As I made my way up the steep road that leads to Patejdlova Bouda, I wondered what could have possessed the organisers to arrange an academic event in such a remote location. Two weeks later, I wondered no longer.
I have been fortunate enough to attend a good number of summer schools, both as a student and as a lecturer. I can honestly say that the CLS model is, in my experience at least, entirely unique. Set in a scenic chalet with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and blessed with fresh air, quiet, and (usually!) summer sunshine, the location is a million miles from what one expects for academic pursuits. This is, undoubtedly, the first tenet in making the experience so special. For all participants, whether Czech or foreign, and whether lecturers or students, the atmosphere is a far cry from a typical university environment. The tranquil setting helps to eliminate stress, while the remoteness means that contact with the outside world is kept to a minimum. When one is in Krkonoše, one is there 100%.
Ciarán Burke discussing with lecturers and other participants
However, the idyllic location would be worth little without the right company to enjoy it. The idea of being confined to a remote mountain chalet with 40 people for two weeks has the potential to be less than appealing, depending on who those people are. L’enfer, c’est les autres, after all. Happily, this is not the case at the Patejdlova Bouda. The organising team take great pains to select a diverse and motivated cohort of students, mixing this with a selection of lecturers who are specialists in the disciplines treated by the school. In my time in the Giant Mountains, I have had the pleasure to engage with judges from the European Court of Human Rights, European Court of Justice and the Czech Constitutional Court, as well as various esteemed professors and lecturers from around Europe. In tandem with this, students from all over Europe, but also the wider world, come together to learn and exchange ideas. The variety of approaches makes for a stimulating debate, and rarely a lecture passes where even the experienced student of the law does not learn something new. The atmosphere is collegial, and certainly not hierarchical. While age range and stage of learning amongst students varies considerably, it is not uncommon to see older and younger participants deep in conversation long after the lectures have ended, discussing the finer points of some abstruse point of legal theory over one or many beverages, before moving on to the sauna or a spot of mountain stargazing.
The creation of such an atmosphere does not occur without a lot of behind-the-scenes endeavour. The hardest job of all is making something difficult look easy. For this reason, it would be remiss not to mention the Trojan work that is undertaken by the organising team, not merely in selecting students and lecturers, but also in ensuring that the entire operation runs smoothly. From preparing study materials, to website maintenance, to placating the housekeeper, to organising trips to Prague or hikes in the mountains, to driving lecturers to and from the airport, the members of the CLS team spend thousands of collective working hours making sure that the entire operation succeeds without a hitch. The fact that they do so with an ever-present smile on their faces is remarkable.
All participants, including Ciarán (second from the right in the front row), having fun even during lectures
Finally, a word about myself. I have attended the CLS Summer School on three occasions, namely in 2013, 2014 and 2015, both as a student and as an invited lecturer. I sincerely doubt that I have been there for the last time. What keeps me coming back? The truth is that I could enhance my legal knowledge alone. However, when I think of the CLS Summer Schools, I do not merely think of learning, but rather of energetic debates, thought-provoking points of view and challenges to perceived wisdom. Alongside this, I think of football, hiking, breathtaking views, and evenings in the sauna or in the cosy mountain pub nearby. Finally, I think of the great people I have met there. Truly, academia aestatis sui generis - an experience like no other summer school.