Category Archives: Study Abroad

Stetson Law student examines legal structure and history in Rome

Story by Valeria Obi

Every spring semester, the International Programs Office at Stetson University College of Law hosts a study abroad course that provides students with the opportunity to learn about the legal structure of a different country and then actually visit it in person.

This spring, the course was Rome-Select Topics/International Law, the country of interest was Italy, and I had a personal opportunity to participate. The topics covered in this course were the development of Republicanism, law and advocacy, the legal profession in ancient Rome, and its effect on modern civil law systems.

Stetson Law student Valeria Obi during a spring visit to Rome.

Stetson Law student Valeria Obi during a spring visit to Rome.

This course was spearheaded by Stetson Law professors Marco Jimenez and Candace Zierdt. Both professors are extremely knowledgeable about the ancient legal structure of Rome and served as great resources for learning about the area.

The first half of the course was spent in the classroom at Stetson Law in Gulfport, Fla., where I learned about the development of law and advocacy from ancient Rome through modern society.

The class was heavily focused on classroom discussion. This provided an opportunity for everyone to share their opinions on course topics. Students facilitated the majority of classroom discussions.

Through these discussions, I learned all about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the evolution of religion in Rome, the first legal code (The Twelve Tables), Roman architecture and influential leaders of Rome.

During spring break, March 17-24, I actually had the chance to visit Rome in person and visit the places I studied about in class.

One of the sites I visited while in Rome was the ancient Roman Forum, which is surrounded by the ruins of other ancient government buildings. These buildings were used for centuries and were the center of Roman life. The Forum served as the venue for elections, public speeches, criminal trials and other major events that took place. My visit to the Forum was enhanced by insights from the class discussions.

Along with the Forum, I also toured the Supreme Palace of Justice, which houses the Roman Supreme Court. This building is enormous and beautifully decorated with ancient paintings. While there, I also had an opportunity to attend a hearing to see how Roman legal proceedings differ from those in the U.S.

Stetson students spent Spring Break in Rome learning about the Roman legal system.

Stetson students spent Spring Break in Rome learning about the Roman legal system.

Another interesting site that I visited was the Catacombs, which served as the underground burial place for Christians in ancient Rome. The Catacombs extend for nearly 12 miles and are currently still being excavated. I got the opportunity to walk through the chilled tunnels and even saw remains in some of the plots.

I also visited Vatican City, which is the smallest independent state in the world. The Vatican is actually located in Rome where its territory consists of a walled enclave. Inside the Vatican are several museums that improved my understanding of ancient Roman art as well as the different Popes of Rome.

The Vatican is also where the Sistine Chapel is located. The Sistine Chapel served as the official residence of the Pope. I was absolutely amazed by the Renaissance architecture and paintings by very famous artists including Michelangelo.

My favorite places among those we visited were Pompeii and Herculaneum, both partially buried cities that are also still being excavated. These cities are the result of a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius. What’s really fascinating about these cities is the fact that part of them is still buried under the ash and debris from the volcanic eruption. We were able to walk through these ancient cities and visualize what life used to be like for the inhabitants.

Overall, my experience in Rome was absolutely captivating and breathtaking. While I did see much of Rome, there is still so much more to see. I appreciate everything I’ve learned from the course because this once unfamiliar culture has inspired me to learn even more about it. Although next year the country selected for Stetson’s spring break abroad will be different, I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to travel internationally.

For more information about this course or any other study abroad programs, students should contact the Office of International Programs at


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SCOTUK, Crass Puppets, and Scotland

22 September: Today we toured the recently formed Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.  Created only one year ago, perviously the highest court of appeal was a committee of the House of Lords, now they have their own building and have traded the title of Law Lords for Justices.  Personally I’d much prefer to style myself Law Lord, but they didn’t really ask for my opinion.

The Court itself is a study in contrast with our own.  The Justices are not elevated above the litigants and everyone basically sits in circle like an arbitration.  The rooms themselves are lighter and airier, giving a more casual and open atmosphere to the venue than our much more formal and imposing Court.

We were also afforded the rare opportunity of sitting and talking with Jenny Rowe, Chief Executive of the Supreme Court.  She is responsible for everything in the Court except for actually hearing cases and writing opinions.  It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to speak with someone in her position as she guides the formation of and entirely new branch of government and works through how this new Court will work.

24 September: Destiny and I went to see the musical “Avenue Q” today over in the theater district.  We had a great time and I found the show’s commentary about life after graduation as relevant as it was hilarious.

