Wayne Law students study abroad through International Public Interest Fellowship

Summer 2011 proved to be one unforgettable -- and extremely valuable -- summer for Wayne State University Law School students Rachel Hom and Clairissa Radyko.

Hom and Radyko were among the first of Wayne Law's International Public Interest Law Fellowship recipients, allowing them to gain significant legal experience while working for non-governmental organizations abroad. Hom spent her summer as a legal clerk with the Bahamas Crisis Centre in Nassau, Bahamas, while Radyko worked at the Lebanese Emigration Research Center (LERC) in Zouk Mosbeth, Lebanon.

According to Hom, who expects to graduate from Wayne Law in 2013, the experience allowed her to work under attorney supervision to counsel clients, translate legislation into easy-to-understand brochures and participate in a rotating apprenticeship program. She also conducted legal research for the College of the Bahamas and collected data on domestic violence at the Willie Mae Pratt Girls Industrial School, a detention center for girls.

"It was so interesting to see how law is practiced in another country," Hom said. "The most striking distinction was that the Bahamian court systems follow British Commonwealth Law, so not only are their court systems structured differently than American courts, but Supreme Court counsel and justices continue to wear the traditional gowns and curly white wigs. It's quite a sight if you're not used to it."

Driving up to the bright pink courthouses every day at 10 a.m. or later was something that took a little while getting used to as well.

"I was able to adapt, and learned how to effectively communicate and interact with various types of people notwithstanding cultural and often language barriers," she said. "Thick accents and Bahamian slang made it seem as if we were speaking different languages at times. It kept things interesting and fun."

Hom's experience, she says, helped solidify her future career goals.

"I recognize how acute the demand is for legal assistance in the area of family law," said Hom, who plans to practice in the greater Detroit or Grand Rapids area. "Working within the field all summer provided me with critical skills transferable, not only to law school classrooms, but also to the working world."

In her free time, Hom was able to explore the island of New Providence and experience life as a local.

"My favorite aspect outside of work was really getting myself involved in the community, traveling around the island and making friends," she said. "Outside of the beautiful beaches and delicious food, I realized that it is a truly genuine and hospitable culture. In all my world travels, the island has been the greatest pleasure to experience."

Radyko's experience, she says, was equally beneficial. She served as a research intern with LERC, where she was assigned two research topics and wrote papers on both. She also attended events and conferences on behalf of the center.

"I researched Lebanon's responsibilities under international law toward the influx of Syrian refugees, as well as U.S. immigration policy toward Lebanon since 1975," Radyko said. "For these projects, I read the Lebanese Constitution, international conventions and the applicable legislation. It was surprising to me how much I took for granted the rule of law. It plays such an important part in American society, but in Lebanon the concept of law is different. The notion of guaranteed constitutional rights means different things in different cultures."

According to Radyko, the experience with LERC enabled her to learn a great deal about Lebanese history and culture. It also allowed her to conduct interviews with Syrian refugee families, faith-based local organizations, and international organizations.

"Seeing how these families are living is so much different than reading the reports by news agencies," said Radyko, who will graduate from Wayne Law in 2012. "LERC is releasing a report on our findings this month and part of my writings will be included. I feel very fortunate to have visited these camps and to have gained some real perspective on the situation. This year has been an important time for the Middle East and a time of tension for Lebanon in particular. I felt like I was on the front lines of the headlines I was seeing in the New York Times and on CNN, which was terrifying and exciting at the same time."

Of course, Radyko also had time off of work, which allowed her to discover a country that was relatively unknown to her before her summer abroad.

"Some of my favorite aspects of this experience included the new cultural experiences, including the food and the people," she said. "I found I was most surprised by how similar Lebanon was to the United States. I was able to find pretty much everything I normally use in the local grocery store. There were familiar TV shows and movies playing; chain restaurants like Applebee's, Duncan Donuts and Krispy Kreme all around; and huge shopping malls and open-air nightclubs.

"Of course, though, I enjoyed the not-so-familiar places and made sure to visit museums and see a lot of ancient ruins and historic artifacts. I also was able to make some friends who invited me to home-cooked meals and to take refuge from the heat during weekends in their summer houses."

Both Hom and Radyko are quick to recommend the International Public Interest Law Fellowship experience to future Wayne Law students.

"This experience has been one of the best in my life," Hom said. "I gained very valuable and diverse perspectives of Bahamian law and court systems, in addition to immersing myself in their culture. I would undoubtedly recommend this program to other Wayne Law students because it really allows individuals the agency to make the most of the experience in whatever capacity they chose."

"The cultural experiences I gained from my summer abroad are invaluable," Radyko said. "It is incredibly tough - yet exciting - to be in a foreign country alone. Each time I go abroad, something changes inside me. I become a better person because just one tiny part of the world becomes less strange and foreign. I'm not exactly sure what I want to do when I graduate, but I really enjoy immigration and international law and hope to work within one or both of those fields at some point during my career."

Published: Tue, Sep 20, 2011


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