FOR most people, studying at Harvard sounds like a dream. But for Andrej Glézl, a young Slovak lawyer, it’s a reality.
Glézl just returned from a year at Harvard Law School.
“Studying at Harvard opens a lot of doors and it has certainly inspired me to think about my career in ways that I never did before,” he told The Slovak Spectator.
Glézl never aspired to go to Harvard, or even become a lawyer, though he is at pains to point out that he is a dreamer. In fact, he imagined he would become an Olympic cycling champion, and later dreamed about a career in music.
Music has maintained an important position in his life (he played bass in the Harvard Law School band), but his path after high school led to the Comenius University Law School in Bratislava.
He was the first person in his family to study law and had no idea what it entailed.
“Then, in my naiveté, I saw the law as a tool for making life in Slovakia better, or at least the life of society’s vulnerable,” he said. “I did not see how I could do that in any other field.”
Glézl now specialises in corporate law.
“I find the fact that corporate law requires an understanding of the underlying economic relations very interesting and challenging,” he said. “There’s the interplay between economic realities, as well as the constant search for efficient rules that aim to preserve or sometimes even create economic realities.”
Though still fascinated with law, Glézl has wider horizons.
“Before I went to Harvard, I saw myself being a lawyer,” he said. “Now I see that there are other professional opportunities that could satisfy my intellectual curiosity.”
He says Harvard is an extraordinary institution that attracts some of the brightest individuals from all over the world to study, conduct research and teach.
“The main benefit for me was the exposure to this kind of environment, to learn from different people’s experience through day-to-day interaction, to be inspired by my professors, and to build a network of friends and future professional colleagues from all over the world,” he explained.
Glézl was very impressed with how much individual attention he received from his Harvard professors, considering their stature and busy schedules.
But Harvard was not his first experience abroad. When he was 18, he spent a year in the US on a Rotary exchange programme, which he considers a turning point in his life.
“As a teenager, I had a tendency to see things in terms of black or white,” he explained. “But that year opened my eyes and allowed me to see the world in different shades of grey. I learned to be open to different opinions, value them, share them, develop them, challenge them, but most importantly, express them without the fear of disapproval from others.”
One of the strongest aspects of the US education system is that it encourages students to be creative, resourceful, and form their own opinions, he said.
Though Glézl says he prefers not to plan for the long term, he does have a path in mind for himself: to contribute to reforming the Slovak academic and education system.
He believes the quality of university education and research in western countries differs from Slovakia because of the regions’ historical development.
In the west, especially in the US, top universities compete hard to attract the best students, researchers and professors, so their standards are constantly rising, he said. These standards adhere to a constant fundamental principle: education is an open learning process that shares existing knowledge and discovers it anew.
This is essential for a democratic society in which the lives and fundamental rights of individuals are valued equally, if not above, the collective good, he concluded.
“Higher education has its value and individuals are prepared to pay for it and support it, since they see a direct correlation between their education and their standard of living,” Glézl said.
“This allows universities to maintain independence and private character,” he continued “They can compete with each other, attract the best talents, provide scholarships and waive tuition, or help most students receive loans.”
Education in Slovakia, on the other hand, is shaped from the belief that the rights of the collective take priority over those of the individual, Glézl said.
He continued that the changes the country is going through are painful, but necessary. People need to learn what democracy means and that one cannot and should not rely on constant care from the government, he said.
“This process will take a long time, but it is speeding up with the help of various exchange and visiting programmes that allow students in particular to gain experience and see how things are in those countries to which we aspire,” he said.
Glézl believes in increasing the pool of academics and professionals with experience from western universities.
“I would hire well-established foreign experts as rectors and deans at our universities, just like a national football team hires a foreign coach to help it achieve,” he explained.
He added tuition and loans are also needed. But he realises that a post-communist country like Slovakia needs to take certain things into consideration when trying to adopt the western educational system.
“I don’t think the only way is to copy western standards, but I think it will take a long time for our universities to develop their own standards that will truly be valued in our society,” Glézl said.
Glézl is proud of his time at the law firm Allen & Overy, where he has worked since 2001. In academia, he helped establish a distance-learning programme organised by the University of Cambridge in Bratislava.
Glézl has also engaged students in international moot courts and set up a debating society.
He hopes to continue working in academia, at least as a side-job, since he believes his experience could be beneficial for Slovak universities.
“I hope that I will be able to work in environments and on projects that allow me to enjoy both my professional and personal life, regardless of whether it is in law or another service or business,” he said.