Student Feature: Studying Law in Spain

natalie fulk

By Natalie Fulk

Basically, since I started taking Spanish in seventh grade, I decided that I had to study abroad at some point while I was in college. I love learning about new cultures and groups of people and I wanted to experience a new culture firsthand. This fascination led me wanting to major in History and Spanish by the time I graduated high school. By this time I had also decided on being a lawyer, mostly because my high school history teacher had been a lawyer before he became a teacher and the way he described it made it seem like a good career for me. Eventually, I added on Political Science as a third major because I took a lower-level Political Science course my freshman year of college and I loved it. However, I wouldn’t say I had an extremely clear grasp on what actually being a lawyer was like; I just knew that studying History and Political Science and going to law school was a good combination and that knowing Spanish is a plus in any career. Now that I am almost done with my study abroad experience, I think I now understand why I chose this path and why it is perfect for me and studying abroad has shaped me towards being a lawyer and understanding more about the field.

I decided to go to Madrid, Spain the fall of my junior year of college, so the fall of 2016. I chose Spain because I think Spain has so much cultural and historical richness and I had learned about the history of Spain very thoroughly in my Spanish classes in high school so I wanted to see all of the places I had learned about. Therefore, while I was researching study abroad programs in Spain, I came across a program by the program CIEE called Legal Studies in Madrid, Spain. This immediately drew my attention because I wanted to take something related to law during my study abroad experience and learn about law in a different country, which would in turn help me learn about law in my own country through comparison. So I chose that program and at the end of the summer took off for Spain.

This program included taking one class taught by the program, Law in Contemporary Spain, and then for the rest of my courses, I am directly enrolled in classes in the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid. Law in Contemporary Spain was extremely interesting because through learning about the process of law in Spain and different social issues and solutions in Spain, I ended up learning more about my society in the United States. For example, we went to a courthouse in Leganés, a city outside of Madrid, and went to the courthouse there and walked through the different procedures that occur there, from lineups for identification by witnesses to trials to weddings. It was interesting to learn about court proceedings in Spain and compare them to the United States. During another class, we talked about the prison system in Spain and how it works to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent recidivism, and this led to a discussion comparing the prison systems of the United States and Spain. This class led me to have a different perspective on law in my own country by thinking about law in Spain and it made me more in interested in studying law.

Also, one of my classes that I took directly enrolled in the university was a law class on the theory of law. In Spain, after students graduate from high school, they immediately start their law studies, instead of going to undergraduate school and then going to law school like in the United States. So this class was like taking a first-year class in law school in the United States. By taking this course, I realize that my writing and analytical skills obtained from my studies so far have made me ready for law school and my majors connect very well to the study of law.  History, political science, and law go well together in that they all force people to analyze material and take into account different perspectives from different parties to form a well-rounded viewpoint or idea. It has been very interesting to study law in another country and through this experience, not only have I learned more about Spain, but I have learned more about my own country and myself.

Happy Thanksgiving!


By Jeanne Petit

While those of us who grow up in the United States connect the history of Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims who came to the United States in the 1620s, the first national celebration of Thanksgiving happened during the bloodiest conflict in American history—the Civil War. In the fall of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the nation to commemorate a day of thanks.  Reading his words today remind us of the challenge and promise of our national mission to build a more perfect union.



By the 16th President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

An Opportunity to Reflect


By Jonathan Hagood

With the help of my eight-year-old son (Tyler) I was recently reminded that I like to travel. It’s a longish story, but here’s the short version.

When my wife and I moved to Michigan in 2008, our oldest son (Jackson) was almost five and Amy was pregnant with Tyler. The three of us had lived in Northern California, Kansas City, Texas, and Buenos Aires; and Jackson has traveled extensively—including a three-day layover in Miami on our return from a year abroad in Argentina. Tyler, born in Michigan at the start of my first full-time job in higher ed, did not travel nearly as much. What’s more important, nearly all of his Michigan friends and classmates have either been to Florida or have grandparents who winter there.

