Law School Without Borders: International Exchange Expands at UVA Law
The University of Virginia School of Law has greatly expanded its international exchange program in recent years, offering students the chance to study law in eight foreign countries.
"These programs are not for everyone, but for the right student, they provide an opportunity to enjoy experiences that cannot be duplicated in Charlottesville," said Professor Paul B. Stephan, who sits on the faculty's International Relations Committee. "They are part of the Law School's effort to ensure that the needs of all UVA law students are met."
With the addition this year of Seoul National University, Virginia Law students may now take classes in South Korea, Japan, Germany, Spain, France, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.
Students who participate in the exchange program earn 12 transfer credits and study abroad in the fall semester of their third year (with the exception of those attending Tel Aviv University Law School, which hosts students in the spring semester of their second year).
In addition to the exchange program, the Law School offers rising third-year students the opportunity to earn a dual degree (27 transfer credits over two residency semesters) from Sciences Po/Paris. Students may design their own course of study abroad as well, or participate in projects outside of the United States that combine academic legal research and work experience. (More)
Some students who have participated in the international exchange programs said they wanted to pursue a specific career track or expand their awareness of the world and its different approaches to law.
Third-year law student Rob Kiss, who plans to work for an international law firm in Miami after graduation, said he studied at the Instituto de Empresa last fall to improve his Spanish, learn law from a Spanish and European perspective, and prepare for a career in international business law.
"The courses I took at IE complimented my studies at UVA and are a solid foundation for legal practice in international business," Kiss said.
Though professors taught his courses — including European Union law and international arbitration — in English, Kiss said he had plenty of opportunities to practice conversational speaking with his Spanish host family.
Kiss said he also learned a lot from classmates in the international LL.M. program he was part of, which comprised 35 students from at least eight countries other than the United States.
"The students of the program always joked that the international LL.M.s' actual working language was Portañinglés — or Portuguese, Spanish and English," Kiss said.
While perfect language skills were not essential, he said, his courses required cooperation and mutual respect.
"The program emphasized group work. This fostered a collegial environment, similar to UVA Law," Kiss said.
Third-year law student Walker Fults attended classes at Waseda University in Japan along with his Charlottesville roommate and fellow third-year Shawn Yang.
"It's always been a country that has fascinated me, and I felt spending a semester there would help expose me to the region," Fults said.
The opportunity allowed Fults and Yang to mix not only with Japanese students and professors, but with visiting scholars from other U.S. law schools, such as the University of Michigan and Duke University, Fults said.
Fults took five classes on the fundamentals of Japanese law, all of which were taught in English. The teaching style in the classroom was surprisingly similar to that of Virginia Law, he said, but everyday life in the sprawling capital of Tokyo offered a stark contrast to U.S. culture, including with regards to how citizens view the law.
"Rules are strictly enforced in Japan, even if there is not a clear reason behind why in every case," Fults said. "Though this can be frustrating for Americans, I have to say that Japanese society is much more orderly for it."
Fults, who intends to return to his home state of Texas to clerk for a federal district judge for a year after graduation, said he hopes to go on to become a litigator at a law firm in Dallas.
For him, the international exchange experience was more about personal enrichment than bolstering his resume.
"I'm so glad that Virginia offers study abroad programs to its law students," Fults said. "I highly recommend one to anyone who has the chance, especially those who may not have had the chance to travel outside the country before."
To be considered for international exchange, students must submit a resume, unofficial transcript and brief statement to the International Relations Committee. Stephan said the programs in Germany and Spain are competitive, while the others typically accept the students who apply.
The international exchange programs require no additional tuition. Other major expenses, such as airfare, are considered with the student's normal financial aid for that semester, Stephan said.
"These are in-kind exchanges, where the numbers of students we send abroad are matched by those sent to us," he said.
Applications are due in October, and students are permitted to apply to more than one program, but preference is given when a student provides a focused reason for studying at a given school, Stephan said.
Potential applicants who still have questions should contact the Student Records Office at 924-7347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.