Christopher Ahn, a third-year Cornell Law student, is just finishing up the fall semester studying law at Waseda University in Tokyo as part of Cornell's Clarke Program of East Asian Law and Culture. The exchange between Waseda and Cornell is one of two programs that allow students from the United States to study law in Japanese classrooms alongside Japanese students. As part of the exchange, a law student from Waseda can come to Cornell to study in its LL.M. program.
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Ahn is studying in the regular law curriculum at Waseda, taking classes in Japanese Legal History and Finance Law…in Japanese. Overall, "the semester has been incredibly rewarding," Ahn says via email from Japan.
"Waseda has treated the exchange students very well," Ahn says. "We've been exposed to a variety of experiences, in addition to coursework. For example, my advisor and I spent about four hours every Thursday afternoon in one-on-one sessions discussing Japanese law and politics. This past week another professor and I observed the oral arguments in a case presented to the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court of Japan.
"The dual task of learning about law and learning about it in Japanese has been both a gift and an affliction. A gift because I can't think of a better way to study Japanese, and an affliction because I rarely went to bed before 4 a.m.! My only regret is that I can't stay for the whole year," Ahn says.
Prior to coming to Cornell, Ahn received a master's degree in philosophy, and also worked as a web developer and network administrator. When at Cornell, Ahn became involved with the Clarke program from the start.
In the summer of 2003, Ahn was a research assistant to Professor Annalise Riles, head of the program at Cornell. He did legal research and also "helped to develop informational materials for the newly established (program)," he says. Ahn has maintained his involvement, taking the core course in the program and attending the speakers' series and program conferences.
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The Clarke program seeks to integrate Cornell's top East Asian Studies Program with the law school to bring fresh ideas into the study of international law.
"One of the program's greatest strengths is its strongly interdisciplinary perspective," says Ahn. The chance to learn about a country's law and also its legal culture—which touches on issues such as the place of law in a society, its value in the society, and what might be considered "law" in that country—is emphasized in the Clarke program. Ahn says that "the Clarke Program's approach gives Cornell law students a more sophisticated understanding of this area of the world."
"Asia is so dynamic and complex and different enough from the U.S. that studying it constantly challenges me to articulate and rethink my assumptions about the world," Ahn says.
Ahn's study of Asia and involvement in law will continue well past law school. He is currently applying to Ph.D. programs in Asian studies and will also take the New York State Bar Exam this summer. In his future studies, Ahn says he hopes to "critically examine current legal and political frameworks for globalization, with an emphasis on how they affect subordinated groups in U.S. and Asian contexts."
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Overall, the Clarke program has served as the framework for Ahn's future pursuits. The program, Ahn says, "reinforced my view that interdisciplinary study of Asia is necessary for making progress on some of the more difficult legal questions facing the region today; for example, in areas such as immigrant and refugee rights, human rights, and international humanitarian law."