Connecting Cultures

By Kayla Harris

People always say they love their job. Chris Markussen (JD 72) loves her job. She enjoys it so much she underwrote a study tour in Chile for 10 UF Law and graduate students, hoping they would discover the enthusiasm she has for international business and law.

As the chief counsel of international business for MetLife, Markussen said she felt “The Legal Institutions of the Americas Study Tour: Chile” program was an opportunity for the students to view the interrelatedness between countries and better understand our global economy. UF Law student Peter Lynch agrees.

“I return from Chile convinced more than ever that a commitment to vibrant international trade is the key to Americaʼs long-term national security, world order and peace,” said Lynch. Trade can focus nations on their similarities rather than their differences, maintaining dialogue and an inclination to work things out as partners, rather than leaving heads of state to focus on differences and interact through brinksmanship, sanctions, and threats of force, he said.

“Competent attorneys to support the needs of these businesses, and to operate dispute resolution mechanisms for international trading partners are essential,” Lynch added.

The program provided practical exposure to Latin American legal systems while promoting ties with law schools and political figures in the region. The students spent their spring break traveling throughout Chile visiting major legal institutions, from Chileʼs new Justice Center to the Justice Studies Center of the Americas, from a Chilean law school to leading law firms.

“Itʼs a wonderful chance for people to see how another culture does business, thinks and approaches the law,” Markussen said. “I wanted to participate in giving an opportunity to law and graduate students to become as enamored with international work as I am.” In addition, the students spent time exploring Chileʼs history. The studentsʼ itinerary followed the development of Chileʼs legal system. Their trip began with a discussion of the progression of the system at Diego Portales University School of Law followed by a tour of the Villa Grimaldi Torture Center in Santiago. This complex was used to torture political prisoners during Augusto Pinochetʼs rule. The students spent the rest of their trip learning about reforms to the system that have led to Chileʼs stability and free trade agreements.

Markussen, who frequently starts her day with a 5 a.m. conference call with Hong Kong and ends her day at 10 p.m. talking to colleagues in Australia, expected the wide variety of activities to provide the students with a better understanding of their world.

SEEING THE SIMILARITIES

“I hope the students feel a sense of connectedness with people in other parts of the world. They saw another culture. They met people that they see similarities with that they can learn from,” she said. “I think itʼs important for the future of the world, generally, for people to understand each other and figure out how they can work together and support each other and have empathy and sympathy for each other and for how each other lives.”

Markussen has spent the majority of her career building her global view of business and law. Having practiced business in Europe for years, Markussen first became interested in Chile after negotiating with joint venture partners in the Latin American country for MetLife. She said she was impressed by the law firms there, and she found the business people to be very sophisticated.

“Thereʼs no other part of the company or no other type of law Iʼd rather practice because of all the variations and the challenges of working in all these cultures,” Markussen said.