Tip XIII: See a show!  Even if you’re not into theater, the FSU Centre is only a 20min walk from the best theater district in world outside of NYC.  Take advantage of the opportunity at least once while you’re here.

After saying goodnight to Destiny, I went home, packed and met up with Kate, Jen Danielle, Rachel, Michael and Chris, and headed over to Victoria Coach Station.  We were on our way to Scotland!

25-26 September: I won’t lie, the bus ride to Edinburgh was less than pleasant, but we soon were rewarded as we arrived at the home of the Scottish Kings.  Compared to London, Edinburgh is much quieter, less crowded and has much more natural scenery.  We walked through the center of town to our hostel and got settled in.

This was my first experience with a hostel and I was honestly impressed.  The rooms were clean, the staff was friendly and seemed to genuinely care for the place.  They provided free internet connections and breakfast and there was even a very reasonably priced bar downstairs!

After getting settled, we climbed up to Edinburgh Castle.  Wow is it ever an amazing sight!  It sits on top of crag and it’s an imposing climb when you’re coming to sight see.  I can’t imagine trying to take the place by force.  The interior was equally impressive and we spend a fair bit of time wandering around its halls.

After seeing the Castle we went to the Scotch Whiskey Experience.  Imagine a Disney ride about how whiskey is produced and you get a dram of Scotch at the end of the ride.  Eat your heart out Mouse!

When we got back to the hostel, we met a couple of American girls that were sharing our room.  We started talking and it turns out they are undergrads at Eckhart College…studying in London…a block from where I live!  I literally walk past their study center on my way to class each morning!  What a small world.

As we were talking, they told us about an amazing picnic they’d taken from the top of a cliff at the base of the Royal Mile (the main road leading to the Castle).  The next day Kate, Danielle, Rachel, Jen and I embarked on climbing up this cliff to see this amazing view.  We made the climb and it was strenuous, but despite one bad tumble we all made it up.  Then we saw the even taller cliff behind the first.

After some discussion, Jen and I resolved to scale this taller cliff, while the rest of the ladies decided to defend that bar back in town against all comers.  The climb to the top of this second cliff (we later learned its name is Arthur’s Seat) was a VERY serious hike.  At times the rough hen stone steps more resembled a ladder than stairs.

We were pretty worn out by the time we reached the summit, but we were well rewarded for our efforts.  Arthur’s Seat is 823 feet high that offers and unobstructed 360º view of Edinburgh, the sea and the surrounding countryside.  It’s truly breath-taking and you never want to come back down to earth.  Unfortunately we had to catch our coach back to London, so Jen and I reluctantly began our decent.  We met up with the rest of the group at the pub and had a victory pint and we were soon on our way back to London.  It was great trip that I’d recommend to anyone.

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Legal London; Time, Space and Distance; Dream House and Dreams Fulfilled

14 September: Today we took another school sponsored tour.  This one was especially relevant to us because today we toured London’s legal heart.  For this trip we enlisted the aid of Victoria, solicitor and Blue Badge Guide extraordinaire!

We started at Lincoln’s Inn and wandered though Inner Temple and Middle Temple.  The Inns are where law school graduates go to receive their practical Barrister’s training.  Traditionally, the aspiring Barristers would physically reside at their Inn while they received their training.  Even today, you’re required to physically travel to central London and eat so many dinners at the Inn before they will call you to the Bar!  It seems like great tradition that provides an amazing networking opportunity and draws the profession closer together.

After leaving the Inns, we went to the Royal Court’s of Justice.  It was my second time there, but it’s still just as beautiful as I remembered.  This time, we had time to actually sit in on court and watch the Barristers present their cases.  It’s pretty similar to our proceedings, with one notable exception.  Court dress includes robes and wigs for the Barristers and the judge.  There’s discussion about doing away with the formal dress, but I quite like it.  Professor Fitzgerald would save I’m suffering ‘wig envy’.  I guess I can own that.  It was very interesting trip.

15 September: Destiny decided to visit Greenwich: the home of time, distance and astronomy.  Greenwich is on the outskirts of the city and there’s no Tube stop remotely close.  There is however…a River Taxi pier.  So, after class we went down to the Victoria Embankment and boarded a Thames Clipper.  The Clipper took us all the way from Parliament down to Greenwich.

Tip XI: Take a water taxi while you’re here.  For less than £10 return, there’s no better way to see London.

