EuroScholar Presents at National Conference Her Legal Research Conducted While Studying Abroad in Belgium
Published research wasn’t the ultimate goal when Charlotte Luks decided to study abroad, but her semester in Belgium through the EuroScholars program resulted in just that kind of achievement, as well as her presentation of her findings last week at a national conference.
Majoring in human rights law and sculpture, the 20-year-old Hampshire College student wanted to study at a specific university in Belgium – Katholieke Universiteit Leuven – so she could be near her grandparents who live there.
“I’m a citizen of Belgium, Canada and France,” says Luks, who moved to the United States when she was 5. “I’ve been living in American for the last 15 years, and (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) is actually where my dad got his Ph.D., so I already had a lot of friends there before I went.”
What she didn’t expect from her January-June 2011 semester abroad was high-impact academic discovery.
“I wanted to do a human rights project, but they didn’t have any listed,” she says, so Mona Miller, director of EuroLearn’s partnerships and development, “worked really hard and found me the perfect project with the perfect mentor.”
How perfect? After arriving at Katholieke Universiteit, Luks was given her own office in the law department of the university next to a judge for the European Court of Justice.
“It was amazing,” she says of working under Prof. Geert Van Calster, head of the department of International and European Law. “I didn’t see my mentor that often, but he emailed me what I should be doing, and I had a lot of independent time to do my research.”
In fact, a research project on corporate social responsibility was created just for her to work on. The project involved analysis of the Alien Tort Statute – part of U.S. law – to see if the statute is a viable forum and legal method to try corporations for human rights and environmental abuses in third-world countries with lax laws and policies.
“It’s usually related more to the environment that affects human life, like indigenous people who are affected when oil companies completely pollute the area,” Luks says.
Luks’ resulting research is complex but generally shows the Alien Tort Statute to be a viable method, although the law itself needs to be better defined.
“Charlotte was thrown into the deep end, in a research and teaching-intensive department of the faculty,” said Van Calster in reference letter for Luks. “Upon Charlotte’s arrival to the department, I decided to employ the ‘immersion’ method: I outlined a research interest [comparative research in employing private international law/conflict of laws to apply environmental and labour law/human rights law extra-territorially] to Charlotte, and asked her to kick-start the North American/US leg of it. Charlotte had not had any training at all initiating research like this from scratch. I was hoping that pulling her out of her comfort zone would show her true skills. It certainly did.”
After her time abroad, Luks decided to submit her research for presentation at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Weber State.
Her research – “The Use of Private International Law in the Corporate Social Responsibility Debate: The case of the U.S. Alien Tort Statute” – was accepted out of several thousand applicants. She presented it last week during the conference.
The work also was deemed of such high quality to be fed by her supervisor directly into a proposal submitted to The Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), as well as for joint publication with the European law side of the debate.
“For me, it was definitely an experience that very few people get to do in that capacity in undergraduate,” Luks says. “I missed a semester of classes, but I think this has prepared me more than a semester of classes.”
Most importantly, the international law research experience reinforced for Luks that she definitely wants to do law, while confirming that she does not want to spend her career sitting in an office writing all day.
“It was a really good experience for me,” Luks says. “It was an opportunity to see if this is actually what I want to do with my life.”