Summer abroad? Fingers crossed

About this time of year, many law students are leafing through Lonely Planet travel guides and getting jazzed about the prospect of world travel. And little wonder. Their options are both plentiful and exotic, thanks to the wide range of summer abroad programs offered by law schools.

Throw a dart at a world map, and chances are you’ll hit a nation where summer abroad programs take place — unless you happen to hit Greenland. 

Hit Ghana? Pack the bags! Fordham University School of Law in New York has a summer program in Accra, Ghana’s capital. 

However, it’s still a big question whether law students will be investing in Samsonite this summer. Summer abroad programs slated for 2021 could be yet another victim of COVID-19. 

While the pandemic wiped out last summer’s study abroad programs, as well as those slated for fall and winter, a number of schools are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the upcoming summer.

Basically, it’s fingers-crossed.

Santa Clara University School of Law in California is hoping to hold its annual summer abroad program. It started taking applications in December. But its website cautioned applicants:

“In COVID-19 environment, additional flexibility is requested. CGLP (Center for Global Law and Policy) is hoping to offer this program face to face. Please do NOT buy any non-refundable airfare or housing until CGLP notification.”

Tulane University Law School in New Orleans is optimistic, but it’s not a given. “We hope to offer all of our usual summer programs, and will do so if possible,” says the school’s website. 

Most schools are hopeful. Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C., has posted this on its website: “Thank you for your interest in the Catholic University’s summer abroad law programs. The Law School's 2020 summer law programs were suspended, but we plan to return in 2021!”

Note the exclamation point . . .

William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va., also notes that things are still up in the air. “At this time, W&M is planning for summer 2021 study abroad and continues to closely monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. Additional updates about summer 2021 will be available by February 2021.”

At Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia, it’s the same story. “We plan to operate the Summer 2021 Summer Abroad in Rome program as scheduled. We may need to make adjustments, depending on global health concerns as well as guidance and instructions from local and international health authorities.”

Rome’s mayor contracted COVID-19 in November . . . 

Schools had little choice but to cancel last summer’s programs, given how the pandemic was new and raging across the globe. Indeed, even traveling to campus was off-limits, much less a trip to London or Berlin. Schools relied on online technology to get through last year’s the spring semester, as well as finals and even graduation ceremonies. 

While COVID-19 cases are currently high, it’s hard to predict what the situation will be like in early summer. A number of promising vaccines are scheduled to be in distribution by then.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in early December that vaccinations could start for all U.S. residents by April, presumably in time for summer programs. But things could be different for countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. 

Some schools have been experimenting with virtual programs that might take the place of summers abroad. 

“The pandemic has provided us the opportunity to develop some creative new programming, like an online lecture series about climate change with speakers in Thailand and Sydney and collaborating with the United Nations Visitor Center to host virtual tours of the headquarters in New York,” said Tseming Yang, director of the Center for Global Law & Policy Santa Clara Law.

At least one of its programs — the one slate for Oxford, England — will be held virtually this summer. 

Student opinion is very important, Yang said, so the school surveyed students. Most students asked the school to wait as long as possible before moving summer programs to a virtual format. 

“We continue to collaborate with Santa Clara University's Travel Policy Advisory Committee to explore how to mitigate risk abroad and remain optimistic about the outlook for vaccinations,” he said.

Students are still interested in the programs, even with the uncertainties, Yang noted. 

“It is very early in our time line, but compared with this time in past years, we are slightly above target,” he said, adding that there seems to be higher interest among second-year students than in the past, likely because of last year’s cancelations. 

“Summer abroad and international externships abroad provide students with a lot of experiential opportunities that simply are not available on campus,” he said. “For example, the opportunity to visit the International Criminal Court in The Hague and talk about current cases with judges; the opportunity to network with international attorneys and gain a comparative perspective on immigration law in our Sydney program . . .

“Not only do these programs and international externships lead to learning; time and again, our alumni tell us that these experiences help them get externship placements here in the U.S., and after graduation lead to jobs.”

Santa Clara Law students routinely call such programs transformative. Here’s what Cherilee Barrett, who participated in a program in Geneva and an externship in Malta, had to say on the school’s website.

“The Santa Clara Law Summer Abroad Program provided me with the opportunity to do what motivated me to go to law school. I was able to provide assistance to a legal team working with asylum seekers in Malta.
“It was incredibly rewarding to learn from the team and provide direct services to those seeking asylum. My time in Malta also provided me with the opportunity to learn about another legal system and how it is implemented on the ground.”

Yes, it can be sweet. But can it be just as sweet wearing a mask and social distancing?

The consensus seems to be: The jury is still out.

Editor's note: this story is also available in the January-February issue of The National Jurist. To receive the digital issue, subscribe here.  


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