Dec 1, 2016

The founding principle of all the activities of Zdenek and Michaela Bakala is, truly, the courage, which must, according to their belief, always go hand in hand with responsibility.
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Clara Wack - report

TIME PERIOD OF YOUR STAY

August 2014 – December 2014

UNIVERSITY ATTENDED

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

FACULTY

Law

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

Both the Harvard campus and the Law School are located in the city of Cambridge, in easy reach of Boston. The campus is a very green area in the Summer, it colors itself in Autumn and it is often covered of snow in Winter. The buildings of the Law School are a mix of new and older buildings. The Law School Library is very impressive and offers incredible resources, with texts from any jurisdictions.

Harvard Law School (HLS) is a very stimulating place to study at, where students are hard working, engaged, and where people from all horizons and professional backgrounds are brought together. The students’ opinions are valued and their active participation in the University life is encouraged. There, a student cannot be passive: active preparation for each class is required, active participation in class is expected, active discussions and debates happen on current topics everyday, and one can fight for his convictions, such as in the demonstrations for justice that echoed the Fergusson and Brown cases, which moved students all over the country.

My general impressions – about the Law School campus, my stay, the people I met – are that this experience has been inspiring. It taught me to value and explore the many possibilities that studying law can offer and not to fear to choose among them.

PREPARATION OF THE STAY

After receiving the news of my selection by the University of Geneva for the students’ exchange program with HLS, I still had to wait a few months before obtaining the final approval from HLS. However, in the meantime I already had to make some preparations, the first step being to apply to the Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala for a scholarship, which, as any application process, takes some time. Once I had submitted my application file, I could however do nothing but wait for the final decision of HLS and for news from the Fondation. All came in April 2014, both the news of HLS’s approval and those of my selection for an interview by the Fondation. The month of May was thus quite busy with the interview, administrative requirements and demanding preparations for the visa.

For HLS to issue the forms required to apply for a visa at the American embassy in Berne, Switzerland, many other forms had to be filled out and documents provided, such as statements from banks and medical reports from my physician, involving vaccines and immunity proofs. The whole package had to be sent to HLS, which could then provide the famous I-20 form, necessary to apply for a visa. I then had to follow the many steps to get an appointment at the American embassy, spent there a few hours contemplating the nice walls of the building and explained several times the purpose of my travel in the US. A few days later, but only 10 days before leaving, I finally received my visa, my pass for what was promising to be a great experience.

ARRIVAL

Determined to use public transportation with two suitcases and a hockey bag, I took advantage of the free transportation offered from Logan Airport in Boston. In half an hour by bus and subway and with the help of other users with my luggage, I arrived in Cambridge, right in front of the campus. Not knowing exactly where the law school was located, I decided to take a direction at random. I was lucky enough to meet the only one person I could possibly know (an other exchange student from the Graduate Institute whom I had just met a few weeks earlier) who kindly showed me the way.

I then found easily the “Move In” tent where I received the key to my room, and student staff helped me carrying my luggage to my room on the 4th floor. I finally discovered this room where I was going to spend the four upcoming months.

ACCOMODATION SEARCH

Thanks to the information sent by our referents from the International Legal Studies at HLS, finding an accommodation had been easy. At first, I had hesitated between housing on and off campus. Divided between the envy to live the “American campus experience” and the temptation to have a more comfortable accommodation with private bathroom and kitchen, I finally chose the first option, hence housing on campus, also due to the relative low rent. I thus had to follow the process for housing application online, which was really well explained in the guide lines we had received, and could choose between a few rooms one on a floor with female bathrooms.

I did not regret my choice. Although my room was not very big, everything needed was there (a bed, a large desk as well as a large cabinet), and I could benefit from a wide window. Even if sharing a bathroom with an entire floor can seem a bit scary, it was all very clean, and I never had to wait to take a shower.

As for the kitchen, I could use it everyday. Even if it was sometimes busy and if I had to clean a few times casseroles used by someone else, I was overall very satisfied.

