10 best reasons to study abroad this summer

Offering the opportunity to study in exotic locales remains a staple for many law schools. There’s a good reason for that. Actually, there’s more than one reason. We name 10.

By Sherry Karabin

An up-close look at a foreign legal system, unusual classes, networking, cultural events and the chance to form lasting friendships: Those are just some of the reasons law students opt to participate in study abroad programs.

While many of these learning experiences take place in Europe, law schools are expanding the menu all the time, with programs of varying lengths occurring year-round in South America, Asia and Africa. 

 Here are 10 reasons why taking a hiatus from the U.S. classroom can pay off in more ways than one. 

 

1) Learn what it’s like to be an international lawyer

While many students take international law courses, there’s nothing like watching a trial unfold in an international court, talking to foreign justices or visiting a foreign law firm.

Creighton University School of Law’s summer program called “From Nuremberg to The Hague” takes students to Germany and The Netherlands, combining classroom instruction with field trips to crime scenes, places of conspiracy and current trials. That’s a pretty big change from Omaha, Neb., where the school is located.

Paul Blazek, a recent law graduate who participated in the program, said the trip was a catalyst for both his personal and professional growth. 

"Participating in the Nuremberg Moot Court was an eye-opening snapshot of what the practice of law would look like as an international practitioner,” Blazek said. “Where else can you argue a case in front of International Criminal Court judges with teams of other law students from all over the globe? The trip changed both the way I see the world and how I see the practice of law.” 

 

2) Help determine your career path

For students who are considering an international legal career or just want to get a better idea of what it entails, study abroad programs can fill in the blanks. 

Maggie Krajcer, a third-year at University of Akron School of Law, took part in her school’s Japan/South Korea program in 2017. It opened her eyes and opened the door to career possibilities.

“I did not know what I wanted to do beforehand, but after taking the international contracting class I knew I wanted to work with contracts,” she said, “and if there was an international angle, that would be a plus.”

She is now an international human resources legal intern at Hyland Software in Westlake, Ohio.

“I deal with international employees and contracts,” Krajcer said. “I got the position because of the study abroad program, which gave me talking points and experience that made me really stand out.”

 

3) Advance your career as an international lawyer

Study abroad programs provide a solid foundation for students who are looking to take the international law plunge. Many students make valuable contacts, which help them identify potential employment down the road.

Rachel Gordon, assistant director of WCL Abroad at American University Washington College of Law, said the program provides a good overview of important areas of law that often are not covered in the first-year curriculum.

“Our classes in Geneva are held inside international organizations like WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), the WTO (World Trade Organization), the ILO (International Labour Organization) and the U.N.,” Gordon said. “Students interact daily with experts from these organizations, inside and outside of class.”

Matt Wilson, a professor at University of Akron School of Law, said participating in a study abroad program not only helps students launch an international legal career but also lets employers know they are “flexible, adaptable and up for whatever challenges” are put in front of them.

Wilson runs the Ohio school’s four-week study abroad program in Japan and South Korea, which provides an opportunity for students to take international law courses with Japanese and Korean law students.

“The program will help globally-minded students network, build credibility in an international setting and even find opportunities in the U.S. or overseas, either right out of law school or once they have a few years of practice under their belts,” Wilson said.

 

4) Get hands-on training

Hands-on training is important in any profession, and that’s why study abroad programs often include internship and externship opportunities.

University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Law’s study abroad program in Ireland and Wales not only let Joseph Salazar take some out-of-the-ordinary courses but also allowed him to do an externship with Justice Seamus Noonan of the Irish High Court.

“It was an amazing opportunity to be given the chance to work for the judge and learn about the justice system,” Salazar said. “I made friends with judicial assistants and some of the judges as well. I now feel more qualified to do international work should I get the chance in the future.”

Nick Aubrey, another law student at University of Missouri – KC, landed an externship in the Irish Supreme Court working for Chief Justice Frank Clarke after participating in the study abroad program in the summer of 2017.

“I loved the program so much that I did everything I could to go back,” Aubrey said. “It was the greatest legal experience I’ve ever had to date. It’s one thing to study international law, but seeing how things actually work gives you an entirely different perspective.”

