October 27, 2008

Law school offers summer program in Ireland

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University School of Law students are able to study in Ireland during the summer through an agreement with the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

The SIU School of Law is looking to send a third group of students to Ireland for four weeks beginning May 18 -- the first since a three-year memorandum of understanding with the UM-KC School of Law was signed this past summer. The program allows students to receive six elective credit hours, and the chance to study at some of Ireland’s pre-eminent institutions.

This is the law school’s first summer study-abroad program.

“It’s a very important relationship because it enables us to deliver a summer-abroad experience in a foreign country without having all the startup costs,” Dean Peter C. Alexander said. “In addition, it allows us to pool our resources with the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, and provide students with a deeper, richer, broader curriculum.”

Cindy Galway Buys, an associate professor at the law school, said a friend on UMKC’s faculty suggested that SIU School of Law participate in the program UMKC established several years ago. Buys and two students traveled to Ireland in 2006. Last summer, Buys and law professor W. Eugene Basanta accompanied 16 SIUC law students on the trip. Basanta taught a course on comparative health law while on the trip.

Students will study at Diseart Cultural Center in Dingle, National University Ireland-Galway, and University College Dublin. Irish and American professors teach the courses.

Buys will teach a portion of the international business transactions course as part of next summer’s program. Thomas C. Britton, an associate professor and director of the law school’s graduate legal studies program, will teach a course on international commercial dispute resolution.

Approximately 30 SIU law students recently attended an informational session. Students are responsible for the $4,550 tuition, books and housing, in addition to airfare costs. Most of the students who study abroad do it between their first and second year in law school, Buys said.

The cost is less expensive than other similar study-abroad programs to Ireland, Buys said.

“I think we can do that because both SIU and UMKC are state schools, so our tuition is a little less to begin with and we can keep the program costs down,” she said.

SIU law students Matthew R. Majernik and Stephanie A. Schmitt are two of the students who went to Ireland this summer. In all, 52 students from SIUC, UMKC and several other law schools participated in the program in 2008.

Majernik and Schmitt said the program is a wonderful experience. Schmitt, a second-year law student from Madison, Wis., said an integral part of being an attorney is “being able to understand different backgrounds of people and how to work with that.”

“Being in a different country forces you to get to know that culture and how to respond to it,” she said. One of the most interesting parts of the experience came with meeting local people and “having them show us less touristy” sites that made the experience more real.

Schmitt earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and legal studies in 2004 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She isn’t decided on the area of law she wants to concentrate in, but the study-abroad experience is valuable, she said.

“I think any experience you get from traveling and studying abroad helps you enhance the skills you are trying to perfect -- whether it’s speaking a different language, working with a different country, or simply understanding people from different places,” she said. “Studying abroad is a great way to see the world and makes you appreciate the little things in life.”

The three communities -- Dingle, a small fishing community, Galway and Dublin -- are very different, Majernik said. Dublin is a mixture of both “old” and “new” Ireland, he said.

“The old parts of the city had a rich history that can still be found in Ireland today, such as visiting pubs where famous Irish writers wrote some of the world’s most well-known manuscripts or plays,” he said. “The new parts of the city demonstrated the growth Ireland has experienced since joining the European Union.”

Majernik is a second-year law student from Streator. He received a bachelor’s degree in English-Writing from Illinois Wesleyan University in May 2007. He plans to pursue either international business law or immigration law upon graduation, and the study-abroad program will allow him “to approach legal issues from a more well-rounded and global understanding,” he said.

“As the world becomes more global, I believe how law is settled in one part of the world will affect how law is settled in another part of the world,” he said. “As such, the program provided an opportunity to learn some of the law of the European Union, as well as laws of other foreign countries. I believe this opportunity will prepare me as an attorney who will enter not just the legal community of the United States, but the global legal community as well.”

A difference in teaching law in Europe provides another view in how to approach and understand complex legal issues, he said.

“I had an opportunity to sit in on oral arguments in the Irish Supreme Court,” he said. “The arguments were very interesting and it was enjoyable to compare and contrast the difference between the American legal system and the Irish legal system.”

For many students, it is the first time they will travel outside the United States. Learning about international and comparative law issues helps students’ understanding of how U.S. law works, and other ways they can approach legal issues, Buys said.

“I find Ireland to be a particularly good place for our students because they don’t have to know a foreign language,” she said. “They can have the experience of going to a foreign country and experience another culture without having the language barriers they would have in many other places in the world.”

Many students use the experience as a starting point for other travels in Europe. One of the SIU law school students who went to Ireland in 2006 is now completing a full semester program in London, Buys said.

“Summer-abroad programs are very popular within the legal academy and we were one of probably only a handful of law schools that did not offer a summer-abroad experience,” Alexander said. “We allow students to attend any accredited law school’s program, but we were not the sponsors of the program ourselves until we formalized our relationship with UMKC.”

The decision to proceed with the memorandum of understanding was easy, Alexander said.

“I think most people in law realize that we are becoming a world without walls and that legal transactions take place internationally as often as they take place domestically,” Alexander said. “A local business in Southern Illinois might have parts it orders from a foreign country and it may do business with a foreign country. It is important for students to understand international comparative legal issues.”

For more information on the program, contact Buys at 618/536-7711, or visit the program Web site at http://www1.law.umkc.edu/academic/ireland/