Semester Abroad in Switzerland

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University of Geneva, Faculty of Law, and Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva


University of Geneva Faculty of Law

Established in 1820, the University of Geneva Faculty of Law offers a complete curriculum in law including three Bachelor’s of Law programs, five Master’s of Law (LL.M.) programs, three Master’s of Advanced Studies in Law (business law, international humanitarian law and life sciences law), one Certificate in Transnational Law, and a Doctorate in Law (Ph.D.) program based on a five-year curriculum (école doctorale). Given Geneva’s unique location as a hub of global decision-making, the University of Geneva Faculty of Law emphasizes courses offered by more than 10 full professors with a focus on international law, European law and comparative law studies. Geneva also specializes in banking and financial law, international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution, cultural property law, and humanitarian law. The Law Faculty collaborates with various international governmental organizations (UN, WTO, WIPO, WHO) and members of these organizations teach at the Law Faculty on a regular basis. It may be possible for visiting students to participate in an internship while in Geneva and take advantage of the Faculty of Law’s cooperation agreements with particular international organizations, though such internships are not eligible for credit.

The Faculty has a strong international research focus, supported by its membership in the European network Strategic Alliance of Research Faculties of Law (SARFAL), initially launched by Oxford University and Leiden University. Each year, it attracts more than 100 students from all over Europe and several dozens from America, Asia and Africa.  These students attend courses and use research facilities for periods ranging from just a few weeks to two semesters.

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies – Geneva

In January 2008, the Graduate Institute of International Studies (founded in 1927 and best known by the French acronym HEI) merged with the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (founded in 1961) to create the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.  The Institute’s mission is “to provide independent and rigorous analyses of current and emerging world issues with a double emphasis on international relations and development studies. It has a particular concern for promoting international cooperation and bringing an academic contribution to less advanced nations.” The Institute provides graduate-level, bilingual (English and French) study opportunities for students from all over the world. Read more about the Institute in its journal, Globe.

The Institute is comprised of six departments or ‘units’: Development Studies, International Affairs, International Economics, International History and Politics, International Law, and Political Science. The International Law Unit’s faculty has an impressive array of expertise, covering the full spectrum of international law topics, including United Nations law, state responsibility, international settlement of disputes, jurisdiction and immunity, territory and sovereignty, international human rights, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international environmental law, international economic law, WTO law, history and philosophy of international law, private international law, and international contracts.

Location

Located at the foot of the Alps, Geneva’s exquisite location is not to be overlooked. As one of Europe’s most international cities, Geneva serves as home to the European offices of the United Nations, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and more than 300 international and non-governmental organizations and permanent missions, as well as many multinational firms. This location is ideally suited for conducting scholarly and applied research on contemporary issues and fostering policy debates among academics, diplomats and decision-makers. Aside from its natural beauty, Geneva also offers a spectacular range of international cuisine and entertainments to match the diversity of its cosmopolitan population.

The Law Faculty is conveniently located in the center of Geneva in the Plainpalais area, with bus and tram access directly in front the University. The Graduate Institute’s newly-completed main building, Maison de la paix, is in proximity to a number of major international organizations and is about a 20-minute tram ride from the University of Geneva.

Course Offerings and Credits

HLS students studying in Geneva for a semester are invited to choose courses from among the extensive offerings of the Law Faculty and the Institute’s International Law Unit. HLS students are allowed to take courses at both institutions, and may take The Organization of International Dispute Settlement course through the Master in International Dispute Settlement program. In addition, HLS students may also take classes at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights through the joint-degree program sponsored by the Academy, the University of Geneva, and the Institute. An HLS student may receive a total of 10 to 12 ungraded classroom credits in relation to work done through the semester abroad program.  Please read below for specific information on the Law Faculty and the Institute including language proficiency requirements, and see the HLS semester abroad webpage for more information about course requirements and how semester abroad credits are calculated. 

Law Faculty

The master’s-level classes are at an appropriate level for HLS JD students. Students may also be interested in some more basic courses taught at the bachelor’s-level. It is not necessary to register for classes before arriving.

New for the fall 2014 semester, students have the opportunity to study international and comparative law at the European seat of the United Nations while earning the Law Faculty’s Certificate in Transnational Law. The course of study, available for the first time in English, features courses taught by leading specialists experienced in the practice of international law. Please see the certificate webpage for more information.

Typically Law Faculty students reading for a master’s degree are expected to take 5 courses worth 6 European credits each, which means 10 weekly hours of classroom teaching. The rest of their time must be spent in individual and group work. Course loads for HLS students will vary.

The Institute

Master’s and doctoral-level courses offered by the International Law Unit at the Institute are at an appropriate level for HLS J.D. students.  Please see the Institute's current course catalog for more information.

The number of hours spent each week in class varies depending on which courses the student is enrolled in, but typically students should expect to spend 10–12 hours per week in class. Each course generally meets once per week for two hours.

Language Proficiency

Both French and English courses are offered at the Institute. With the exception of the new Certificate in Transnational Law and a small selection of courses that are taught in English, the teaching at the Law Faculty is primarily in French. HLS students interested in spending a semester in Geneva taking courses in French at either institution are expected to have a level of fluency that will enable them to perform well in class and on exams; however, it may be possible for HLS students to write papers and exams in English. Prior to study 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. Students may also find it helpful to arrive in Switzerland early for language acclimation and/or to take a language training course before law classes begin.

Academic Calendar

The academic year at both the Institute and the Law Faculty is divided into two semesters.

Autumn semester at the Institute usually begins in mid-September and runs through December, with exams typically held in January. Spring semester begins in mid-February and runs to June, with exams typically held during June. See the Institute’s academic calendar for specific dates.

Autumn semester at the Law Faculty runs from September through mid-January (with exams usually extending into early February); spring semester runs from February through mid-June.

Autumn and spring semesters include 13 or 14 weeks of teaching, followed by 2–3 weeks of exams. Law Faculty exams for the autumn semester are usually held from mid-January to early February; HLS students may, however, seek their instructor's permission to take the exam earlier. See the Law Faculty’s calendar for specific dates.

Application Process and Timeline

Students interested in the Institute / Law Faculty exchange program should follow the semester abroad application process described on the HLS semester abroad webpage. Students must designate one of the two schools as their primary affiliation and plan to take the majority of their courses there, although they may also cross-register at the other school.

The HLS International Legal Studies staff will inform approved students if there are any additional application materials to complete.

The exchange agreement with the Law Faculty and the Institute stipulates that up to two HLS JD students may study in Geneva each year.  HLS may recommend more than two candidates but ultimately selections will be made by the Swiss schools. If a student is selected, he or she may be eligible for a scholarship offered by the Harvard Club of Switzerland.

Housing

Finding housing in Geneva can be difficult. The Institute and the Law Faculty do not provide on-campus housing for exchange students; however, the Institute's Student Services Office can assist the incoming exchange students with arrangements for their stay, while Housing Services at the University of Geneva can offer assistance in finding housing off-campus.

Students have also recommended the website www.glocals.com for information on housing, as well as social events and other markets (books, bikes, furniture, etc.). 

Contact Information

For further information, please contact either Sara Zucker at (617) 495-9030 / szucker@law.harvard.edu or Alicia Clemente at (617) 496-8732 / aclemente@law.harvard.edu.

Last modified: August 21, 2014

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