Seven University of Arkansas School of Law students got a unique hands-on experience in international law when they traveled to Minsk, Belarus, as part of a course on Transnational Negotiation.
The two-credit-hour course is taught by Professor Christopher Kelley, an expert in international law and emerging legal systems in Eastern Europe, and included a week-long trip over spring break to Belarusian State University in Minsk, paid for by the students. There the American students teamed up with Belarusian law students to engage in negotiation exercises. When not in the classroom, students were invited to meet with Belarusian ministry officials and tour cultural sites.
“When I did the legal writing class, I asked the Dean if he’d be open to a broader program where American and Belarusian law students could work together, and it grew from there,” he said.
Kelley took on the enormous logistical task of obtaining travel visas for his students and structuring a class around transnational negotiation.
“I’ve done similar trips before – last year I took law students to Moldova – but that was more about comparative law and the students’ own individual legal interests, and it wasn’t the same sort of structured program that we’re doing now,” he said.
While study abroad programs are popular with undergraduate students, lengthy summer abroad programs tend to be less popular in law school because law students traditionally take summer legal jobs instead. The University of Arkansas School of Law offers a summer-long study opportunity in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as a joint summer program at Cambridge University in England with the University of Mississippi. By offering a week-long study abroad trip, Kelley condensed as much learning as possible into a short period of time.
Third year law student Andrew “Whit” Cox, who attended the School of Law’s St. Petersburg program in Russia, was a fan of Kelley’s approach. “The negotiations aspect of the course was a great move by Professor Kelley,” he said. “It allowed for much more in class interaction with the Belarusian students than the lectures in the St. Petersburg program.”
“We spent nearly all day, every day in the classroom. Our students have taken practical courses in negotiation, but the Belarusian students had not, so in addition to me doing some lecturing, we paired our students with Belarusian students on negotiation teams. It wasn’t an ‘us vs. them’ set up. Our students were actively engaged with the Belarusian students, which allowed them both to practice and to guide and teach,” Kelley explained.
“All of the students in the course spoke English but some were better at it than others,” second-year law student Angela May said. “So not only were we working on negotiations, we also helped the students who weren’t so strong in English understand what the issue(s) were and in a sense taught helped them with their English skills.”
“I think this course was unique because the class created interaction, through legal education, with foreign students. The practical exercises that we engaged in with the students from Belarus taught me not only a lot about myself as an individual and American, but also a lot about others,” third-year law student Nick Alexander said. “One student said it all, “we are all people.” I think this theme sums it all up. It was fascinating to see the similarities in negotiating styles between everyone. I was surprised to learn that the students were more alike in their goals than not.”
“My favorite part of the trip was the exchange with the Belarusian students both in class during negotiations and after class when they took us to some of their favorite local joints,” said Cox. “On Thursday night we bought dinner and drinks for the Belarusian students at a traditional Belarusian restaurant to show our appreciation for the wonderful hosts that they were. It was truly a great trip filled with cultural exchange and diplomacy. Professor Kelley did an excellent job of putting this program together.”
Nearly all of the students who attended already had international experience through personal travel, but jumped at the chance to broaden their horizons further.
“I lived in Australia for two years as a missionary for my church, and I was interested in international law before this trip,” said law student Paul Pellegrini. “I’m definitely still interested in a career in international law after going to Belarus. Belarus was amazing!”
The experience furthered a desire to practice internationally for most participants.
“I have always been interested in the international aspects of business and law and someday I hope to live and work abroad,” May said. “Being in Belarus has enhanced my desire to work in international law.”
Alexander added, “I have always considered a career in international law and this course has strongly reaffirmed that desire.”
“I firmly believe that there is a need for lawyers in all areas of the world,” said third year law student Ben Barnett. “Everyone has the same human desires, and if you can help them achieve those, then your services will always be in demand.”
Professor Kelleys' various international law course offerings are available to interested LL.M. students as well as the J.D. students.