The great advantages of living on campus are its location – you soon get used to be right next to your classrooms, the library, the cafeteria – as well as the ambiance. You can always meet people in the lounge, and some events are even organized by floor. I could indeed enjoy free pizza, Chinese food or frozen yoghurts at a few occasions throughout my semester, and thus get to know the people I shared the building with. 

UNIVERSITY LIFE

The orientation program started only two days after my arrival in Cambridge. For two weeks, we attended introductory courses on the American style of teaching as well as on American law, in addition to diverse information sessions. Throughout orientation, many social events were organized for all incoming students (LL.M and exchange students) to meet and get to know each other.

In parallel with orientation and during the following first week of classes, I had to ascertain the classes I would follow during the semester. Among all the many interesting courses HLS has to offer, it was difficult to make a choice. I finally opted for the four following courses:

Jurisprudence: Legal Ideas, by the great Lewis Sargentlich. 

Economic Analysis of law, by the scholar Steven Shavell. 

FREE TIME AND SOCIAL LIFE

Gender and Sexuality in Transnational Law, with the well-known Janet Halley. 

International and Comparative Law Workshop, offered jointly by William Alford and Intisar Rabb.

Besides these courses, I also enrolled in two of the many students’ organizations existing at Harvard. I joined the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, where students assist and represent prisoners in disciplinary hearings under the supervision of full-time lawyers. I also engaged in the Harvard Law and International Development Society, where I worked on the project “Morethanshelters”. With a small group of students from the whole Harvard community (not only from the law school), our mandate was to provide a social business working in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan with a legal framework covering its collaboration with different actors in the camp (such as States or governments, NGOs, but also private companies or start-ups, as well as donors). Those were great experiences, in particular in terms of practical work and of interaction with other students with different backgrounds.

In addition, it is important to point out the many events and conferences we are invited to attend every day on campus. Many well-known scholars provide insight on actual topics, or are invited to speak about their own professional experience. It makes Harvard an extremely stimulating and inspiring place. In particular, I can cite Benjamin B. Ferencz, the last living judge of the Nuremberg trial, who was invited to talk about his work at that time as well as about international criminal law today. He is a memorable character and I am not likely to forget his speech. I can also cite a videoconference with Edward Snowden, interviewed in live by Professor Professor Lawrence Lessig, or Noah Feldman’s analysis on ISIS.

Cambridge is a quiet and enjoyable city. There are many good restaurants of all kind and no branch of famous fast foods. There is also the Charles River, on which you can kayak in the summer. Cambridge is very close to Boston, only about 15 minutes by subway. Boston is a vivid city where there is much to do, such as whales watching in the end of the summer (great season, I could see about 10 different whales), art museums to visit, ballets to watch and concerts or orchestras to listen to.

During my stay, I also had the chance to go to New York twice, the first time I actually saw the Big Apple. I also went to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, which offers gorgeous landscapes. In addition, each year, an LLM trip is organized to Maine. About 100 students go together to a nice complex of houses, and exchange students could join as well. It will remain a great memory of my semester abroad. I also travelled to the West Coast. I thus had the chance to see different parts of the US.

As an extracurricular activity, I could also play field hockey with a team of Boston. Friendly games were organized each week, which gave me the occasion to meet people who were not necessarily students at Harvard as well as to keep playing the sport I use to play in Geneva each time my schedule allowed me to.

In addition, from a social perspective, what above all made my experience unique is all the people I met. Spending a semester with students from all over the world and sharing our views, our cultural as well as professional backgrounds, becoming friends, was overall extremely enriching.

MISCELLANEOUS

My semester at Harvard Law School has been an invaluable learning experience, both on an academic and on a personal level. I sincerely thank the Fondation Zdenek and Michaela Bakala for having made this possible.

Clara Wack - photos

library
harvard-law-school-2
Celtics Game


© Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala