By Professor Adrien K. Wing
Adrien and the rest of the Iowa group stop for a picture in Petra.
Summer 2013 turned out to be more exciting than normal for the law school’s study abroad program.
Since 2000, I have directed our France program where I teach Law in the Muslim World as one of the three courses. I take some students afterward on what we call the post-program tutorial. They earn two additional credits for studying in a Muslim country based on principles first laid out in class in France. In addition to reading materials and having class time, they visit cultural sites and legal institutions.
This summer, Turkey was the planned destination for our June 13 trip. In Istanbul, we would meet with the Bar Association. In the capital Ankara, we would visit the Parliament and Supreme Court as well as the Judicial Academy. In Cappadocia, we would speak with judges and lawyers on their perspectives on law in a conservative rural area.
Everything was in order for Turkey as our last two weeks in France began in early June. When the international news reported on escalating violence right where we would be going, I consulted daily with the law school administrators as well as International Programs as to the feasibility of still proceeding. I contacted the U.S. embassy in Ankara and my friends in Turkey. About a week before the trip, it was clear that the situation was not improving. The UI was eager to see if I could put together something else so the students could still earn two credits.
I have had 30 years experience in the Middle East, so I considered what countries were very safe at that time, but also where I had contacts who would be able to assist us with only a few days to plan. We would need to put together an itinerary with cultural and legal content with the assistance of a reliable economical travel agent as well.
It turned out that Jordan was the ideal country. I had a former research assistant, Hisham Kassim, who had just returned home to Amman after finishing his LL.M. degree at NYU. I had kept in touch with Hisham since his 2007 graduation and we were even current coauthors on a book on the Middle East. Plus, his father, Anis Kassim, is a very prominent attorney there as well. It was amazing when Hisham and Anis said that they could help. They even had an excellent travel agent.
By Sunday, June 9, we had finalized arrangements. We had air tickets for Thursday June 13.
Then, we hear that Air France was going out on strike—including on the day we would have to fly from Bordeaux to Paris. So on Monday, I went to buy train tickets. It’s only about 5 hours to Paris from our little town of Arcachon. Then, at the train station, I find out that the trains will go out on strike too on the very same days. We wouldn’t be able to get to Paris in time for our international flight on Royal Jordanian. So, I made the decision that the group would leave Arcachon the day before the strike, which was a day earlier than planned. We made it to Paris on Wednesday night. The airport was pretty deserted on Thursday as our flight to Amman took off.
The itinerary went as if it had been planned over many months rather than a few days. We visited Amman, Petra, Jerash, the Dead Sea, and even a night in the desert at Wadi Rum. For our legal visits, we were able to go to the Parliament, the courts, law offices, the Stock Exchange, and the Bar Association. We had lectures from knowledgeable lawyers, including Hisham, Anis, and another Iowa alum, Ghimar Deeb, a Syrian who earned his LLM at Iowa, and was another former research assistant of mine. He works for the UN agency handling refugees, including from Syria. We met with the Speakers of the Jordanian Assembly and Senate and were hosted at a dinner by the deputy Speaker of the parliament.
We were also able to take advantage of a two-day option to Israel and Palestine. In addition to historic sites, we were able to visit a Bethlehem law office, as well as a rural village community center hungering for international volunteers. We heard a lecture from Albert Aghazarian, whose family has lived in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem for centuries as well. Another speaker was my Iowa colleague Professor Nathan Miller, who was based in Israel for the summer.
Eleven days later, we were back in Paris. It was a rewarding and memorable time, and I am so proud of the engagement and flexibility of our students. They were great representatives of the University, the law school, the state, and the country. Our memories will last a lifetime, and I am hopeful that some of them will revisit the region in the future. Next year, I have already decided. Sarajevo looks likely to stay calm.
Adrien K. Wing is Bessie Dutton Murray Professor of Law at the University of Iowa and director of the UI Center for Human Rights. Read more about her work here.