After my first year of law school, I spent the summer studying international law in Dublin, Irleand, and Prague, Czech Republic. This the first ‘anything’ I ever published (in the USF School of Law newspaper).
Hi everybody. Welcome to another year of law school.
I still remember the fear of not knowing what a plaintiff was in the first class. Somehow I survived and even managed to have a great time in the process. If this is your first year of law school, don’t worry. It won’t make sense for a while, but when it’s over, you’ll have a summer to regroup.
This past summer, I attended the USF Summer Law Program in Dublin and Prague. I anticipated a leisurely academic experience coupled with a bit of sightseeing. I ended up with new friends, great classes, and a summer that was not described in the brochure…
June 16: ARRIVAL
Step 1 – Arrive at cement steps of back entrance to Trinity College after a brief but exciting cab ride with a driver that is training for the Taxi Olympics. Step 2 – Drag luggage past the Douglas Hyde Gallery and onto rocky cobblestone which destroys my suitcase wheels. Eventually, I’m directed to my dorm room on the third floor of a ominous gray stone building, complete with gargoyles. It’s not hard to believe that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, went to school here.
After a six hour jet lag induced cat nap, I meet up with fellow USF students for a “pint” to commemorate the beginning of the program. What begins as a quiet evening in a sedate Irish Pub ends in drunken revelry at a club known as Howl at the Moon. Sometime during the 10th viewing of the Irish version of Macarena, it dawns on me that we survived the first year of law school, and we give ourselves a standing ovation.
We return to our dorm rooms by 4:30 a.m., but only because class starts at 8:00 a.m. Our rediscovery of Irish social life turns the first week of classes into an amusing experiment in sleep deprivation.
Our classroom has desks similar to those in Pink Floyd’s movie The Wall and as comfortable as sitting on bedrock. Trinity’s Professor Phelan serves as the European Community Law professor as well as social director for the program. He supplements the curriculum by arranging guest speakers, a trip to the Four Courts to observe a murder trial, the Irish Derby, and an Irish music festival. (Not to mention pointing out various local pubs of notoriety). Phelan also tries to pique our interest in European culture, especially in the sport of soccer. Although skeptical, I give his “broaden your horizons” theory a chance and watch an entire televised Euro-96 match. Luckily, there are no goals scored in what seemed like seven hundred hours of regulation time. I hand Professor Phelan a San Francisco 49ers football on the last day of class.
June 28: VACLAV HAVEL
I’m surprised by suspicious men hanging around outside of my dorm. They turn out to be the Czech Secret Service, on campus for the purpose of guarding Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech Republic. Shortly thereafter, President Havel, clad in an ermine fur lined robe, walks by me to receive an honorary degree from Trinity. This brings the official total of heads of state that I have seen in person to two (the other being Ronald Reagan at the 1986 Statue of Liberty dedication.
I form a travel group with USF students Rachel Puno, Doris Cheng, and three others to drive to Belfast. Unfortunately, the highway exit we elect at random puts us right in the middle of a mob that is trying to provoke the local police. The police are in defensive positions about 50 yards away from our car and quickly advancing.
After a maneuver best described as cat-like stealth, we escape the mob and continue on our way. We spend the rest of the day photographing Sinn Fein Headquarters, political murals and antagonized citizens setting large objects on fire. A few days after our Belfast excursion, Northern Ireland erupts into rioting.
I return the rental car from the Belfast fiasco to the airport with Doris. While waiting for the bus to return to Dublin, we are surrounded by paramilitary soldiers in black leather suits on BMW motorcycles. I literally almost bump into Vaclav Havel (again) as he gets out of his limousine and meets Mary Robinson (the President of Ireland) right in front of me.
Voila. My “head of state” count is now three. After boarding the bus, an explosion erupts from the direction of the two leaders. Several more follow in rapid succession. I spend the next minute trying to figure out the proper response for a terrorist attack. Luckily, the “explosions” turn out to be a cannon salute for President Havel. Kinda odd for a country where the police don’t carry guns.
July 14: PRAGUE
I arrive in Prague and join other students that have been here since June. Gil Kennan arrives as the lone representative from the USF Program in Bali. My culture shock upon arrival at the dorm approximates the level of shock one acquires when reading the first question on the Torts final. Apparently, the Soviet architects were partial to the bunker effect.