At Greenwich we scaled the ‘hill’ to reach the observatory.  There we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the London, particularly the business district.

We then checked out the observatory, where many of famous astronomers practiced their craft, include Edmound Halley of Halley’s Comet fame.  We also got to see the definition of English distance measurements, and straddled the Prime Meridian.  Really it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

19 September: Another amazing sponsored tour!  This time we took a coach to Blenheim Palace.  It’s the only home that the Queen doesn’t live in, that is allowed to call itself a Palace.  Frankly it’s earned it!

Constructed in 1705 as a reward to John Churchill (ancestor of Winston) for defeating the French at the Battle of Blenheim, it is absolutely breathtaking.

Tip XII: Defeat the French!  It’s absolutely the best way to be made a noble, receive a stately home, and get an enormous monument made for you.

I really don’t have the words to describe Blenheim.  I’ve never seen and I cannot imagine a more splendid home on a more picturesque piece of land.

Having left Blenheim, we travelled to Oxford University and toured it’s Christ’s Church college.  The college was gorgeous and amazing in its own right, but for this slightly nerdy law student the highlight came before…at lunch.

When I decided to join the Autumn in London Program there was one thing that I KNEW I was going to do while I was in England.  I was going to Oxford and eat at the Eagle and Child.  The Eagle and Child looks like a normal quaint English Pub, and indeed it is.  The food is standard pub fair and they have the normal assortment of drinks.  What makes the Eagle and Child special is that it was home to the Inklings.

The Inklings were a group of Oxford professors who gathered together in the back room of the Eagle and Child and read excerpts of their writing to each other and gave each other feedback.  Members included C.S. Lewis and much more importantly for me, J.R.R. Tolkien.  In many ways, the Eagle and Child’s Rabbit Room was the nursery that nurtured the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

I was around ten years old when I read the Lord of the Rings and I was enchanted with it.  I’ve reread it more times than I can count and it was a dream of mine, even back then, to visit the place of its birth.  I love all the amazing opportunities this program provides!

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Of Mice and Funny Men (…and classes)

8 September: Tonight Amanda, Dianne, Blake, Wiley, Brian and I travelled out the East End to see Modest Mouse rock out.  Then venue for the evening was the Troxy.  It’s a much smaller venue than I’d expected, but it was actually quite nice.  It’s reminiscent of the older cinema theaters that you find in almost every little town throughout the midwest, only with the seats removed.

The concert itself was amazing.  I was particularly impressed with their creative instrument choices and unique techniques, such as using a guitar pick-up as a vocal mic and moving a guitar in front of monitor to play with the resulting feedback.  It was a fabulous time.

10 September: Ravi, his friend Shawn, Amanda, Dianne and I went down to the Soho Comedy Club to catch a couple of acts.  The jokes were hit and miss, but over all it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.  I believed we paid £8 at the door for 4 acts and that included the cover for the nightclub downstairs.  So really it was a pretty solid value for a night’s entertainment.

Now for a little business… It occurs to me that I’ve mostly been talking about all the amazing, fun things to do on our spare time here and I haven’t said much about the reason we’re all here: classes.

US-UK Legal Systems: This is one of the two required classes for the program and is also one of the three classes I’m taking which is taught by a British Professor.  I find this class very interesting.  It essentially gives a basic overview of the UK government and compares that to our own.  It’s fascinating seeing how our two very different democracies handle different issues and how each of these solutions in turn spin-off their own unique challenges.

It’s also great because it give you an opportunity to really look at our own government structure from an outside perspective.  Since I’ve been here I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the strength of our own systems and well as ideas on how we might better handle some of our own challenges.

Tip X: Classes taught by British Professors are quite different from what you’re accustomed to back home.  The legal education here is done as an undergraduate program.  As a consequence there seems to be a tendency on the park of non-U.S. professors to structure their classes like what we’d expect from our undergraduate classes.  To me it’s honestly both delightful and maddening.  Delightful because there’s much less stress from those classes and they’re very easy to follow.  Maddening because there are times you feel everything’s being spoon fed to you and you just want the class to move along all ready.  Another difference is that they very heavy on the lecture, with a dash of discussion, and not even a hint of Socratic.

English Legal Research: R&W III, as I’ve ‘affectionately’ come to thing of it as, is the other required course and it is honestly far from my favorite.  The professor is smart and engaging, and I’d love to take another class with her, but the subject is still legal research and making that interesting is a truly Herculean task.  Much of it overlaps with our R&W I and II classes and frankly it bores me to death.

