Inside Cuban law and culture: A law student's perspective

Yio Kyung "Joy" Lee
January 26, 2016

In January, a group of Dickinson Law students accompanied Professor of Law Katherine Pearson to Cuba as part of an embedded opportunity for foreign legal studies. Here, first-year law student Joy Lee shares her experience.

I left for Cuba with a predetermined image of what I considered to be a communist state. I had visited China on multiple occasions, and I had also learned a lot about North Korea as a result of my ethnic proximity. Additionally, my American moral and social values had shaped the way I viewed legal systems different from my own. However, the comparative international law course, organized by Dickinson Law Professor of Law Katherine Pearson, challenged my predispositions. By interacting with the educators of Cuba from the University of Havana and the Center for Jose Martí Studies, I was able to understand how the "thinkers" of Cuban society felt about their state. I was surprised at the level of satisfaction and trust that the Cuban people had in their legal system. 

It was also an incredibly enriching experience to speak with multiple judges from all levels of the judicial system who shared with us their personal sense of justice. Professor Pearson, my fellow students and I were also able to experience both the design and implementation of the Cuban legal system by visiting a municipal court. This experience has opened my mind to see beyond the values of my native teachings. 

Being able to observe Cuba during a historical transition was both a privilege and an intellectual adventure. We learned about the new economic reforms on foreign investment and private ownership from professors of the law and of economic expertise. What made the experience more interesting was that our interpreter had lived through the "special period" during which Cuba suffered economic declines and resource shortages. We were able to hear political opinions from those who looked hopefully at the progressive reforms of today and also from those who remembered a painful past.

Witnessing Cuba during a time of reform reminded me of the lawyer's integral role in any type of social change. Dickinson Law Professor of Law Amy Gaudion, who taught a legal argument and factual persuasion course last fall, once told us that the role of the lawyer was to “make change easier to bear for those upon whom it bears the hardest." During our time in Cuba, I felt the truth of this statement as we were told on multiple occasions that the idea of private ownership in Cuba was "very complicated" to understand. It challenged me to pursue a deeper understanding of what is going on in the world to become a more resourceful lawyer who is able to facilitate social progress.

  • Dickinson Law Cuba trip 2016 Muraleando Project

    Students visited the Muraleando Project, a community development arts project in Havana, during an afternoon excursion.  

    IMAGE: Yio Kyung "Joy" Lee
Last Updated January 26, 2016