Lessons from London
By the time I started my third year at Melbourne Law School, I thought I had learnt a thing or two about the law.
When I arrived at the Centre for Transnational Legal Studies (CTLS), however, I found myself in a subject where I was the only native English-speaker in a classroom. Studying criminal law alongside Palestinians, Singaporeans, Americans, Swiss and Italians taught me to approach the law with fresh eyes.
Imagine how I felt when the Italians laughed when I explained that in Australia, we have juries that determine the outcomes of criminal cases. Or picture the debate about drug laws when there were Singaporeans in the class, who face the death penalty for trading in drugs.
More surprisingly was the discovery that Swiss judges must belong to a political party in order to be appointed to their position. Studying law in this context at CTLS taught me to re-consider many principles that I had always believed to be fixed.
One of my favourite memories of living in London was when my friend and I decided to visit the British Houses of Parliament. Question time is the one-hour period every week when all of the Lower House is present and the big political questions are put to the Prime Minister of the UK.
We raced past Big Ben, through security and under a big wooden hall past centuries-old paintings of European battles and we were finally squeezed into the sitting area to watch British politics unfold in the House of Commons.
The House was far smaller than I had expected and despite the British reputation for politeness, the politicians were just as noisy and uncouth as our own. I felt as though I was at an English football game!
Studying at CTLS in a group of just 41 students and 12 staff, all new to London, meant that everyone became very close very quickly. I will never forget the nights we spent in cosy English pubs debating the law, life and love from our various international perspectives.
One particular highlight of CTLS was a class trip to The Hague, where we visited the International Criminal Court and a number of other international institutions.
After a very hectic two days of meetings and tours, a large group of students caught the train to Amsterdam for the weekend to unwind. We spent two days debating our new perspectives on international law while wandering around Amsterdam's canals, markets and museums.
For those of you who have recently begun the journey at Melbourne Law School, I would highly recommend a semester at CTLS. I chose to go because I wanted an adventure, I wanted to gain a comparative approach to my legal studies and I hoped to make friends from all over the world. In all of these things, I was not disappointed.
My semester-long exchange concluded with a week-long road-trip around Iceland with some of the new friends I had made in London. As we built a snowman next to a huge waterfall, I smiled to myself and reflected that I could never have imagined that my decision to study law would lead me to this magical place.
By Charlotte Grover Johnson