Is it useful though?  Honestly for myself, the answer is a resounding ‘no’, but I took a highly unscientific opinion pool and the results are mixed.  I found that about half of the students in internship found the English Legal Research helpful to performing their tasks for their employers.

International Trade and the Environment: In this class we delve deeply into the GATT and WTO structure and how that interacts with environmental issues.  It’s a very dense, challenging class and I quite enjoy it.

International Human Rights: This class, as taught, would perhaps be better titled as Lectures on the European Convention on Human Rights.  I really enjoy the topic and we’re certainly getting an interesting point of view on the subject.

International Sales and Arbitration: This is probably my favorite class.  It’s a very small group of six people, with four of us trying out for the Vis Moot.  The class is really geared around preparing us for the moot tryout and I feel like we’re learning a great deal about the CISG and beginning to move into the arbitration portion of the class.  Of course soon the Vis packet will come out and we’ll all be working on our briefs and arguments.

Internships: My internship is with DavidsonMorris, Solicitors.  We’re a small boutique immigration firm, with a decidedly family feel to the place.  We’re currently spearheading a judicial review of the interim immigration cap imposed by Britain’s new Coalition Government.  When we’re not working on that massive project we’re helping people and businesses navigate the UK Border Agency’s immigration guidances to receive and keep their immigration status.

I still have separate arbitration condensed class that hasn’t begun, so there’s not much I can report about that.  Over all the classes are informative and I feel I’m learning quite a bit about international and UK law.

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Jack the Ripper, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace

31 August: A large group of us went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour.

Tip IX: There are lot of Jack the Ripper tour’s out there, we used London Walks, and I highly recommend it.  It’s inexpensive, fun and informative.  Our guide literally wrote the book on the subject.

You not only get a great deal of interesting information about the murders, but you also learn a great deal about London during the late 19th century and surprisingly a fair bit about ancient London and how it’s layout affected the investigation.

4 September: Today we took another of our scheduled tours to Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace.  The Castle is everything a Castle should be!  high walls, arrow slits, portcullises, murder holes and imposing gates.  Though the mote has long since been filled in, it’s easy to see how formidable the defenses are.

We then went out to Hampton Court Palace.  On the way from Windsor, our guide Angie regaled us with the story of Henry VIII, his wives, and his tragic friendship with Cardinal Wolsey.  Wolsey ‘gave’ Hampton Court Henry VIII.  If you want to hear more of the story you can read a British history book or just watch the first couple season of The Tudors.

Hampton Court Palace is an enormous house that sits on the banks of the Thames outside of London.  For all it’s size and opulence , I honestly didn’t really care much for the house.  It lacks a cohesion in style and purpose that, in my humbled opinion, makes it gaudy rather than grand and it’s comes off ironically bourgeois.  Of course much of this comes from the houses history.  Cardinal Wolsey came from relatively modest means and built his house in imitation of the aristocracy rather than from true inspiration.  After the house became property of the crown, various monarchs made partial renovation, expansions, and revisions that leave the house with various, often clashing, architectural styles.

What the house itself lacks in elegance, is more than made up for by the gardens and the grounds!  The tour of the house took up most of our time and I’d really like to get back out there and wander the grounds more fully.  I did have time to see an amazing rose garden in full bloom and to make my way through to the center of the oldest hedge maze in the world.

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Parliament, Birthdays and Carnevale

24 August: Today we took our group tour of the Houses of Parliament.  We entered through the ancient Westminster Hall, where among others Charles I was tried and ordered exicuted by the Oliver Cromwell and his supporters.  Ironically when his son Charles II was restored to the thrown, royal supporters dug up Cromwell’s corpse, hanged it by the neck until…still dead I suppose, decapitated the body and placed the Cromwell’s thrice executed skull in the rafters, until it came crashing down some years later!  The English have the most excellently and morbidly funny stories I’ve ever heard.

The tour itself moves from Westminster Hall and follows the Queen’s route when she comes to open Parliament.  The opening takes place in the House of Lords, which is actually a rather small room, that is dominated on one end by an elaborately carved gilded throne and dais.  Once the Queen takes her seat, the House of Commons is summoned from their chamber in an elaborate ceremony that underscores the historical tensions and power struggles between the Commons and the Aristocracy.  The Queen gives her speech, which announces her government’s agenda and then everyone goes back to work.

Moving out of the House of Lords, we then went down to much plainer House of Commons, which is again very small.  In fact it’s physically impossible for all the members of either of the Houses to sit in their chamber at the same time.

