Dean’s Travel Study Program Returns to China
Topping the “New Seven Wonders of the World” list, the Great Wall of China is a marvel of human ingenuity. Built of earth, stone, and—fun fact—glutinous rice, it stretches some 13,171 miles in segments across varying terrain. And, if you look closely, you can make out its twists and turns in the background of a photo of bundled and smiling St. John’s Law students, alumni, faculty, and administrators, who were in China earlier this month as participants in the Dean’s Travel Study Program.
Returning to the country for the second consecutive year, the two-week, January intersession program took 16 students and three alumni to explore China’s legal system, history, and culture. “I was delighted to be back in China with our students, and to introduce them to some of the exceptional people and institutions that I’ve become acquainted with there,” says Dean Michael A. Simons, who led the program with Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies Sarah Jean Kelly, Director of Graduate Global Engagement Joshua M. Alter '13, Bingjie Liu ’15LL.M.,’17L, and Rui (Barry) Zhang '17 LL.M.
In the last several years, the Law School has forged strategic partnerships with some of China’s leading law schools, and a number of Chinese students have continued their legal studies in St. John’s Transnational Legal Practice LL.M. program. St. John’s Law has also hosted faculty and student delegates from:
- Central South University
- China Youth University
- East China University of Political Science and Law (ECUPL)
- Henan University of Economics and Law
- Nankai University
- Shantou University
- Southwest University of Political Science and Law
- Soochow University
The St. John’s Visiting Scholars Program has brought several partner school faculty members to the Law School to conduct research, including Dong Xiang, from ECUPL, Tang Qiongqiong from Shanghai University of International Business and Economic Law, Hu Minfei and Hu Qiao from Zhejiang Gongshang University, Yu Weinman from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, and Xu Zhongyuan from Central South University School of Law.
“Our partnerships in China benefit our students and faculty, as well as the students and faculty from our Chinese partner schools,” Dean Simons notes, adding, “We look forward to sustaining and growing these mutual connections in the coming years.”
The strength of these partnerships afforded the Dean’s Travel Study Program participants a unique, hands-on experience in international and comparative law. During their stay in Shanghai, among other activities, they attended class at ECUPL and visited the international law firm O'Melveny & Myers LLP to get a comprehensive, insider’s view of law practice in China.
“Our visit to O'Melveney introduced me to the idea of being an American-trained lawyer abroad,” says Avery Nagy-Normyle '18. “Given the global financial and legal environment, American lawyers can practice virtually anywhere in the world. To be introduced to this reality gave me a more practical understanding of how the tools we develop and use in law school can be used anywhere.”
It was the meeting of tradition and modernity in Shanghai that impressed Rose F. DiMartino '81. “There were many trip highlights. But one that stands out is experiencing firsthand the explosive growth of the financial district of Shanghai, feeling the entrepreneurial energy, seeing the sheer immensity of the government buildings, and observing the diversity among the people.”
Gabi Schwartz '18 was also taken with Shanghai. “The Bund is the waterfront area along the river which separates ‘old Shanghai’ from ‘new Shanghai,’” she shares. “From the riverbank there you can see old, European-influenced buildings as well as enormous, modern skyscrapers across the water. It’s a powerful juxtaposition that captures Shanghai’s qualities beautifully.”
From Shanghai, the group traveled to Xi’an, where they saw the famed Terra Cotta Warriors. They also attended class at Northwest University of Politics and Law (NWUPL), which was a particularly memorable experience for Lisa Strejlau '18. “The students were excited to meet us,” she says. “Several of them had exams that day, but still took the time to be with us. It was amazing to witness how truly proud they are of their school and culture. After speaking with the NWUPL students, I realized how, despite living on opposite sides of the world, we actually have a lot in common.”
Moving on to Beijing, the group visited Beijing Jiaotong University and sat in on proceedings at the First Intermediate Court of Appeals. “We had the privilege of hearing a labor law case,” Carl Olson '18 says. “It had already been through arbitration and the trial court, and the events leading up to the suit had transpired only four months before!”
The young judicial system’s integration of technology was striking. “Our guides showed us all of the automated devices that enable Chinese citizens to litigate cases,” says Nagy-Normyle. “Entire court decisions can be rendered using the popular Chinese messaging app, WeChat. Imagine litigating in the United States using only Facebook messenger. This level of streamlined accessibility to the courts stands in sharp contrast to our U.S. system.”
The courthouse visit was also a highlight for Philip Russotti '73. “I appreciated seeing the similarities and stark differences between civil trial and appellate procedure in the United States and in China, and understanding the basis for those differences,” he says. “The primary difference is that, in China, appellate judges have broad discretion to hear new evidence, which may affect the outcome below on the theory that such power is fairer to the parties.”
For Olson, whether observing the court in action, visiting a Chinese law school, or marveling at the Great Wall of China and other iconic sites, the group’s mixture of students and alumni enhanced the Dean’s Travel Study Program experience. “Having alumni on the trip was a fantastic idea,” he says. “All of the students have tremendous respect for them, and for the more seasoned perspectives they add.”
Returning the compliment, Russotti shares: “Participating in all of these events with the law students made the experience even more vibrant and interesting because of their spontaneity, intellect, unique insights, and good humor. They were engaged, friendly, cooperative, and just fun to be with.”
Reflecting on another successful Dean’s Travel Study Program in China, Dean Kelly says, “It was wonderful to see the participants embrace this experience so fully, and to witness the warm camaraderie between our students and the students from the law schools we visited.” It’s a connection that continues to flourish, she shares, as 14 students from China begin their studies at St. John’s Law this semester. “Our Chinese students thrive as members of the Law School community. I truly enjoy working with them, with our partner schools, and with our visiting scholars. It’s a strong and meaningful affiliation that brings St. John’s to the world and the world to St. John’s.”