Ultra Vires


Why U of T Law?

Incoming exchange students share their experiences

U of T Law students often complain (rightfully so) about the volume of their readings, their unrelenting schedules, and how sterile and soul-crushing the Bora Laskin Law Library can feel on a crisp Saturday morning, among many other things. But how have incoming exchange students—who come from a range of countries including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as from both civil and common law jurisdictions—experienced our school?

The view at sunset from an exchange student’s apartment.

Aside from wanting to live in Toronto—a city most exchange students knew of beforehand given its size, diversity, and cultural output—for some months, students were drawn to U of T Law for its prestige and the opportunities it provided them to take courses unheard of at their home institutions. A student from Manchester, UK shared that courses about “Aboriginal policy/Indigenous rights are completely new [to me] and I’ve been interested in how colonialism has shaped both UK law and law around the world for a few years.” Similarly, another student expressed an interest in Refugee Law as his home country of Singapore did not have any refugee legislation and this area of law was essentially non-existent.

The Toronto skyline from Lake Ontario.

Coming to U of T Law on exchange allowed students to discover new areas of law they might want to practice in, especially for those who came from institutions with rigid academic requirements that precluded them from exploring beyond the required courses. A student from London, UK explained that at her home institution, she had only one year (out of three) to choose her own modules, which—if she hadn’t come on exchange—would limit her to four full-year courses. “If I hadn’t gone abroad,” she reflects, “I wouldn’t have taken all these different classes, and would never have found out that tax law was something I’d be interested in practicing in the future.” She adds that she appreciated how many of her professors at U of T Law were practitioners themselves—a marked contrast to back home. This way, she got to learn the day-to-day realities of particular areas of law, rather than being limited to  more academic or abstract perspectives. 

However, despite the opportunities for intellectual growth, some exchange students have felt ignored by U of T Law and their peers. A student from Belgium admits, “I don’t feel hugely integrated with most law students here—I spend almost all my time with other exchange students.” It might be tempting to attribute this to the tendency for exchange students to “stick to their own,” but it’s important to note the genuine struggles that drive a wedge between these students and their peers. 

Exchange students may experience difficulty adjusting to Canadian legal education, especially if they come from civil law jurisdictions. Some have called for organizing introductory sessions or providing resources at the start of the term to support exchange students as they familiarize themselves with the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is important to remember that U of T Law students had their entire 1L (and their two-week Legal Methods course) to get comfortable with key areas and features of Canadian law, including how to research, read, and cite case law. As exchange students will have a far steeper learning curve, it’s all the more important for them to feel adequately supported.

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