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Even during COVID-19, study abroad students hone comparative legal skills and build global networks

November 18, 2021

When Kevin Matthews L’21 and Andrew Timmick L’21 were deciding among law schools, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s study abroad partnership with the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in Paris was an important draw. Both were attracted by the opportunity to earn a dual degree — a JD from the Law School at Penn and a Masters in Economic Law from Sciences Po — in just three years.

Timmick, who had majored in French Studies and spent a semester in France as an undergraduate, had always intended his legal career to have an international focus. During a post-college stint in the U.S. Army, he worked with foreign militaries and government agencies and saw the skills needed to excel at a global level. He spent his 1L summer in Lyon through the Law School’s Global Legal Practice Fellowship, and he knew the Sciences Po program would give him an advantage when entering the legal field.

Kevin Matthews L'21 Kevin Matthews L'21

Matthews was drawn to the chance to live and study for a year in Paris, the world fashion capital. Before law school, he had built a career in global fashion as a menswear buyer and attended trade shows in Paris annually. He could already speak French well and navigate Paris comfortably, but he sought an opportunity to immerse himself in French culture and to gain international perspective through a European and civil law lens.

By early 2020, both students had been accepted to Sciences Po and were on track to realize their respective goals. But as a deadly pandemic began sweeping the globe, hindering travel and shuttering schools, the two encountered major unanticipated hurdles.

The first was the question of whether Sciences Po would continue international exchanges for the 2020-2021 school year. Around the world, many universities had already paused their study abroad opportunities while others were hesitant to announce firm plans.

The second hurdle was the state of suspended travel at Penn. The university had shut down nonessential travel in early 2020 in response to the pandemic; only faculty and advanced graduate students (generally PhD candidates) could even petition the university for travel approval.

Because both students were planning to sit for the New York Bar exam, the New York Bar’s standing policy that disallows credits earned for distance education for law study in a foreign country presented a final hurdle. Though a distance-learning waiver for programs forced to go virtual due to COVID-19 was announced in June 2020, this waiver had not been extended to study abroad.

The students’ paths were uncertain well into September. Matthews and Timmick forged ahead — putting time and thought into petitions for both travel approval and distance-education credit, registering with Campus France, applying for visas, and booking flights — without having any idea whether their efforts would be in vain.

In the end, Sciences Po indicated that it would welcome international students to Paris, using a combination of virtual and, when possible, in-person classes; and Timmick and Matthews were successful in their petitions both for travel authorization from the University of Pennsylvania and for a programmatic waiver for distance learning abroad, based on the exceptional circumstances.

They were rewarded for their persistence with a fruitful and memorable year. And as classes at Sciences Po began, even though they started virtually, both students were grateful to be living and studying in Paris.

“We could see that for some of our classmates who were also visiting from other universities but were participating from their home countries, the time difference was challenging.” said Matthews.

“Being in Paris during the year when there were severe lockdowns [because of COVID-19] was very interesting,” he continued, “but despite the lockdowns, I was able to make a lot of friends and connect to people who were far outside of the Sciences Po realm. I was even able to tap back into my prior industry, find an internship [at fashion label Comme des Garçons] while doing my classes, and move forward.”

In fact, after his Sciences Po classes ended, Matthews remained in Paris and parlayed his internship into a full-time job.

“As soon as I got here,” he said, “I knew I didn’t want to leave.”

Andrew Timmick L'21 Andrew Timmick L'21Timmick now works at Covington & Burling, but he, too, thought briefly about staying in France.

“It’s important to have a base in Paris if you want to explore opportunities with French firms or NGOs, and one of the attractions of the Sciences Po program is that it gets you there,” said Timmick.

“The Sciences Po experience was fantastic,” he continued. “I was able to work and do research in two legal systems. In the future, if I’m interested working with the UN, say, or at a firm’s international office, that experience is going to help me make decisions confidently about my career.”

Timmick found the “questioning mentality” of his Sciences Po professors to be the most rewarding part of the educational experience.

“It reminded me of the philosophy courses I took as an undergraduate. There was a willingness to push back against the mainstream,” he said, “and to ask why we should simply accept that this is the way that something is —to consider how to approach the law in a scenario where things could be done better.”

During a school year disrupted by COVID-19, Matthews and Timmick showed their own willingness to push against the mainstream and take a risk. Any one of many barriers thrown up by the pandemic could have stopped the two students’ journey to Sciences Po in its tracks. But with extraordinary patience and tenacity, these law students overcame the obstacles and achieved their goals.

The result?

A unique tale of pandemic perseverance, and an unforgettable international educational experience rooted in Law School’s wide range of international opportunities.

Learn more about the Law School’s global and cross-disciplinary opportunities.