Carl Olson '18 Launches His Teaching Career in China
Crack open, or swipe to, the Lonely Planet guide on Xi’an, and you’ll learn some interesting facts about the capital city of Shaanxi Province in central China. It was once a terminus of the famed Silk Road, and its former glory as a home to emperors, courtesans, poets, monks, warriors, and merchants is still evident in ancient architectural and cultural sites that coexist seamlessly with the modern city’s gleaming skyscrapers.
Carl Olson first experienced Xi’an and toured its prestigious Northwest University of Political Science and Law (NWUPL) as a participant in this year’s Dean’s Travel Study Program in China. This fall, after graduating from St. John’s Law, he will return to Xi’an to live and work when he launches his teaching career as a Law Lecturer at NWUPL.
“Teaching U.S. Legal Writing, U.S. Legal Systems, and other courses related to international law at NWUPL is a dream come true,” says Olson, who had his first job as an educator just out of college. He continued to hone his teaching skills as a St. John’s 2L when, with an introduction from Director of Graduate Global Engagement Joshua M. Alter '13, he became a legal writing teaching assistant in the Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) LL.M. program. “I wanted to feel as helpful and supportive of my Law School community as I did when I was a teacher, and I was immediately impressed with how eager and receptive the TLP students were,” Olson shares.
The admiration has been mutual. “Carl has set the bar for teaching fellows in our international programs,” says Kathryn Piper, director of academic advising for the Law School’s Office of Graduate Studies and an LL.M. program faculty member. “In two years of dedicated, proactive work, he has enriched many of our LL.M. classes, has grown into an institutional mentor and ambassador, and has helped to foster a marvelous culture of empathy and camaraderie among our LL.M. and J.D. students. This kind of environment motivates students and educators to bring our best ideas and efforts to class.”
It was on the recommendation of Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies Sarah Jean Kelly that Olson made his first trip to China in the spring of his 2L year. “I participated in a two-week exchange program at Southwest University of Political Science and Law which, like NWUPL, is one of St. John's partner Chinese law schools,” Olson says. “I spent hours after class helping professors and students learn how to use an American legal research platform and read cases. That sparked my idea of teaching in China.”
Olson fanned that spark into a full-time, post-graduate job opportunity at NWUPL when he next traveled to China as part of the 2018 Dean’s Travel Studies Program. “NWUPL students are excited to learn about the United States and our legal system,” he explains. “The administrators I met there indicated to me that they wanted to hire an international teacher to prepare their students to study law abroad, and I told them about my experience working with Chinese students at St. John’s. When I returned home, I submitted a formal application, including a list of courses I could teach. To say the least, I was delighted when NWUPL offered me the job.”
While NWUPL has hired foreign educators before, Olson will be its first international lecturer with a J.D. degree. “My goal is to bring value to NWUPL by ensuring that students who plan to go abroad to the United States are well prepared for the American law school experience,” he says. “I want them to feel confident about their legal writing before they start their LL.M. degree or begin work at an international law firm. I’m also excited give them an overview of the U.S. Legal System. As the world becomes more connected, understanding the systems, traditions, and practices of other countries becomes critical. China and the United States are powerful world economies and global leaders, and it benefits both countries to understand one another.”
Olson got a preview of what it will be like to teach in China when he returned there over spring break to give lectures at Shanghai University on federalism, on legal writing, and on the American law school experience. He considers it an auspicious start to what he hopes will be a long and fulfilling career in international legal education.
“I’m thrilled for Carl, and for our partner school NWUPL,” Dean Kelly says. “He’s been an excellent ambassador for the St. John’s Law family, and conveys the warmth, diversity, and inclusiveness of our community in all of his work with our international students. I know he’ll do the same in his work at NWUPL, and I can’t wait to visit his classes when I’m in Xi’an, and to see him build on his work of bringing the world to St. John’s and St. John’s to the world.”