I am also the newly elected editor-in-chief of the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law. Last summer I split my time interning at DLA Piper’s St. Petersburg, Russia, office and the Honorable Richard W. Story’s chambers in the Northern District of Georgia. I have also served as a dean’s ambassador and as a Dean Rusk International Law Center student ambassador.
This past year, I have served as a research assistant for Professor Cohen. I have worked on a variety of projects for him related to arbitration and international courts. One of the most exciting aspects of my time at Georgia Law was presenting a paper I wrote at the IntLawGrrls 10th Anniversary Conference in March. It was an honor to present my research on violations of indigenous children’s rights in Canada’s residential schools alongside practitioners and professors from around the world.
These academic achievements aside, the single most important aspect of my time at Georgia Law has been the community of people that I have journeyed through law school with. My roommates from my 1L year are some of my closest friends. (How could you not be after a year of going trudging through every aspect of the first year of law school together?) My 1L study group has remained the group that I still outline with (although, we have stopped pulling all-nighters during finals because that never worked out well). And these friends are often the people I turn to for an early morning run, a quick coffee break, or a much-needed pep talk. My VIS team has been preparing for our competition since the beginning of October, through writing, and re-writing briefs and arguments, commuting to Atlanta for practice moots, and traveling to San Diego for a weekend competition before we head out to Vienna. My three teammates and our student coach have been a key source of laughs and encouragement over the past year. Finally, two girls I was paired to “mentor” as they navigate their first year of law school have ended up walking (although one literally ran as we trained for a marathon together) alongside me over the past eight months. They have both encouraged and inspired me more than I could have anticipated. Ultimately, the community here is unparalleled, which validates the infamous saying that there is “no institution worthy of such loyalty as the University of Georgia.”
Family Ties to UGA:
I was the first person in my family to attend UGA, and while I thought my younger brother and sister would follow me here for undergrad, they found their way to schools in Alabama and Texas. Having spent a significant time visiting me in Athens over the past six years, my parents are always so proud to sport their Georgia gear whenever they get the chance.
I chose to attend UGA because…
… of the incredible opportunities I realized I would have attending UGA. Despite wrestling with the decision of where to attend college and then where to attend law school, every time that I toured UGA I left confident that it was where I was supposed to be. When I was considering Georgia Law, Dean Amann was willing to meet with me at a moment’s notice to discuss the international law program at Georgia Law and never hesitated to connect me with alumni who shared my interests. The prevalence of international law opportunities and the accessibility of the faculty were key factors in my decision to come back to UGA, and getting to spend three more years enjoying Athens isn’t looking so bad.
My favorite things to do on campus are…
… take a study break. I love going for walks downtown for a cup of ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, a cup of coffee from Jittery Joe’s, or world peace tea from Walker’s. North Campus is one of the most beautiful places in Athens and going for a quick walk through North Campus is one of the best ways to clear my head. Most of my undergraduate classes were on North Campus, so I love running into former professors and friends from undergrad while I walk to Herty Field or the Founders Garden.
When I have free time, I like…
… to run down Milledge and through Normaltown, or at the Greenway. I also love taking the occasional yoga class at Rubber Soul and frequenting the Athens Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. I’m a total foodie, so free time is often spent over a meal or drinks with friends at Ted’s Most Best, the Grit, Tacqueria, Dondero’s, or any other of Athens’ restaurants.
The highlight of my free time in Athens is hanging out with my friend Nierra. She was 10 when I started mentoring her through the Wesley Foundation’s Crosstrainer’s program, and now at 17 she is one of my dearest friends. Spending time with Nierra reminds me that there are really important parts of life outside of Hirsch Hall and there is purpose in law school that I have yet to fully understand. And she too has hopes of going to law school one day!
The craziest thing I've done is…
… move to the Republic of Georgia to teach English for a semester after I graduated. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew that many people in Georgia spoke Russian and I had some wonderful friends that lived in Tbilisi. The second day of living with my host family, I found myself in the emergency room of a hospital outside of the capital undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Despite the appalling conditions, I was taken care of by the kindest nurses, most generous host family, and my incredible mom who flew over at a literal moment’s notice. After a prolonged recovery, I had a newfound appreciation for access to medicine, and an outlook on life largely shaped by the generosity and kindness of near strangers, the love of my family back home, and the sheer joy of the students that I taught every day.
Despite my experience in Georgia starting off with unfortunate circumstances, my town outside the capital was one of the most formative places for me. I treasured my mile walk to school every morning and all the people that I would see along the way. An older man at a fruit stand always called out to ask me how I was doing and then proceeded to hand me an apple or pear to eat later that day. Once I arrived at school, my students were so excited to show off the words they picked up watching English movies. They were simply enthusiastic about life.
The highlight of my week was tutoring two of my students. One student named Gigi was a bit different than his classmates. We spent time practicing writing the letters of his name (and making Spiderman masks) while his classmates read their English texts. By the end of the semester he wrote his own name, and his classmates cheered him on in amazement when he finally got it. Another one of my students was a gypsy girl. She and I would meet every week to translate words from Georgian to Russian to English. Every week she would come in with a list of nearly a hundred words that we would translate back-and-forth between the languages. Both students were overlooked by the educational system, but having the chance to come alongside them and encourage them that they were capable of learning English was the highlight of my four months in Georgia.
It’s been two years since I returned to the States, and I still hear from my host family every single day. Despite, or maybe in spite of, the cultural differences and occasional language barrier, we forged through a lot of life together that semester, and I dream of the day when my family in the U.S. will be able to meet all of the people that I came to call family in the Republic of Georgia.
