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February 20, 2007

The Best-Kept Secret in Michigan: Curacao

By Adam Dubinsky

If any of you have had the pleasure of seeing Tim Harrington since winter break, you have probably had one question weighing on your mind: what happened? Did he fall into a toaster oven or something? That boy is tan. What gives? How does one return from winter break bronzed, rested, and unfazed by the prospect of another semester of law school? The answer is shocking and requires delving into the depths of scholastic opportunism.

In the past two years, if you’ve wanted to get anything done through official channels at this Law School, you’ve had to work with someone from MNOP ’07. Among student organizations, perhaps the RG alone has remained a bastion of independence from the hegemony of MNOP ’07. But, on the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to do something sneaky, something unofficial, something out of bounds, something out of the ordinary, you’ve had to get in touch with a summer starter. Summer starters are the kings and queens of self-help—they know the ins and outs of our administrative procedures and they know how to get around them. Year after year, knowing a summer starter is your key to getting out of waiting in line, paying for tickets, and feeling bored. When one summer starter class communicates with another summer starter class, sparks start flying. The moon wobbles in its orbit. Creatures of the night flee their dens in the light of the midday sun. When generations of summer starters unite, only mad dogs and Englishmen do not run for cover…and neither does MNOP ’07.
Tim Harrington and I, citizens of MNOP ’07, have long had our fingers on the pulses of the summer starting class. Within the four walls of Hutchins Hall, I have exclusively dated summer starters. Section ABCD realized early on that Tim Harrington would make for a great companion on its annual party bus. From the beginning, Tim and I have oft descended into the summer starter demimonde.
It was there that we discovered the crown jewel of summer starter secrets: Curaçao. Every year, several summer starters spend three weeks of winter break in Curaçao, a Caribbean island thirty-five miles north of Venezuela. They come back tan, refreshed, and sometimes still hung-over. But here’s the catch: They come back with four law school transfer credits. Yes, four (4).
In the old days, they needed the credits to graduate. The Law School offered a short ethics course at the end of the summer to catch them up with their credit requirements. Curaçao was originally a creative and superior solution. Now, however, the summer starters do not need the extra credits. Tim and I thought bronzed-in-January gods like Chris Hopfensperger, December ’06, were a dying breed. We admired their tans and their pictures from break, but put Curaçao out of our minds. Our MNOP ’07 responsibilities pulled us back down to earth, where we prepared to finish out our last semesters. But summer starters are not so easily cajoled into sleep. ABCD ’07 caught wind of the Curaçao program and set out to defy gravity.
Vivian Shen and Sarah Molenkamp first understood the potential of Curaçao. They realized that not needing the credits was no reason to set aside the opportunity to receive the credits for spending three weeks in the Caribbean. They began their research. The Curaçao Study Abroad Program, they discovered, is offered by the University of Baltimore Law School in conjunction with Hofstra University School of Law and the University of Netherlands Antilles. Each year, the program offers one required two-credit course and a choice between two electives, also two-credits. Because the semester is condensed, students take four hours of class a day, five days a week, leaving the remaining twenty hours of each weekday for exploring the island.
And what an island. Curaçao is the largest island in the Netherland Antilles, a group of Caribbean islands within the Dutch kingdom. Aruba, also within the Dutch kingdom, is right next door. If you ask most people who have been to both islands, they will tell you that Curaçao, which has yet to be accosted by massive throngs of tourists, is the better place to visit. Aruba has beaches and a few clubs, but so does Curaçao. And Curaçao has much, much more.
There is an ostrich farm where you can not only eat, but also ride an ostrich after you hold a baby emu in your arms. There is an aquarium where you can not only look at fish through glass, but also strap on some snorkeling gear, get in the water, and feed (and pet!) sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, giant groupers, sea lions, and dolphins. There is a floating market where Venezuelan boats align themselves along an entire bank of the capital city Willemstad, selling impossibly fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables. There are two days of Christmas and a thunderous New Year celebration that leaves the entire island smelling like one giant firecracker. And there are iguanas everywhere.
The iguanas were rather like puppies, scurrying up to our bungalow at meal-time to beg for food. Yes, I did just say bungalow. We rented four-person bungalows a mere two minutes by flip-flop from the beach. They were not only home to beautiful and timid nocturnal geckos (who stayed outside on the walls), but were also reasonably priced—renting the bungalows for three weeks set us back around $500 each. The program does lighten the wallet a bit, though. Our plane tickets were $800 and tuition ran about $2800. Of course, if you or your significant other have summered at a firm, that is about a week’s salary. If not, financial aid is available. Furthermore, tuition includes tours of the island, a cruise, and nigh-edible pastries between classes.
Six of us—Vivian, Sarah, Aref Wardak, Jordon Seidel, Tim, and I—made the trip to join about thirty law students from around the country in Curaçao. We all took International Family Law and most of us took International Refugee Law, though European Union Law was also offered. The classes were interesting, but not demanding—though we were taking finals when classes began at Michigan this semester, our winter break was still a break. And, not only in my case, so is this semester. Thanks to my four credits from Curaçao, I am taking only ten credits in my last law school semester and making up the difference playing video games. And Tim—well, you’ve seen how tan he is. Don’t let anybody tell you that he’s been going to the tanning salon since he’s been back. That’s just crazy talk.

Adam Dubinsky is a 3L who wants you to have fun and take it easy! E-mail him at adubinsky@umich.edu to find out more about Curaçao.