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Sarah Welcome '11 Learns About the Law in Botswana

The reason that Sarah Welcome ’11 became a University of Cincinnati College of Law student can be directly linked to the opportunity she participated in this summer—working in Botswana, Africa. How did a young woman from Indiana end up thousands of miles away clerking for the High Court of Botswana? It all began with research.

;After growing up in Noblesville, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, Welcome attended Ball State University (Muncie, IN) where she majored in criminal justice and minored in psychology and Spanish. For a year following graduation she worked as a legal assistant at an immigration and family law firm in Indianapolis, where she worked alongside the firm’s lawyers, assisting them in their work. This solidified her goal in her mind to become an attorney.

Research about the College of Law led to her discovery of the opportunity to work in Botswana through the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights during the law school summer break. in Said Welcome, “That was a significant draw to UC.” Additionally, of all of the law schools she was considering, UC did the best job of making her feel welcome and wanted, right down to sending her a holiday card! So, last fall she enrolled and became a member of the class of 2011.

Drawn by the African Continent

Africa always held a certain allure for Welcome; and, the opportunity to live and work in Botswana while in law school was a decisive factor. Working throughout the academic year with the Urban Morgan Institute, Welcome was determined to make sure she took full advantage of that opportunity. That she did.

Earlier this summer she and classmate, Sapphire Diamant-Rink, departed for Botswana. Her job was to clerk for two justices of the country’s High Court: David Newman and Oagile Dingake. Her responsibilities included drafting judgments for the justices in criminal and corporate law cases, conducting legal research, attending trials, and editing the manuscript of a textbook on Botswana constitutional law written by Justice Dingake. In addition, she had the opportunity to sit in on Botswana’s customary court, observing how the chief of the village handled legal matters. Welcome explained that in Botswana the customary and the mainstream courts work alongside one another, provided there are no conflicts between the two. Interestingly, the criminal system in the country is based on English common law and the civil system is based on the Roman Dutch system. As a result, she continued, there are many similarities between the US and Botswana in terms of the laws and the structure of the legal system, including the areas of sentencing, procedure, and even attitudes toward the law.

While she enjoyed working for the High Court justices, Welcome commented that she really gleaned more about social customs from her experiences traveling and meeting people outside of the office. She was able to travel to Capetown in South Africa, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and many different Botswanan villages. “They really are some of the most genuine, nicest people you’ll ever meet,” she said. Welcome talked about an experience she had riding the bus from the capital, where she worked, to the village she stayed. This was about an hour-long ride. During the trip Welcome usually had to stand; regularly, the other passengers offered to hold her luggage or even give up their seat. Welcome also talked about a visit she made to the home of a fellow staff member, after which the family offered her gifts from their home that were likely the only things with which they could part.

Surprisingly, Botswana was not what Welcome expected, but in a positive way. “I had misconceptions about the country,” she recalled, “as did many of the people I talked to about my trip. But I found that the country has a stable economy, the people are well-educated, and, if you asked them, most Botswanans would rather not live in the United States." Welcome’s experience was so positive she is considering returning next summer. This time, however, she would rather work and live in the capital, rather than in the village she lived in this summer!

This summer’s experience abroad helped Welcome cement her desire to focus on international law. She wants to concentrate her studies on immigration, human rights, national security, and other important international issues. She also hopes to strengthen her background in environmental and family law too. Welcome explained that she will likely practice immigration law, since she already has experience in that arena, and she would like to do so in Chicago. “I have also thought about taking the Foreign Service test and working abroad,” she commented. “Ultimately, my dream job would be to work for the United Nations.”

Author: Lindsay Mather, '11