Interesting Fact:The monarch is forbidden from ever even setting foot inside the House of Commons.

Probably the most interesting thing on the tour is the chipped and battered archway leading into the House of Commons.  During the Blitz that whole side of Westminster was bombed.  One of the few parts that remained more or less intact was this arch.  Churchill demanded that when the building was rebuilt that they retain the original arch as a memorial to all those who gave their lives defending Britain.

25 August: Today was my birthday and what a birthday it was.  After class everyone got together and trekked over to China Town to celebrate.  I was really touched that so many people came out, especially since it was a particularly cold and rainy day and the restaurant wasn’t exactly close.

The one downside to this trip is that you’re away from your normal support base.  The upside of that is that you build a new support base among the other student’s on the trip, that will laugh and celebrate with you during the good times and be there for you through the hard times.

29 August: Today I went to the Nottinghill Carnevale.  It’s basically a caribbean Mardi Gras on the west end of London.  There are floats, dancers, calypso and reggae  musicians, food vendors with all types of food from Trinidad to Miami and of course LOTS of Red Stripe!  With all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes it really reminded me of home.

The other reminder of home is the boarded up windows.  They’ve had problems with rioting once it gets dark in the past so the shop and home owners in the area border up their windows to prevent looting.  As a consequence, it looks a lot like Florida during hurricane season.

Tip VIII: Go to the Carnevale.  It’s great fun and the city spends a lot of money to make sure it’s safe.  However, it does get rowdy.  Sunday is calmer than Monday and the later it gets, the crazier it gets.  Have fun, but stay safe.

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The Few, the Extravagant, and the Crowded

20 August: Hilary and I walked down to Churchill’s War Room for a commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  It was quite moving to hear Churchill’s “the Few” few speech while standing a stone’s throw from Parliament, surrounded by WWII vets along with their children and grandchildren.  After the speech there was a flyover by a Spitfire and a Hurricane, two of the aircraft instrumental in the Battle of Britain and WWII generally.

After we came back, we went by Argos and I purchased my replacement camera.  Argos is also interesting because it’s like a modern version of an old-school Sears and Roebuck.  You walk into the store and all there are basically only two things: rows of catalogues and cashiers.  You look through the catalogue, write down the SKU number, give that and your money to the cashier, wait, and the cashier brings you your product.

After we had my new camera home and charging, we went over to the British Museum to look around for a few minutes.  I’ll definitely want to go back so I can actually take some pictures, plus I’d really like to be able to spend a little more time on the individual exhibits (we came shortly before closing).  Fortunately the museum receives public funds, so it’s open, free of charge, to any and all.  I’ll reserve further comment for a dedicated note to the museum, but I will say that no one appropriates and preserves the cultural treasures of other nations like the British!

21 August: Today was shopping day.  First, we took the Tube over to Harrod’s.  If there exists the Platonic form of the high-end department store, it’s Harrod’s.  They have over 300 departments and here is a small sample of the things you can buy: clothes, electronics, pets of all kinds, gold bars, fossils, antique maps, furniture, toys, cars, houses, yachts, platinum cellular phones, foods stuffs from all over the world, art, books, plants, toys, jewelry, perfume and most importantly… freshly made Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  Further, if they don’t have an item you’re looking for at the store, the item CAN be bought somewhere in the world and it’s legal to sell it in the UK, they’ll find it and sell it to you… for a price.

We also wandered down Oxford St and eventually made our way to Primark.  If Harrod’s is the Platonic form of a high-end department store, then Primark is the Platonic form of the low cost ValueMart.  I have never…in my life…which includes 10yrs of working retail and many Black Fridays…seen ANY place…as crowded with people and goods as I did at Primark on a normal Saturday afternoon.  Even the busiest Walmart on the morning after Thanksgiving, doesn’t compare.  It was absolutely insane.  I may go back at some point during the week because they are MUCH cheaper than anything nearby, but wild horses couldn’t drag me back there on a weekend again.

Tip VII: H&M and Marks and Spencers are good of reasonably price, reasonable quality clothing.  Primark is good for VERY cheap clothing with a fair to middlin’ chance of not falling apart before it’s time to return to the states.  Also as you may have gathered from my post if you go to Primark, go during the week preferably after 18:00.

Overall the first week was amazing.  Classes are going well.  I love the city, the program, and the people I’m studying with.  I can’t wait to see what week two holds.

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