Dean’s Travel Study Program Explores International Dispute Resolution and European History

Students posing for a photo infront of columns
February 11, 2019

Doors from Belgium. A fountain from Denmark. Persian rugs from Iran. A three-ton vase from Russia. Wood from the United States. Nations attending the Second Hague Conference in 1907 made these and other gifts symbolizing collaboration and unity to the Peace Palace, the iconic building in The Hague, Netherlands that was built to house the new institutions of international dispute resolution being contemplated at the dawn of the 20th century and still stands today as a seat of international law.  

“The Peace Palace houses the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” says Tori Harris '19. “It's a special place with a special mission of promoting peace, via international dispute resolution, over war. Touring the building, and getting a sense of its historical and ongoing importance in person, is something I’ll never forget.”

Harris was one of 20 St. John’s Law students who traveled to Europe during the January intersession for the Dean’s Travel Study Program—Comparative Legal Systems: International Dispute Resolution. Led by Professor Christopher J. Borgen, Co-Director of St. John’s Center for International and Comparative Law; Associate Dean for Administration and Graduate Studies Sarah Jean Kelly; and Associate Academic Dean and Dean George W. Matheson Professor of Law Michael A. Perino, the graded, one-credit course took the participants to The Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.

We designed the course to provide students with a basic understanding of various mechanisms of international dispute resolution, including the United Nation’s International Court of Justice (for disputes between states), the International Criminal Court (for the prosecution of individuals for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity), and investor-state dispute resolution (where private parties can file claims against states for violations of obligations under an investment treaty), as well as other forms of dispute settlement,” Professor Borgen explains. “We also arranged a visit to the new NATO headquarters, had meetings at leading law firms and premier academic institutions, and toured important historical and cultural sites.

Together, these Dean’s Travel Study Program experiences helped the students think critically about political and economic conflicts and how tribunals have been used with varying degrees of success to try to address a range of disputes. “As U.S. law students, studying for the most part to practice in the United States, I think it’s easy to take for granted what our system already is, and to not really consider what it could be,” says Rebecca Farrar '20, a student fellow in the Law School’s Center for International and Comparative Law. “As someone with an avid interest in international law and international institutions, the course showed me that comparing systems and legal perspectives can shape our understanding of what law is and improve our ability to advocate respectfully and competently.”

Samantha Ojo '19 agrees. “I’ve been looking forward to participating in the Dean’s Travel Study Program since my first year of law school,” she shares. “The curriculum complemented and enhanced the skills I’ve developed as a member of the Law School’s Dispute Resolution Society. It was eye opening to learn about the different systems designed to resolve international disputes and maintain peace, and it was truly an honor to visit the Peace Palace and NATO, where those systems work justice to protect and uplift people around the world.”  

Getting an insider’s perspective on NATO was also a course highlight for Sam Wiles '19. “We were very fortunate to meet with Steven Hill, the Legal Adviser of NATO, who spoke to us about the alliance, its history, its structure, and the legal issues it addresses,” he says. “Not only was it incredibly interesting, I came away with a deep sense of how important it is for lawyers, no matter what their practice area, to be able to consider the law from diverse perspectives and to understand the global relevance and impact of the rule of law.”

As they traveled three EU countries learning about their legal systems, the students gained additional perspective from excursions that included: a group tour of the famed Anne Frank House in Amsterdam; a scenic river cruise in Paris; side trips to museums and other points of interest; and sampling local culinary delights. “The course was fully immersive in that the students were able to experience the countries and cities we visited in their fuller, social and cultural contexts,” Dean Kelly says. “Along the way, they shared perspectives and forged bonds with each other.”    

In this way, Dean Kelly adds, the Dean’s Travel Study Program reflects the Law School’s deep commitment to teaching the law in its global context. “St. John’s is a global law school, bringing students from all over the world to our campus in Queens, and bringing our J.D. students to study law throughout the world,” she says. “In addition to the Dean’s Travel Study Program, our international programs include summer study abroad in Rome; five-month practicum placements with NATO in Belgium; a semester-long academic exchange with Glasgow University Law School in Scotland; and the many activities and initiatives of our Center for International and Comparative Law, including its affiliated student-run journal, the New York International Law Review. Through these international offerings, our students learn about the law, culture, and society in various countries, and truly prepare for the global practice of law.”

Reflecting on the Dean’s Travel Study Program in all its dimensions, Rebecca Farrar says it was a formative experience. “In less than two weeks, I became interested in areas of the law I’ve never considered before, saw the very halls of the organizations keeping the global order together, and received advice from some of the most successful international practitioners. This trip made my legal world that much bigger, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”