A winter trip to Australia helped a group of University of Tennessee College of Law students learn more about themselves and their leadership potential than they believed was possible in a two-week period of time.
Ten second- and third-year law students boarded planes for the 24-hour flight to Brisbane in late December as part of “Leading as Lawyers: Transpacific Perspectives.”
The program, hosted by the College of Law Institute for Professional Leadershipin partnership with the University of Queensland TC Bierne School of Law, was led by Queensland’s Dean Sarah Derrington, UT Professor and Institute Director Doug Blaze, and UT Career Center Director Brad Morgan.
The program enables American and Australian law students to gain a cross-cultural perspective and explore the approaches within the two legal systems on either side of the Pacific.
Blaze said the circumstances for learning are excellent when students travel abroad and are exposed to an unfamiliar culture.
“There’s real value in having a diverse group of students living together and studying together,” he said.
During the two weeks, as much learning takes place outside the classroom as inside it.
“The students develop a level of trust and honesty with each other, and that influences their willingness to disclose and learn in truly meaningful ways as we’re talking about leadership,” Blaze said. “It’s really difficult to duplicate that in a traditional classroom.”
Student Ali Deatherage said being exposed to a variety of perspectives left a strong impression on her.
“I noticed a difference in the way they carry themselves,” she said of the Australian students. “They possess a quiet humility and are careful to listen before speaking.”
American students didn’t hesitate to voice their opinions and emotions when they were inconvenienced, Deatherage said, but the Australian students kept their observations to themselves and seemed to value others’ opinions more than their own.
“I felt I had learned so much just by way of simple conversation, and I want to remember and emulate their respectful attentiveness,” she said. “I spent so much of the trip in awe of the Australian students’ poise.”
Throughout their time abroad, all of the students were in constant contact with each other. They roomed at Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland and learned from the law school’s dean and faculty as well as political leaders and other professionals. The students explored a variety of concepts including ethical leadership, professional planning, self-awareness, active listening and group dynamics.
Those sessions helped UT student Hayden Short gain better understanding about the similarities between the U.S. and Australian students.
“We all shared a lot of the same pressures and anxieties,” he said. They “stressed over finals and student debt much in the same way all of us Americans did.
“This showed me that no matter where two people are from, they always have something in common. If eight Australians and ten Americans can find so much in common, why can’t people who live in the exact same communities not find this same common ground?”
One of the goals for both Blaze and Morgan was to lay groundwork for students’ personal and professional success immediately after graduation.
“It’s true with leadership, that we are often providing opportunities for students that prepare them to unlock their potential so that they are more effective leaders five and 10 years down road,” Morgan said. “But they sometimes need to develop more concrete plans for where they go in the next six months to a year.”
Student Grant Williamson describes himself as an introvert who hasn’t formed strong relationships with professors and classmates during law school.
“Taking this class in Australia took me out of my comfort zone and placed me in a setting where I was constantly interacting with my peers,” he said. “Going forward, I want to be more intentional about making time to form a community of peers within the law school and ultimately within the legal profession.
“I now recognize that I am doing a disservice to the legal profession when I avoid opportunities to learn from and teach other law students,” he said.
The College of Law will offer another opportunity to continue the educational exchange at the end of the fall 2018 semester when a group from the University of Queensland travels to Knoxville.