Belgian Student at Creighton Law School
Belgian Student at Creighton Law School

“Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.”
M. Scott Peck, American psychologist, 1936-2005

Thomas Van Betsbrugge is a long way from home – about 4,500 miles to be precise. The law student is attending classes as part of an exchange between his home university, the University of Namur, in Belgium, and Creighton. The University of Namur is a sister Jesuit institution.

Van Betsbrugge arrived in Omaha in January for the spring semester. At home, he is working on the equivalent of the American postgraduate law degree, the master of laws (LLM).

At Creighton, Van Betsbrugge is taking four law courses: International Business Contracting and Business Associations (both with Stephen Sieberson), HIPAA with adjunct faculty member Adam Kuenning, JD’13, and Legal Issues in eCommerce, with adjunct faculty member James O’Connor.

“At home, my studies are focused on international trade, particularly international European Union law, so here at Creighton I’ve tried to choose classes that are compatible with international trade,” Van Betsbrugge said. “All courses transfer towards my degree, which I should complete either by this summer or fall.

“Europeans place a lot of emphasis on studying abroad and being fluent in other languages and both an overseas experience and multiple language fluency is critical in landing a good job,” Van Betsbrugge explained. “My home university has a partnership with Creighton, as well as with the University of Montreal, but I chose the U.S. because I wanted to learn the basics of U.S. law. So far, I’m discovering that the legal solutions to issues between Belgium and the U.S. are often quite similar.”

One area of difference, however, is how Americans pursue legal education as compared to Europeans. At 31, Van Betsbrugge says he is not your typical European law student.

“European students don’t pursue an undergraduate degree and then go on to law school – they start law school immediately and get a bachelor’s in law (LLB),” Van Betsbrugge said. “This means Europeans study law for three years with supportive classes in economics and psychology. I think the American system of having an undergraduate degree in something other than law widens one’s scope,” he added.

Van Betsbrugge also says that your typical European law student completes both the LLB and LLM by the age of 23.

“Here, I see a lot more law students who are already married and have children – and many have also had other careers,” he said. “In Europe, you traditionally come straight from your studies — you are meant to have all your degrees before you go to work. People in the U.S. get more practical experience, such as being a law clerk, before graduating.

“I like how the U.S. system allows people to go back later in life for an advanced degree,” Van Betsbrugge said of seeing more non-traditional students here. “I did it, too, but I deviated from the norm. I worked for 10 years before returning to school to complete my LLM. My way of finishing my legal studies is considered unusual back home.”