PUBLISHED:November 10, 2008

The Asia-America Institute: One student's perspective

A JD/LLM candidate, Amber Jordan ’10 spent a month of her 1L summer in Hong Kong at the Asia-America Institute in Transnational Law. A former college English instructor who spent two years teaching PhD students in China and a member of the Law School’s ELSA-WTO Moot Court team that made the international semi-final round in Geneva in April 2008, Jordan describes herself as “very interested in international affairs.” Here she reflects on her experience at the Institute.

Comparative Constitutional Law: A case study of a class
Comparative Constitutional Law offered an insider’s perspective on South East Asian Constitutions, taught by two experts in this field, one from the Philippines and one from Sri Lanka. What I enjoyed most was being exposed to choices made by these governments, choices very different from the choices made within American constitutional design, as communicated by an insider and expert. The benefit of an insider perspective cannot be overstated; event, phrases, history, and court cases in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and other countries were discussed with ease and familiarity and explored with both the sympathy and criticism.

I walked away from this class feeling that we had touched on the major current issues facing these countries, and the professors’ interest and understanding of the material brought alive the concerns surrounding constitutional law. In addition, although I enjoyed constitutional law my first year, it was not until I took this class that I felt like I really understood, simply learning from contrast, some of the decisions the United States had made with regard to constitutional law.

Upon my return to Duke, I had the unique opportunity to meet with a delegation from Malaysia who had come to the United States to tour the country, studying the American judicial system. As I walked into the meeting, solely because of the class I had taken in Hong Kong, I felt, although certainly not knowledgeable, at least a familiarity with some of the concerns this delegation may trying to address. I was able to speak comfortably with these visitors and was also extremely interested in their undertakings in a way I would not have been without my experience in Hong Kong.

Faculty and Students: A True Exchange
Although there are both foreign teachers and LLM students at Duke Law, at the Institute, because we live, eat, work, and study together, we exchange ideas and get to know each other in a way that is difficult to do in the United States. We each have the common language of a legal background as a starting point, but each professor and student brings a different focus, different background, different education, and different way of speaking about the law. The result is the ability to discuss and learn about law, particularly international law, sometimes in such simple ways as asking your classmates what work they do in their home countries.

Moreover, the exchange among students does not end at the close of the Institute. As orientation began for the Law School’s new LLM class, I realized that I knew numerous incoming students who had began their year-long LLM study with the Institute before coming to Duke. In fact, I became the student mentor for one of my classmates from the Institute. As the semester has progressed, it has been great to continue to interact with these classmates, enjoying relationships that probably would not have been possible without our time at the Institute.

Lasting impression
The Institute offered me much to discuss during on campus interviews in the fall, and makes more real and concrete my pursuit of a JD/LLM in international and comparative law. If you want to do international work, your time at the Institute illustrates this while also providing a great talking point for those interviewing you. There are specific ways in which I can talk about international law now, such as the effect of Sharia’a law on international finance or multinational corporations contracting in developing countries. These course ultimately took the groundwork laid down in our first year international classes and applied this groundwork to the specific and often practical material we were exposed to while in Hong Kong.