Frequently Asked Questions and Planning Tips - Semester Abroad

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When should I start planning to study abroad?

It is a good idea to start planning for a semester abroad as much in advance as possible before one expects to go abroad. Students who are considering a semester abroad should think about how time away might affect job or clerkship opportunities and recruitment, journal work, or involvement in student organizations. Students who have spent a semester abroad indicate that advance planning helped them to minimize any complications presented by being away.

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What Is the best way to choose a foreign school? Which schools does ILS recommend?

It is up to students to determine which foreign law school best fits with their particular interests and goals for studying abroad. Considerations might include: type and range of courses offered, expertise of faculty members, language of instruction, location, calendar, student body, and contacts, among other things.

The International Legal Studies staff can provide information about the foreign schools with which HLS has linkages, and HLS faculty and students can also serve as excellent resources. Please see the sections on semester abroad locations and resources for additional suggestions.

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What are the differences between the exchange programs and an independent semester abroad?

HLS has entered formal exchange agreements with a number of law schools around the world. Because there is a formal arrangement between HLS and these pre-approved foreign schools, the application process and logistics of study abroad can be easier for HLS students to navigate. Academic standards and requirements for both the exchange program and independent semester abroad are the same.

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If I'm not accepted for a spot in an exchange, can I apply for an independent semester abroad?

The HLS Study Abroad Committee reviews applications and interviews applicants for all study abroad programs (exchange programs and independent semester abroad). When students are approved for an exchange program, the Committee sends its recommendations to the foreign school. If the foreign school does not accept a student, he/she may submit a revised proposal to the Study Abroad Committee for an independent semester abroad.

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How can study abroad fit in with a job search?

While students do need to plan carefully to ensure that time away from HLS does not pose problems with regard to a job search, the credentials gained by semester abroad can be very marketable.  Students who are considering how semester abroad might fit in with a job search can contact Marni Goldstein Caputo in the Office of Career Services or Lisa Williams in the Office of Public Interest Advising.  OCS and OPIA advisors are also able to counsel students by phone, e-mail or Skype during their semester abroad.  As well, all OCS programs are made available by webcast or podcast.

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What if the school abroad has a different academic calendar than HLS?

Many of the academic calendars abroad (particularly those in the southern hemisphere) do not coincide with Harvard’s academic calendar.  Students who spend the semester at foreign schools may find that the different calendars present opportunities for summer internships and jobs, and that it is possible to apply for jobs in the US as well as to study abroad. However, it is the students’ responsibility to plan carefully for their return to Harvard, their search for summer and/or permanent employment, other commitments at home, and to avoid (or reconcile) conflicts with summer jobs. Students at an institution where the semester runs through January may be eligible for exemption from the HLS winter-term residency requirement. However, this does not change the total credit requirement for graduation, so students should plan carefully to ensure they meet the requisite credit amount.

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I’d like to spend a semester abroad at a school where English is not the language of instruction. How well must I know the foreign language?

If students are applying to an institution at which English is not the language of instruction, their level of fluency/proficiency should allow them to take courses, converse and write papers in the foreign language in question.  Most institutions provide information about the language requirements and it is the student's responsibility to satisfy HLS requirements regarding the necessary proficiency to study abroad effectively.  Although studying law in a foreign language can be challenging, it can also be an excellent way to increase language facility and familiarity with foreign legal terminology. To prepare for a semester abroad, HLS students may improve their language proficiency and receive credit for foreign language courses at Harvard College in accordance with the HLS cross registration policy. Previous study abroad students have found it helpful to arrive in the foreign country early for language acclimation and/or to take a language training course before law classes begin.

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Can I study abroad in an English-language program or a foreign program of another U.S. law school?

HLS students may not enroll in programs of U.S. schools given abroad. Students must take courses in the usual language(s) of instruction of the foreign school. Some schools offer courses in English to their regularly enrolled degree students. However, HLS students may not enroll in courses designed expressly for American students or students from countries other than that in which the school is located.

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Whom should I choose as an HLS faculty advisor?

The choice of an HLS faculty advisor for a semester abroad is really up to the student. However, only HLS professors can serve as advisors; faculty members holding the title of lecturer, visiting professor, or affiliated faculty are not eligible. Students should seek out a faculty member whose areas of interest and expertise (thematic and/or geographic) are similar and relevant to the proposed semester abroad. Although it can be advantageous for students to work with a professor whom they already know, and who can recommend them, it is especially important for the faculty advisor to be in a position to consider the coherence of the proposed plan of study. Most faculty members are happy to meet with students and provide advice and assistance when possible.