Later, we assemble a group and tour the Old Town Square. Surprisingly, this section of town is completely devoid of the box-like communist buildings. In fact, every building is practically a work of art in and of itself. Since Prague escaped much of the destruction of WW II, most of the buildings are extremely old, and almost all have statues, gargoyles, and ornate designs. Add in cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, and a moonlit Charles Bridge, and Prague is officially the most beautiful place I have ever been.
We eventually meet other law students at a local bar known as the Chapeau Rouge (“Red Hat”). The ambiance of the Chapeau can best be described as a cross between a third world opium den and the cantina scene from Star Wars. It’s awesome.
July 23: THE IRISH CONTINGENCY
Gil and I meet group of seven Irish girls at the Chapeau. Our group bonds quickly and social life in Prague becomes a bizarre mixture of Irish, American, and Czech Culture. Eventually, it dawns on me that the most interaction I’ve had with the Irish is in Prague. The continous Czech-Irish connection is surreal. An amazing evening ends with a view of the Czech sunrise over the castle.
July 27: AUSCHWITZ I
Rachel, Gil and I take the night train to Krakow, Poland. Once we figure out the bus schedule (about as easy as translating a contracts case book into Apache), we catch a bus to the town of Oswiecim, the site of Auschwitz.
After viewing a film shot by the Red Army during the liberation, we walk down a path to the main gate. The electrified fence still stands, as do the barracks and guard towers. At one point, we are even allowed to walk through the eerie confines of the gas chamber. The wild flowers that have grown throughout the camp can conceivably be described as beautiful, but they only enhance the sense of overwhelming grief that emanates from the place.
I take a shuttle bus with Gil and Rachel to Birkenau, the second camp of Auschwitz. While walking through prisoner barracks, we overhear an old man say to a young boy – “And here’s where I slept…”.
We realize this man is not a tour guide. I somehow find the nerve to ask if we could accompany him and listen. For the next hour we sit near the ruins of the crematorium, listening to the man describe his separation from his family when the SS guards pulled them out of the boxcars and selected those who would live to work in the camp. His mother was not one of the chosen and passed away in the gas chamber that day. When the man points out the last place where he saw his mother alive, he starts to cry (as do we).
We miss the last shuttle bus back to the main camp.
We don’t care.
I have a class on Central European Constitutional Law in a large acoustical nightmare of a classroom that overlooks the Charles River. Initial assesment: I’ll survive three classes before sheer boredom forces me to fake my own death to avoid attending the rest.
Enter professor Vojtech Cepl. He lectures for two hours straight, without notes. Much of the class consists of his first hand account of what it was like to live under communist domination and how that experience has shaped the current government of the Czech Republic.
He also informs us that our classroom was used by student activists in the planning of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Attendance ends up hovering around 100%. It’s not every day your professor happens to have co-written the constitution of his country. When he is not teaching, Professor Cepl also spends much of his free time as a justice of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic.
August 2: LECH WALESA
Professor Cepl tells us that Lech Walesa is giving a speech today at the Headquarters of Radio Free Europe. I get past Secret Service friends by repeating the words “Charles University,” “Special Permission,” and by randomly waving and yelling to people that are already inside.
Once inside, my shorts and T-shirt blends in rather poorly among the formal attire of the dignitaries. Whatever.
As President Walesa talks about the future of Eastern Europe, I realize that I am witnessing history in the making. Afterwards, I conspicuously make my way into the receiving line to shake his hand and convince him to sign a copy of his speech. I can’t believe I don’t have a camera with me.
August 2: LECH WALESA II
Leave Radio Free Europe Building and proceed immediately to Kodak store to purchase disposable camera. As Rachel and I head back to the dorm, we run into two of our pals from the program.
As we tell the story, Lech and his entourage walk past us. I run after him with new disposable camera to get a picture. A sharp gesture from Walesa and a secret service agent grabs my camera.
At this point, I wonder if I might cause an international incident. As Lech Walesa poses with his arm on my shoulder, the agent takes our picture.
August 7: NEW YORK
Upon arrival in New York, my mother asks me the inevitable question, “How was your trip?”
I’m not sure I know how to answer that question.