Santa Clara University School of Law in California places students with law firms in Fiji or legal-aid organizations in Australia. Santa Clara Law students also have done externships in Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

 

5) Take classes you otherwise could not

Students can look forward to a wide variety of international courses that touch upon a wide variety of practices areas, many of which may not be available in their U.S. classrooms.

The University of Tulsa College of Law’s program in Dublin, Ireland, includes classes such as International Intellectual Property, European Union Economic Law, European Union Constitutional Law, and International and Comparative Children’s Rights.

The Consortium of Innovative Legal Education, a partnership of four law schools, offers a course in Malta that includes several unusual courses, including Cross Cultural Negotiation, Comparative Tax, and International Criminal Law. It’s program in Santiago, Chile, includes Property Rights in Chile, Intro to Latin American Legal Culture, and War Crimes.

St. Thomas University School of Law has a program in Spain with courses such as Global Responses to the European Refugee Crises and International Bioethics Dilemmas.

 

6) Great professors

While some programs use American faculty members, many classes are taught by professors and experts from the host countries, giving students a chance to experience a new style of instruction.

Laura Fernández, assistant dean for international and graduate affairs at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in Columbus, said students in its study abroad program are taught by law professors at partner universities, all of which operate in civil legal systems.

University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law has a summer program in Salzburg, Austria, which features instructors such as retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Queen Mary University of London professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, who co-teach Freedom of Expression in Europe and the U.S.

 

7) Make friends from outside the U.S.

Participants often find themselves taking classes with students from other U.S. universities as well as with foreign students. This provides many opportunities for making new friends and growing new relationships.

Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law’s summer program in Krakow, Poland, includes a number of English-speaking law students from Polish universities.

The Polish and American students attend classes together, live together and participate in co-curricular activities, resulting in lasting friendships and business contacts.

University of Akron student Krajcer said her study abroad experience led to friendships with professors and students.

"I am now Facebook friends with two South Korean professors,” she said, “and I also talk to a lot of the students.”

Washburn University School of Law’s program in Barbados brings in faculty and students from The University of the West Indies.

 

8) Great locations

With locations around the world, study abroad programs offer participants a chance to explore cities they might not otherwise see.

Stetson University College of Law students can choose from a number of enticing places, such as the Cayman Islands; Granada, Spain; and Cape Town, South Africa.

“Our Cape Town program is our most recent addition,” said Kristen McConnell, associate director of international programs at Stetson University. “The program focuses on international human rights in the context of South Africa’s evolution from apartheid to democracy.

“Students visit townships which are developing, segregated communities, and go on safari.”

At Ohio State University, students have a plethora of choices, ranging from the signature University of Oxford program to semester-long exchange programs in Germany, Spain and China. They can also take advantage of short summer programs in Brazil and China.

 

9) Expand Your Horizons

While the components and locations of programs may vary, the growth potential for students is unlimited.

"Every society has the same types of problems and issues, and I think when students take advantage of study abroad programs and see how other societies address those same problems and issues, they bring more to the table when they return,” McConnell said.  “Most become better at problem solving and teamwork. They improve their interpersonal and communication skills and become better leaders, all things that employers in today’s market want to see.”

Ohio State University’s Fernández said that while the classes are taught in English, all of her school’s partner universities offer language programs for international students.

“All of these programs expose students to different ways of thinking and learning,” Fernández said. “Even if a student does not choose to go into international law, the students will leave with a set of soft skills that will make them better lawyers.”

 

10) It’s a great vacation

Students often schedule additional time overseas, either before or after their programs, so they can do some exploring on their own. There are a number of cultural excursions embedded in the programs as well.

Catholic University’s Krakow program includes visits to historical sites such as Wawel Castle, as well as tours of the Auschwitz concentration camp and a day trip to the Tatra Mountains, known as “Polish Alps.”

St. John’s University in New York offers a study abroad program at its Italian campus in the historic Prati neighborhood of Rome. Faculty members are on hand to share their knowledge of the city, Italian history and culture.

 

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