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Cathy O’Neill Becomes 1st Irish Student to Receive Prestigious Starr Foundation Scholarship

21 Aug 2019

Cathy O'Neill will become the first Irish student to receive the Starr Foundation Scholarship and to study in the area of International law at the University of St. Gallen.

The 22-year-old UCC School of Law graduate applied for the Scholarship soon after being accepted into the Masters in International Law programme at the University of St. Gallen.

The scholarship, which is set aside for highly talented foreign-language students, is designed to encourage recipients to engage internationally in either the fields of Law, Education or Medicine.

Prompted to apply following a formative Erasmus year studying at the University of Konstanz, Cathy will formally enrol at the University of St. Gallen in September, when she looks forward to engaging with academics such as Julienne Kokett, the 3rd female Advocate General of the European Court of Justice. 

1. What was your ambition when you first came to study law at UCC?

Well, my aunt is a solicitor, and I worked in her practice for the summer months prior to coming to UCC to study Law. This gave me an insight into various aspects of the law such as medical negligence, family law and commercial and residential conveyancing.

However, like many first-year law students, I had no real clue of what area to pursue until I spent my third year as part of an Erasmus Programme studying at the University of Konstanz in southern Germany. 


2. Studying at the University of Konstanz must have been an eye-opening experience, both academically and personally? 

It was a very formative and life-changing experience. Studying at the University of Konstanz, while challenging at times, instilled in me a love of international law, in particular in the corporate sector. 

I took classes in both German and English which was a welcome challenge. Having the opportunity to study law through another language was a truly rewarding experience as it allowed me to study a very different legal system - Civil Law, a huge contrast to our own Common Law system, which is based on precedent and previous judicial judgements. 

Studying abroad was also incredible for my personal growth. I made friendships with students from all over the world - all of whom I am still in regular contact with. I also immersed myself in the cultural and sporting life of the university, becoming Intervarsity Ladies Tennis Captain and engaging widely with students from other universities. 

I am extremely grateful to Clare Murphy in the UCC International Office and to UCC Law staff such as Dr Benedicte Sage-Fuller and Dr Louise Crowley for their assistance in progressing my application. 


3. What prompted your interest in applying for the Starr Foundation Scholarship and studying International Law at the University of St.Gallen? 

Well firstly, I was so delighted to be chosen to attend the University of St. Gallen as they only accept four international students in their Masters in International Law programme.

My reason for choosing this specific programme derived from the fact that it combines law with extremely interesting business and political modules. The opportunity to learn about both public and private international law, while also benefiting from the array of business courses on offer, is one of the main reasons I applied for this programme. Of course, the fact that the University of St. Gallen is ranked the 4th best business school in Europe aided my decision!

Within a week of receiving my BCL results and sending them to the University of St. Gallen, I received an email, inviting me to apply for the Starr Foundation Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to 'highly talented foreign language students' who have a recognised foreign Bachelor degree and are completing one of the Masters degrees at the University. 

The Starr Foundation was established in 1955 by American entrepreneur, Cornelius Vander Starr, a pioneer of globalization. The endowment is currently worth 3.5 billion dollars and its focus is on Law and Public Policy, Education, Healthcare and the Environment. After completing a very rigorous application, I was thrilled to be the first Irish person to be awarded the Starr Foundation Scholarship of 10,000 CHF at the University of St. Gallen. 


4. Did your time in Konstanz contribute to you receiving the Starr Foundation Scholarship? 

Without a doubt! My mother, Finola, was actually the one who encouraged me to take the year out. I am so grateful to her as this year was the most rewarding experience of my life. I was the only person from my Law class to study at the University of Konstanz, and so it was quite daunting initially. However, I soon became involved in many clubs and societies there and of course enjoyed the social life too. 

Konstanz is situated on the border of Switzerland and is one of the most magnificent cities in the world. It has a beautiful lake and you can travel through Europe very cheaply which I did on a regular basis. I worked in both as a waitress in an Irish pub in Konstanz and also as a secretary in a Marketing company in Regensdorf, Switzerland, in order to finance my year abroad. I had the most incredible time in Konstanz and will always think of it as my second home. 

5. As the first Irish person to receive the Scholarship and to study in the area of International Law at St. Gallen, how did you go about writing your application? 

The application was very detailed. It was primarily based on achieving top grades. It also hugely took into account your motivation letter, CV and extracurricular activities/ awards. Evidence of linguistic proficiency in at least two languages was also a must.

As the University of St. Gallen is ranked very highly as a Business School, subjects such as Company Law, in which I received a First Class Honours, were also factors taken into consideration. I had an excellent lecturer in Company Law, Professor Irene Lynch Fannon, and I truly could not thank our tutor, Mr Michael Boland, enough for making this module so interesting and assisting us in any way that he could.

However, my application for the scholarship was focused primarily on the issue of globalization. I emphasised the point that Ireland was a peripheral nation, unlike Switzerland, which was centrally and strategically placed at the centre of Europe.

I also highlighted the commonalities between the two nations - our neutrality and our mutual engagement with humanitarian issues. The application was also centred around my year in Konstanz, what I had learned about myself and my engagement with other cultures and nationalities. 

I would say that my year abroad was a real game-changer in terms of being awarded the scholarship and I hope that other Irish students will also apply in the future. 


6. How prepared are you for the year ahead?

I am both excited and scared! This opportunity is one of a kind and I am really looking forward to being lectured by inspiring academics such as Julienne Kokett, who is the 3rd female Advocate General of the European Court of Justice. 

Moving to another country seems quite a daunting prospect when thinking about organising accommodation, residency permits and of course the high cost of living in Switzerland. That being said, I can't wait to embrace this exciting opportunity and look forward to the journey ahead of me. 


7. What are your plans for the future? 

On completion of the Masters in International Law Programme, I hope that the education I receive at the University of St. Gallen will provide a solid foundation on which to build an international legal career. I hope that it will also help me to pursue my goal of becoming an international lawyer in the corporate sector. 

I have also been very impressed over the years by the humanitarian principles of the Red Cross, and I hope that at some stage in my legal career, to offer some pro bono assistance to this admirable international organisation.


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