My favorite place to study is…
… Jittery Joe’s in Five Points. I can also frequently be found in the reading room of the third floor of the main library, the law library, or trying to find a table at Walker’s. The third floor reading room has the best view of North Campus and the most comfortable chairs. And, there is one table in the annex of the law library with the best view of Herty Field.
My favorite professor is…
That’s a hard question, simply because I can’t pick just one. Over the past two years I have had incredible professors who have pushed me to understand the law in a deeper way, helped me to improve my writing and advocacy abilities, coached me through interview preparation, and always stopped to genuinely inquire about how I was doing.
First, all of the professors and staff in the Dean Rusk International Law Center have played a formative role in my time at Georgia Law. I really enjoy Professor Cohen and Dean Amann’s international law classes and the flexibility that I have in these classes to research topics ranging from international arbitration and trade to the rights of indigenous children in Canada. They have both been incredibly supportive in helping me pick classes every semester, advising me on interviews and helping to celebrate every little victory in law school. Also, the support of Kate Doty in the Dean Rusk International Law Center has largely shaped the direction of my law school trajectory. Last year, she worked to merge my interest in Eastern Europe and my Russian language ability with a placement at a global law firm in Russia where an alumna works. Since then, she has continued to be a sounding board, interview coach, moot court brief commenter, and mentor throughout my time here.
Second, Dean Rutledge has been an incredible mentor and advisor. From meeting with me during my first semester of law school to talk about international law opportunities, to advising me on my journal note topic this year, and connecting me with Georgia Law alumni during my interview process, he has continued to provide unparalleled advice and support.
Finally, Professor Barnett has always responded to my start-of-the-semester panic-ridden email about a last-minute schedule change during drop-add with invaluable advice, which shows the accessibility of professors and their genuine desire to walk with students through every aspect of law school.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…
… it would be my grandparents. I would love to hear their stories of the challenges that they faced in life and the victories they achieved. My grandfather passed away earlier this year and I while treasured the time that we spent with him over the Christmas holidays, I wish I had made more time growing up to talk with him and all of my other grandparents. I know they would have a lot to share about faith, resilience and the importance of community and family.
If I knew I could not fail, I would…
… work to help countries rebuild their legal systems after a period of prolonged conflict. I spent the summer after college at a symposium in The Hague, where I learned from practitioners and scholars working in the field of post-conflict transitions and international justice. Having spent a considerable amount of time in some newly formed states, I have seen how the structure of legal systems, and the proper enforcement of such systems, can be one of the greatest ways to protect or exploit vulnerable people in society. I took a crisis diplomacy class during my last semester of college, so I was fascinated by the practitioners that I learned from at the symposium and all the things that they had to consider to properly memorialize a conflict and then rebuilding the country to ensure that the same faults do not exist in the system the second time around.
If money was not a consideration, I would love to…
… have all my family and friends in the same place for one afternoon. While there are plenty of “famous people” I would love to have the chance to talk with and learn from over a cup of coffee, it would be an absolute dream to have all my family and friends from around the world together for a meal (preferably a shrimp boil!) at my parents’ house on the river. Having spent so much time traveling and living abroad, I would love for my family and friends from the U.S. and Canada to meet the families that I lived with and the friends I met in Russia and Georgia. I can’t think of anything more exciting than sharing a meal while my family meets children that they sponsored in Russian orphanages, and friends from Athens meet some of my dearest friends in Georgia and Europe.
What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
People. More specifically helping people realize their strengths and the power of their own voice. This is why I came to law school—studying the law teaches students how to work within a complex system of precedent, statutes and prudence to advocate on behalf of other people. Working in Russian orphanages, I watched and worked alongside mentors who taught children valuable life skills to empower them to take care of themselves once they aged out of the orphanages. And in the Republic of Georgia, I used education to empower marginalized students to dream bigger and achieve goals that society told them were unattainable. Working at a law firm this past summer, I saw how helping clients comply with social responsibility initiatives gave these global initiatives legitimacy and afforded better living and working conditions to their employees. Additionally, fairly conducted arbitration disputes afforded both parties an opportunity to have their voice heard and a just outcome to be reached.
After graduation, I plan to…
… take the next best step. Truthfully, I never imagined that I would have had half of the opportunities that I have had this far or that I would have ended up in most of the places that I have ended up in. At 14 I was determined to be a pediatric oncologist, and never contemplated going to law school. At 17, I would have never imagined coming to love a Siberian city and its people so deeply when I went on my first trip to volunteer in a Russian orphanage and that this trip would shape the trajectory of my life.
Beginning my last year of college, I never imagined going back to Eastern Europe, and I most definitely did not think that going back would entail living in a formerly industrial town on the Georgian border with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Even after spending four months back in Eastern Europe, I never planned on going to work at a law firm in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nonetheless, it ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences and largely shaped my interest in international arbitration.
This summer I am working at a law firm in Washington, D.C., where I hope to work on international trade and maybe even some arbitration projects. As of right now, I would love to go back to Washington after graduation, but I’ve learned that life is ripe with purposes and plans far greater than I could imagine and I could not be more excited to see the choices before me and the various doors that open along the way.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
… helping lead the 27-hour Stand for Freedom event at UGA in 2013. This event was intended to educate students and the larger Athens community with the reality that there are more than 27 million people in modern-day slavery in the world today. After making people aware of this reality we wanted to connect them with organizations and initiatives that work to address this crisis. It was incredible to see so many students come together from across the campus to organize this event. After two months of planning and literally dreaming about what it would look like, standing on Herty Field at 2 in the morning alongside so many other students was surreal.