So, since he was about three years old, Tyler has been asking us to take him to Florida. I told him I’d try, and I did. I applied for various grants marginally related to my research. None came through, but I did learn that having your preschooler ask you if you got that grant application in on time and then, later, whether or not you’d heard back about it is a different kind of pressure from the normal pre-tenure anxiety. Finally, a little more than a year ago, I saw an announcement for a conference in Florida for which a paper I’d been working on would be a good fit. I applied—this time without telling my pint-sized academic coach—and last summer heard back that I had been accepted.

Amy and I didn’t tell Tyler until two weeks before the trip, which was November 2-5 and, in a meaningful plot twist, just before Tyler’s eighth birthday on November 6 (as an aside, Tyler got quite a kick out of various security and airline personnel wishing him a happy birthday after checking his passport). So, Tyler finally got to go to Florida. We stayed on a beach, and all it cost him was two hours sitting in the back of a hotel conference room listening to his father and three other people drone on about “Varying Approaches to the Political and Diplomatic History of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Latin America: From Transnationalism to Populism.” Tyler is an excellent travel companion. We enjoyed the airports, he was happy to spend an unplanned night in a Newark hotel thanks to a weather delay, we played at the beach, and we ate a variety of junk food. He and I enjoyed trips to the local Zoo and Aquarium, and we went on a boat and saw wild dolphins.

hagood and tyler hagood and tyler 2

This trip gave me an opportunity to reflect on all of the travels I’ve made “for work.” My first academic conference, in fact, was in Amsterdam. You can imagine how the conversation with Amy, who was at home with a one-year-old Jackson, went when I explained the “necessity” of that experience. Here are some of the travel highlights that I’ve culled from my c.v.:

Dublin, Ireland: We took both kids to this one. Amy had been to Ireland with her grandparents when she was twelve, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take Jackson when he was the same age.

Honolulu, Hawaii: This was thanks to a student whose project I mentored and who “needed” to make an off-campus presentation. The conference was a great venue for the work, and it was a great way to start my sabbatical semester. Amy came along, and the two of us spent a lot of quality time on the beach.

Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland: I was able to leverage presenting at a workshop to gain some valuable time at archives that I had wanted to go to but assumed I’d never be able to visit.

Montreal, Canada: Nice city, wish I could come up with work reasons to go back. Great conference.

Melbourne, Australia: Amy and I figured the odds of our ever going to Australia again were pretty minimal, and so we took advantage of a conference opportunity and dropped the kids off with Grandma. They wanted to go, but we told them they have full lives in front of them. We got to take a picture with a koala, which apparently you can’t hold (they get too anxious, which lowers their life expectancy).

Cambridge University, England: This took some creative fund-raising from chairs, deans, and a provost, but I made it happen. The conference itself was amazing, and I made a lot of useful connections. I need to get to Oxford to make a good comparison…

I have of course been to all manner of domestic destinations: Omaha, Chicago, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Boston, Scranton, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, San Diego, etc. It’s always fun to go places, and I think there is something to be said for the conference experience pulling you out of the comfort zone of “home”. It enlivens the brain’s ability to make connections and think about things from different perspectives. It also helps that I like hotels and airplanes and airports. Some people don’t. I’ve also so far managed to stave off any jadedness that comes from the realization that all of these places are actually quite similar. Globalization is real, particularly when one travels for brief periods to conference hotels, meetings rooms, and downtowns. Still, it’s one of the perks of the job.

In the end, I’m glad I got to take Tyler to Florida and that I got to remind myself how fun traveling can be. Left to my own devices, I’d hunker down for the workshop or conference and then slink back to the hotel room to try and become less behind on grading and email. An eight-year-old isn’t content to look at the program and circle the presentations he wants to go to. Far from it.

“So what are you doing with that History major?” Answer: “Everything.”


By Fred Johnson

It makes sense, and I absolutely understand. In today’s twelve easy payment, no money down, reality [non-reality] TV, Facebook “Like,” “Friend,” “Poke,” OMG, #Whatever world, it seems that knowing, understanding, valuing, and majoring in History is an odd choice, maybe even foolish. Of course, historians have long insisted that the skills learned from studying history are the real treasures of the discipline. Still, with college costs burdening family budgets and parents wanting their students to pursue majors that transfer quickly into jobs, touting History as a great choice for a commoditized employment market is a tough sell. Okay, fair enough.

