Though he has been rowing for years, Vaclav Graf is a bit out of his element when he climbs into his boat on the Wharton Crew as a non-MBA student on the University’s sole graduate rowing team.
Yet since the Fulbright visiting scholar came to pursue research at the Law School in August as an international scholar, rowing crew has allowed him not only to forge bonds with his colleagues at Penn, but also to feel connected to his home by the river in the Czech Republic.
Graf is one of a slate of international guests who join Penn Law as researchers and instructors for weeks or months at a time, according to Penn Law’s Associate Dean and Executive Director for International Programs Amy Gadsden.
In addition to a visiting scholar program, Penn Law offers the Bok Visiting International Professors Program, which brings senior-level legal practitioners to the school.
Over the years, Graf has worn many different hats since earning advanced degrees in economics and public administration. He has also worked as a tour guide in the capital of his native country.
“In Prague there are a lot of boats with tourists in them on the river,” he said, “but the Schuylkill is amazing for rowing, too.”
When he’s not on the water with his team, Graf spends most of his time at Penn in the library, researching the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs as he pursues a Ph.D. in economics and public administration.
He will continue to refine his dissertation at the University until the spring, under the supervision of Penn Law professor Cary Coglianese, an expert on regulation and the Director of Penn Program on Regulation.
As part of his stay, Graf is also attending two of Coglianese’s weekly courses, one of which he hopes to replicate at his home University of Economics in Prague.
“He has a lot of insight to offer about the differences … between the U.S. and the Czech Republic,” said Alisa Melekhina, a second-year law student currently enrolled in another course that Graf is auditing. “This comparative perspective is important for re-evaluating our own system.”
Visiting Chinese scholar Yan Lin is also infusing Penn Law with a similarly comparative perspective.
A professor of Chinese constitutional law, comparative constitutional law and legislation at one of China’s most prestigious universities, Lin moved with his wife and son from Shanghai to Philadelphia this year. Throughout his time here, he’ll continue to research Chinese congressional oversight, collaborate with other international professors, co-teach courses and participate in symposia.
Last month, Lin partook in a Center for the Study of Contemporary China symposium on China and the law, where he met Penn students who were particularly interested in his field of study.
Next semester, Lin will also be co-teaching a contemporary Chinese law course, which he hopes will allow him to connect to students even more.
With new communications forms, Lin noted, it is easier for international scholars to collaborate virtually, “but the physical presence in a foreign university is still irreplaceable,” he said. “You can not only sense the culture, but move things ahead with very close relationships that you can only build by close communication and cooperation.”
At the same time, he added, the University’s — and the country’s — attitude toward diversity has been eye-opening.
“Culturally, it was a shock. China is a highly homogeneous society … [in the U.S.] you have to respect other people and understand how they’re thinking about an issue that’s quite different from your perspective,” he said.
In addition to Penn Law’s visiting scholar program, the school’s Bok professors teach intensive mini-courses that typically tackle cutting-edge legal questions, essentially becoming part of Penn Law’s faculty.
Professor Fabrizio Cafaggi, an expert on comparative law and European lawmaking, visited Penn as a Bok professor from the end of August to October from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
Cafaggi’s time at Penn offered him the opportunity to engage with international colleagues and students in his “The Making of European Law” mini-course about the current European crisis and its impact on the legal education system, he explained.
The Bok program “represents a flexible format of global legal education that increases opportunities for closer exchanges of scholarly work on the frontier,” he said in an email.
Third-year law and MBA student Edward Mahaney-Walter took a different Bok mini-course with Brigitte Haar, a visiting professor from Frankfurt, Germany specializing in European and German corporate law relative to U.S. corporate law.
For Mahaney-Walter, Haar’s three-week mini-course offered a perspective that he might not have gained otherwise.
“Our law school is very small. We have a good faculty, but it’s not very deep,” he said. “We have people who are international experts and corporate law experts, but to say that someone [at Penn] is an expert on German pay law or German employment law? There’s no way.”
Gadsden added that the full-time Penn Law community can reap benefits from all of its international scholar programs.
“It’s a phenomenal way to sit down with some of the best legal minds — to broaden their perspectives and make them better lawyers and thinkers,” she said. “The law is no longer a noble profession, it’s a global profession.”
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