November 30, 2017 By Jordan Poll
Born in Detroit and raised in the surrounding area, 1L Russell Lawson is a Michigan native whose ambitions have taken him across the globe and now to the halls of the Law Quad.
Lawson knew in high school that he would be applying to Michigan Law. “I joined the Mock Trial Club in high school and really enjoyed it,” he said. “From that point on, I had my heart set on the Law School.” While Lawson planned to attend law school in the future, he used his time at Michigan Technological University to explore his other interests—particularly in mathematics and economics. He spent his sophomore year in China studying Chinese, history, and economics, and stayed the following summer to continue teaching English while concurrently taking classes. It was an eye-opening experience for Lawson, who continued to pursue this newfound interest in global issues at Michigan Tech’s international office when he returned to the United States. It was there that he was introduced to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (CBYX) in Germany, a 12-month Fellowship. He submitted his application to the program the same time he applied to Michigan Law. He was thrilled to hear good news from both.
Three days after receiving his acceptance letter from CBYX, he received another in the mail from Michigan Law. “I thought I would get into one or the other, not both,” said Lawson, who immediately reached out to the Law School with his dilemma. “The admissions office encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity by deferring for a year. Then I could come back, bringing my experiences, and be an even more qualified student.” Lawson followed the sage advice. Now, after having spent a year fully immersed in German culture, he is pursuing his international interests at Michigan Law. “It is a dream come true,” said Lawson. “I appreciate the Law School giving me a chance and for being so open, welcoming, and straightforward.”
In 1983, CBYX was created to strengthen ties between Germany and the United States through citizen diplomacy. The U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag jointly fund CBYX—the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs oversees the program in the United States. Participants come from diverse backgrounds and from all across the country. Lawson was one of 75 chosen to participate in the program. “If I could design my own study abroad program, it would be exactly like CBYX,” said Lawson. “It is something I would do again without hesitation.”
Lawson began his year living with a host family in Cologne, learning the language and the culture. After two months in western Germany, he moved to the eastern part of the country where he attended the Universität Erfurt in the state of Thuringia. He studied German history for a semester before beginning his internships in three different facilities, including an organization providing housing and assistance for refugees. He also worked for the Thuringia parliament and its office of European affairs. “My experience with refugees was very interesting, and I learned a lot personally from it. It gave me direct, frontline experience, which will be invaluable in clinics and future courses in international, immigration, and refugee law,” said Lawson. “My time in parliament gave me incredible insight into German legislature and a better understanding of another prominent legal system in the world. It gave me a heavy statute-based education, particularly the statutory element in interpretation and how it applies on the state, federal, and European Union level.” Lawson’s work reading and interpreting European Union treaties, and other documents in German, also gave him a new appreciation for his native language and an adaptability that already has come in handy in class and in his studies at the Law School.
“My time abroad has opened many doors for me,” said Lawson. “It has shown me a new area of interest, something I plan to further explore in the Law School. And if I decide to work internationally, which is something that I am considering, it will afford me more opportunities from which to choose.” Lawson is a member of International Law Society and plans to continue his study of the German language while pursuing his JD.
To Lawson, there is a parallel between being immersed in a foreign culture and entering law school. Both can be intimidating and require a high level of adaptability, which is why he encourages future students to take advantage of opportunities to work abroad before law school. “I recommend gaining learning experiences before law school that you could use in your future,” said Lawson. “It helps to broaden your horizons. As my German colleagues advised, sammel’ erfahrungen (gather experience).”
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