So rather than dash into the strong headwinds of opinion which have long insisted that studying history has little practical value for the “real” world, it’s more productive to examine if, and how, the “real” world has any practical value for history. As a young Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant who was responsible for the lives of the Marines I commanded, there wasn’t a day when history didn’t come to my rescue. With more enthusiasm than experience and more cockiness than common sense, the skills of research, information assessment, precise question development, facilitation, public speaking, team-building, and leadership that I learned as a History major helped me succeed. Period! The decisions I made by employing the skills taught by history had to be right because if they weren’t, people died.

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Senior officers understood that “wet behind the ears” 2nd Lieutenants made mistakes, but they expected those mistakes to be few, widely spaced apart, and steadily decreasing in number. Frankly, the content of my favorite historical topics didn’t offer solutions to my immediate daily problems. After all, it was history. On the other hand, the process of studying and learning that content, developing the oral and written communication skills needed to articulate it, and refining the critical thinking essential for success in any field, anytime, anywhere were gifts that the historical content gave and has continued to give.

While working as a Training Coordinator at an an aircraft wheel and brake manufacturer, my co-workers had little interest in, or use, for history. After all, the product was aircraft wheels and brakes and history was, well, history. The information I taught at the company had to be conceptually precise whether it was related to chemistry and physics or federal and international standards for quality performance and safety.

I wasn’t particularly qualified to work in a manufacturing facility that used high-tech Computer Numerically Controlled [CNC] machines to produce aircraft wheels and brakes. I wasn’t particularly qualified to give instruction on how to operate those machines, teach the techniques for chemically treating aluminum and steel, or provide detailed guidance for the Carbon Vapor Deposition/Carbon Vapor Infiltration [CVD/CVI] processing of our most expensive brakes. My knowledge gap in all those areas was filled by employing the investigative research, source identification, information analysis, and writing skills learned from studying history. My ability to teach classes on those and many other high tech subjects resulted from oral skills that had been strengthened through class discussions, public presentations, panel participation, and orally defending history papers.

Winning the respect and confidence of our talented mechanical and electrical engineers resulted from possessing the skills to research, analyze, and blend into multilevel instruction the work they did as it related to the work of our brilliant machine operators on the shop floor. There was no room for failure because, for those who fly commercial airliners and those who manufacture the wheels and brakes those aircraft land on, there’s no tolerance for a bad landing. None!

It wasn’t until coming to the apparently “not real” world of Hope College to teach history that I finally used history purely for history. When telling students that the skills and expertise I learned from history supported me, empowered me, and, frankly, kept me employed in every non-history job I’ve ever had, their eyes fill with understandable doubt. For even in an institution dedicated to exploring and nurturing the spirit and the intellect to develop whole human beings [rather than merely graduating more highly skilled employees] there’s tremendous pressure for scholars to chase majors that will get them a job. That’s shortsighted, but it is what it is.

The reality of the commoditized workplace offers assurances that there’ll always be a need for those aspiring to be mere employees. On the other hand, for those who seek to both get a job and have a vocation; for those who’d like to develop skills that’ll help them succeed in just about any occupation, anywhere, anytime; for those who dare to risk learning a discipline that will enrich their lives and vicariously impart the traits of leadership; for anyone who desires to learn writing skills that will get noticed and earn promotions; for the few who want to become dynamic public speakers of great influence; for those wise enough to know that the key to future prosperity lies in mastering knowledge of the past; for those who seek to refine their understanding about the dynamics of teamwork and collaboration; for citizens who prefer knowledge and facts to the toxic bamboozling of pundits. For those looking to get the biggest bang for every tuition dollar spent in their quest for a college degree, majoring in History will yield a powerful dividend in that area the commoditized workplace knows so well: ROI – Return on the Investment.