Gaining Self-Confidence Overseas

Studying law outside the United States provides a chance to learn about different legal systems, different cultures and about self-confidence. Earlier this year, classmates JonMarie Dominguez and Kristin Casper took advantage of that opportunity — Dominguez traveled to Spain for the spring semester and Casper went to the Netherlands.

Both students, now 3Ls, found it hard to come home.

JonMarie DominguezJonMarie Dominguez spent six months (two trimesters) at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, where she studied Spanish law with other exchange students from around the world. After a difficult adjustment to a more rigid teaching method that required memorizing statutes and taking multiple-choice exams and a realization that her fluent Spanish wasn't as fluent as she thought when it came to legal Spanish, she settled in. All of her classes were taught in Spanish and all of her required reading was in Spanish. After searching everywhere for a legal Spanish dictionary to buy, the only one she found was in the library and couldn't be checked out.

During the first trimester, she struggled through introductory classes, verbose court decisions, wrote a research paper on how European communities are shifting toward case law and often wondered if she had made the right decision. She did enjoy the broad perspectives of her classmates and immersing herself in the Barcelona culture.

By the time the second trimester began, she had become more comfortable and confident with the language and found the classes, now upper-level, more interesting. She loved learning about Spanish Supreme Court decisions, torts and contracts in the civil law system and she even presented a role-play project in Spanish.

"It took a lot of work to make this happen," she says, crediting Daniel Ortega, director of the UNM School of Law's International Programs with most of the legwork that secured an exchange through which Dominguez paid the same tuition as she would have if she had spent the semester at UNM. "But it was worth it. The experience gave me self-confidence and a way to distinguish myself as I go toward the legal profession."

Because of her difficult adjustment, Dominguez recommends spending two trimesters as an exchange student, allowing the first one to acclimate and the second one to thrive.

After she completed the Spanish exchange, Dominguez headed to Paris where she studied international and comparative law at Cornell University Law School's Paris Summer Institute.

After she graduates next spring and returns home to California to take the Bar Exam, Dominguez will be looking for any opportunity to go overseas, "because you can't get that experience from a book."

Kristin CasperKristin Casper has focused her studies at the UNM School of Law on environmental and natural resources law with a specific interest in climate change and has harbored a dream of working in the European Union, attracted to its progressive policies to tackle climate change.

With her fiancé working for Greenpeace in the Netherlands, she decided to take her legal education abroad, spending the spring 2008 semester at Utrecht University in the Netherlands through one of the few ABA-sanctioned, semester-long, study-abroad programs. Washington College of Law at American University sponsored the exchange program. She followed that with a summer internship at the Institute for European Environmental Policy in Brussels, where she worked on transatlantic dialogue between U.S. and European policymakers and lawyers on climate change solutions and researched solar PV markets and regulation along with United Kingdom energy policy.

In the Netherlands, Casper loved that people rode bicycles everywhere, even men in suits and women in heels, and appreciated the Dutch approach to social issues. "It was interesting to see a country approach social issues with tolerance and rehabilitation," she says. "It was a nice contrast to the United States."

Seeking a mix of international and environmental law courses, she discovered the importance of treaties in European Constitutional Law and she enjoyed the proximity to the Hague and the variety of international students in her classes. Although the classes were taught in English, Casper said the program was much more challenging than she had expected. The rewards also were great.

"Every week we had a major assignment to do and I felt like everyone in the class was a future leader," she says. "I also did a lot of U.N. negotiations simulations and worked with experts in the areas of law I'm interested in, including the Law of the Sea.

"This experience reinforced my belief that law is global in nature and that globalization has made international law of greater importance. This made my legal education," she says.

Like Dominguez, Casper is now flush with confidence gained from her study-abroad experiences and is looking for job opportunities at home and abroad.