November 30, 2016

Profile: A Semester Abroad

Tom Walsh ’17 spent last spring studying law in Turkey through one of the law school’s exchange programs

Lewis & Clark Law School offers a variety of study abroad and exchange opportunities. Tom Walsh, a 3L student, shares his experience studying at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey during the spring 2016 semester.

How did you learn ­­of this study abroad opportunity?

I had the incredible good fortune to study constitutional law with Professor Ozan Varol. Professor Varol, who is himself originally from Istanbul, mentioned to our class that Lewis & Clark had just begun an exchange program with Koç University there. 

Why were you interested in studying abroad in law school? Why Turkey?

Developing the skills necessary for a career in international law is very important to me and I knew this would be a perfect opportunity to do this. I wanted to be conversant in the legal traditions and and principles of foreign jurisdictions and also be familiar with the culture of the legal profession in areas beyond our borders. At Koç, I was able to study European Union law as well as Turkish law. I befriended a number of Turkish law students as well as practicing attorneys, and through or conversations I learned a lot about how the legal profession in Turkey differs form that the United States. Finally, I was interested in going to Turkey because it is currently at the center of several international conflagrations, including the Syrian civil war and the resulting refugee crisis. Turkey is also experiencing major political and social upheaval domestically. The prospect of studying international law whilst surrounded by these events was irresistible.

What courses did you take?

I took Advanced International Law, Aviation Law, International Tax Law, and European Union Economic Law. All of my courses were taught by Turkish professors.

What are the most significant, or rewarding, things you were able to study or participate in while abroad?

While in Turkey I was able to work with a US based nonprofit which was developing an app designed to match local Turkish attorneys with refugees in detention centers. Many migrant arrivals forfeit their rights under Turkish law simply because they are not aware they have those rights to begin with. Many Turkish lawyers are happy to help and the concept of pro bono work exists in Turkey just as it does in the US.  The problem is that many migrants and refugees do not know how to reach out to legal aid in a foreign country, especially once they have been placed in a detention center. We were invited to participate in panel discussions with other nonprofits operating in Turkey, which provided an interesting insight into the difficulties faced by civil society organizations in Turkey, particularly those that are internet based or foreign funded. We heard from a Syrian doctor talk about his work organizing medical services for Syrians refugees unable to access state healthcare services in Turkey. Another group has developed a system similar to Airbnb’s to match refugee families with local Turkish families with available space in their houses. It was inspiring and reassuring to see that Turkish citizens are doing so much to help incoming refugees even though the government’s policy is mostly ambivalent. 

The Turkish government has experienced some unsteady times recently. Did that affect your experience there at all, and if so, how?

Yes and no. My experience at Koc University was not directly affected in a substantial way by political events in Turkey. Of course, I have a limited frame of reference, having only been there for a brief time and I suspect that the tone of life in Turkey has changed considerably in recent years. Prior to my arrival, the Turkish national mood had developed a rather gloomy disposition in the wake of the Gezi Park protests and the ensuing violence and subsequent government crackdown. The vast Taksim Square at the heart of the city, the site of this ugly confrontation with the government in 2013, is still eerily vacant aside from groups of heavily armed police. Locals avoid loitering in this area. The effect is almost surreal since Taksim is surrounded by the busiest and most vibrant parts of the city center. This sense of melancholy only seemed to deepen during my time there as newspapers were shut down for “supporting terrorists” and university professors and journalists were fired or arrested under similar charges. So, while the practical aspects of my day-to-day life were little affected and the school did an excellent job of ensuring my security, in a more general sense, my experience in Turkey was defined by the political events gripping the country.

Have you, or are you planning to, participate in any other international experiences?

Certainly! In fact, immediately after my time in Turkey, I moved to Italy to begin an externship at a firm in Milan. I was able to put to use much of what I had learned at Koç about European Union law and international tax law. I was even fortunate enough to work with some Turkish clients.

Do you have any advice for students interested in studying abroad?

Before leaving, reach out to your network here in Portland, or where ever it may be, and try to establish as many connections as possible in the country you are headed to. Developing these connections once you are alone in a foreign country, where you may or may not speak the language, will be much more difficult. The local institution you are studying at may not be well set up to assist foreign students in this respect either. Lewis & Clark was really helpful in putting me in touch with lawyers and other professionals in Istanbul and around Turkey. I even discovered that a former resident of my small hometown in Alaska is currently NPR’s foreign correspondent in Istanbul! It’s a small world; if you look you are likely to find some connection in your destination, so be sure to give it a try.

Also, I feel that many law students avoid taking advantage of opportunities to study abroad because, when the demands of law school leave you at your wit’s end, one tends to become more risk averse.  Choosing to study abroad and accepting the many uncertainties that accompany that decision is understandably difficult under these circumstances. This is a valid concern; the administrative burden will be increased. However, the staff at Lewis & Clark worked closely with me on every aspect of the process.  They were always willing to accommodate any irregularity in the process and were a huge help.

What are you involved with now that you’re back at Lewis & Clark, and which areas of law are you hoping to pursue when you graduate?

I am currently working at the Small Business Legal Clinic and am an associate editor on the Animal Law Review.

My goal after graduation is to work in the private sector, in international transactional law. Currently the legal universe developing around and informing the international regulation of cross-border data flows is what I find most fascinating.