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What is the best way to secure a foreign faculty advisor?

Often HLS students are able to identify excellent foreign faculty advisors simply by determining who teaches the courses at the school abroad that are of the greatest interest to them.  HLS professors and students (especially LL.M. and S.J.D. students who have studied in other countries) can also suggest people who might be appropriate advisors.  Once students have identified one or more potential foreign faculty advisors, they should contact the professor to discuss the role and determine whether the professor would be an appropriate advisor. {Please note:  it is not necessary for students applying for a semester abroad at Sciences Po to choose a foreign advisor; accepted students will have Sciences Po advisors assigned to them.}

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How many credits do I need prior to going abroad?

Before going abroad, students should be sure that they have completed all required first-year work at HLS and have planned to earn the 52 additional credits as stipulated by the HLS Registrar’s Office (including the pro bono, written work and professional responsibility requirements). Students can earn 10 to 12 ungraded classroom credits for a semester abroad; the exact number depends on the particular course load taken at the foreign school. In addition, they may earn one graded credit for an independent paper written the semester after returning to HLS, making it possible to earn a total of 11 to 13 credits for a semester abroad.

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May I take courses in subjects other than law?

Students who wish to include in their study abroad program courses listed by the foreign school in disciplines or departments other than law must receive express permission from the Study Abroad Committee prior to enrolling in such courses.  Should students be allowed to take a course in another discipline, the correlating credits will count towards the maximum allowable for cross-registration in accordance with HLS academic policies.

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What happens to financial aid if a student spends a semester abroad?

Students remain fully eligible for regular Harvard financial aid and student loans for the semester abroad as if they had remained at HLS for the semester in question. To help defray the additional costs of living and studying abroad, the student will receive a budget increase of $1,500 as part of his/her HLS financial aid package.

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What are some of the challenges I might encounter during a semester abroad?

HLS students often encounter striking differences between their experience at HLS and at a foreign law school.  These may include different pedagogical methods both within the classroom and in terms of how students research, write, and prepare for classes and exams.  University facilities such as housing, libraries, athletic facilities and computers may differ in quantity and quality.  The administrative processes at a foreign law school may be quite different than those to which HLS students are accustomed. Students should be prepared to take initiative in orienting themselves, and allow plenty of time to deal with unexpected administrative challenges or delays. Unlike at HLS, the student body can often be composed of both students working toward their first degree (the equivalent of a bachelor’s) and graduate students.  At some schools, the majority of students commute rather than living on or near campus.   Social and legal norms may be quite unlike those in the United States or other places where students have lived or studied. 

While the differences between a semester at HLS and one at a foreign law school can be striking and occasionally difficult to negotiate, study abroad participants consistently report that the experience broadens their horizons in a variety of ways.  They recommend a combination of advance preparation and openness to the new experience of a semester abroad.

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Whom can I contact with questions or for suggestions?

For questions, please contact Sara Zucker, Director of International Legal Studies Programs, at szucker@law.harvard.edu or (617) 495-9030. Sara is available to talk to students by appointment as well as during office hours on Tuesdays from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. when HLS classes are in session.  Sara’s office is located in Suite 5005 of Wasserstein Hall.

Students may also direct questions to Alicia Clemente, International Legal Studies Program Officer, at aclemente@law.harvard.edu or (617) 496-8732. Alicia’s office is also located in Suite 5005 of Wasserstein Hall.

There are also many other members of the HLS community who can serve as invaluable resources for students considering a semester abroad.  J.D. students who have studied abroad, as well as LL.M. and S.J.D. students who hold a degree from a foreign school, can provide extensive information about foreign schools and the social and legal cultures in other countries.  (Lists of these students and the schools where they studied may be obtained from Sara Zucker.)  Faculty members and staff of HLS research centers and programs can also serve as useful resources.

Students who would like to discuss the possibility of obtaining disability accommodations for study abroad should contact Lakshmi Clark-McClendon, Assistant Director of Student Services, at lclark@law.harvard.edu or (617) 496-2437.

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Last modified: September 02, 2014

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