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Going Global: Harvard Law students travel the world in search of new perspectives

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For Harvard Law School students seeking a truly global experience, the expanding Semester Abroad Program gives them the opportunity to immerse themselves in a foreign legal culture. Over the past few years, HLS students have studied in nearly every corner of the world, from Chile to China.

Although HLS has established exchange programs with schools in Chile, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, China, South Africa, and Brazil, many students choose to plan their own independent semester abroad at an institution of their choosing. Several students also participate in the joint J.D./LL.M. degree program with the University of Cambridge in England.

This year, HLS sent students to six nations: the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Israel, Chile, South Africa, and England. Here, three students talk about why they chose to study abroad, and what their very diverse experiences were like.

Giancarlo Rivero-Pellegrini ’10 – University of Geneva, Switzerland

With his undergraduate degree in international relations from Lehigh University, Giancarlo Rivero-Pellegrini ’10 knew he wanted to study international law at HLS. Never having had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad as an undergraduate, the Nyack, N.Y., native took the first opportunity to study elsewhere during law school.

Rivero-Pellegrini opted to take advantage of the formal exchange program between HLS and the University of Geneva in Switzerland during the fall semester of his 3L year. “One of the really great things about it [studying abroad], I think, is that the diversity of opinion that you get in the classes is very different than what you get here just because of the difference in philosophy between Europe and the United States,” said Rivero-Pellegrini. “I think that makes for a very rich classroom experience and debate, and even outside of the classroom. That’s one of the big advantages.”

Because courses only met once a week for two hours, Rivero-Pellegrini said he could take more courses at once and truly immerse himself in a variety of international law issues. The seminar-style courses gave him the opportunity to interact with students from around the world, since most of his classmates at the University were international students like himself.

The conversation-intensive courses were a bonus because “international law tends to be a very opinionated field of law, so it’s a nice exchange,” Rivero-Pellegrini said. He also noted that there weren’t many other Americans, making the experience a “dramatic change” from the norm for him, though everyone was “very accepting and friendly.”

Being centrally located in Europe, Rivero-Pellegrini said he was also able to easily travel during his spare time. Having grown up for part of his childhood in Italy, he especially appreciated that Geneva was close to Milan, home to his favorite soccer team, A.C. Milan.

Now back at HLS to complete his J.D. degree this spring, Rivero-Pellegrini continues work on a project resulting from his studies in Geneva. He is writing an academic paper that attempts to articulate a legal framework to govern the way the U.S. military pursues non-state armed actors, such as Al Qaeda. After graduating, Rivero-Pellegrini plans to work at Bingham McCutchen in Washington, D.C., eventually focusing on international practice.

Jakob Sebrow ’10 – Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

For Jakob Sebrow ’10, studying abroad gave him the opportunity to delve deep into comparative constitutional law. As an undergraduate at Brandeis University, Sebrow wrote a thesis on Israeli constitutional law, prompting him to pursue the topic further in law school. After taking a class in comparative constitutional law at HLS during his 1L year, Sebrow said, the “only place left to go was to Israel.”

Once there, Sebrow wasn’t disappointed. At Hebrew University, he took five courses on several aspects of Israeli constitutional law – ranging from the most basic to the most advanced, including one on comparative free speech issues.

"My courses were very interesting,” Sebrow said. “I can’t stress enough how eye-opening my experience was just from a legal academic perspective. I’m not sure people understand – students at HLS, Americans generally – how differently people understand how constitutions develop and even what a constitution is.”

Sebrow arranged his own independent semester abroad, choosing Hebrew University because he had lived in Jerusalem for a year before going to college and also because it is one of the more prestigious places to study law in Israel.

With four of of his five courses conducted in Hebrew, Sebrow said the language was a “challenge.” Although he has a background in Hebrew from attending Jewish day schools, Sebrow said his language skills were “rusty” before returning to Jerusalem to study.

Living in a residential neighborhood very close to the President and Prime Minister’s houses, Sebrow and his wife found the cultural experience to be really exciting and politically interesting. Although they were living in a place that is constantly in conflict, Sebrow said they didn’t necessarily notice the tension on a day-to-day basis.

“When you ride the buses to school every day and back, and you don’t give it much thought – it’s hard to give it thought every moment,” Sebrow explained. “But, every now and then when you pause to think at the bus stop that there are a lot of people coming on the bus…you do think twice.”

Although a career in academia is certainly an option down the road, Sebrow plans to work at Kirkland & Ellis in New York next year.

Jennifer Reiss ’11 – University of Cambridge, England

At the University of Cambridge in England, Jennifer Reiss ’11 (photo far right) says she has finally found her passion after sampling numerous academic interests. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in History and Political Science, Reiss has spent the past year earning her LL.M. degree at Cambridge.

Reiss says she did not have the opportunity to study abroad in college. “I had intended on staying states-side,” she said, but then “miraculously” got an internship in European human rights law at the Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, during the summer after her 1L year. That experience led her to apply for the joint degree program during her 2L year.

After briefly exploring sports law through an internship at Wasserman Media Group in London, Reiss discovered an interest in intellectual property law while working as a cyberlaw and intellectual property clinical intern at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society during her 2L year. She also spent a summer at White & Case in New York before going abroad to England.

Reiss is expanding on her interest in intellectual property law and combining it with European human rights for her master’s thesis at Cambridge. Currently taking both UK and international intellectually property law, along with EU External Relations Law at Cambridge, she says she has appreciated the ability to take a specialized set of classes.

One of five HLS students participating in the joint program this year, Reiss said she and the other students take trips on the weekends and have become friends during their time at Cambridge.

Next year, Reiss will return to HLS to complete her J.D. degree. After graduation, she plans to do pro bono human rights advocacy for a few months before returning to White & Case in New York after graduation.

— Emily Dupraz

© 2015 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.