Nathan Chan participated in Cooley’s Australia/New Zealand Foreign Study Program and is a third year student at Cooley. This article is posted with permission of the Michigan International Lawyer and appeared in their Winter 2014 Edition.
There I was, sitting atop the guardrail of the Kopua Footbridge in the laidback surfing town of Raglan, New Zealand, psyching myself up to jump into the water 20 feet below, just as local children have done for 50 years. The adventurous part of me was thinking, “This will be fun,” while the rational part of me was thinking, “You can’t swim . . . are you crazy?!” Then the clear tie-breaker came to me: “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” With a mental shrug of the shoulders, I launched myself off the bridge, and I’m glad I did – it was an extraordinary memory that I will be able to share with my future children and grandchildren!
Jumping off the Kopua Footbridge was just one of the unique things that I experienced while studying abroad in New Zealand and Australia. In New Zealand, I attended a Maori cultural hangi feast (similar to a Hawaiian luau), went tubing in the Waitomo glowworm caves, and visited Hobbiton (the movie set used in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit). During the 8 weeks we spent in Melbourne, Australia, we attended numerous events in and around the city: the Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition, where one student actually bumped into Kelly Slater, a surfing legend; the Australian Grand Prix; White Night, an all-night art, music, and culture festival; Suzuki Wednesday Night Market, featuring international food stalls and live music; Chinatown Night Market, featuring food stalls and arts and crafts; and Viva Victoria Multicultural Festival, where we enjoyed international food stalls and live music and dancing. While in Australia, I took a weekend trip to Kangaroo Island, where I watched a pelican-feeding show, visited the wind-sculpted “Remarkable Rocks,” and, perhaps most extraordinarily, went sledding down sand dunes!
Not only were the courses interesting and the locations magnificent, but the professors were top-notch. Our Indigenous Rights professor, Valmaine Toki, is currently a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Gideon Boas, who taught the International Criminal Justice course, was a senior legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where he worked as an advisor for the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, among others. Our International Trade Issues professor, Sadeq Bigdeli, has worked with the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. And Alexander Gillespie, our International Law professor, was a former rapporteur for the World Heritage Convention, and has worked with the UN in other capacities.
Our professors were not the only distinguished legal professionals that we met; the 2013 program included several extra-curricular events where we met and interacted with other inspiring and influential attorneys. At the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, we had the opportunity to speak with the city’s mayor about the abundant opportunities for foreign lawyers to practice in New Zealand, followed the next week by a Justice of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, who shared his experiences from around the world. We even had the opportunity to speak with a former Prime Minister of New Zealand! The fact that such accomplished people were willing to come speak with the 20 of us law students really demonstrated the friendly and hospitable nature of New Zealanders.
Despite the high cost of living Down Under, there are numerous advantages to studying abroad. Sure, everything is expensive in Melbourne, and the prices in New Zealand reflect the cost of importing nearly everything to an island country in the South Pacific. But when else would a student be able to stay on holiday long enough to see and do everything that the destination has to offer, while also earning school credits? My advice to law students is this: Before you graduate, begin working, and have no time to travel, participate in a study abroad program in a country that you have always wanted to visit. The rest is simple: take the plunge!
About the Author
Nathan Chan is a 3L student at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. He has a passion for public international law, with special emphasis in education, economic and social development, and environmental protection.