Imagine leaving your home country — where you were valedictorian of your law school — for a new international, immersive and challenging experience. What if this experience included a master’s degree from a top law institution and allowed for entry into a global competition? Better yet, what if your presence brought forth the first win for the United States in over 20 years, and at first, you were denied personal entry? Augusto Garcia Sanjur credits two things to his success here at Penn State Law — resilience and humility.
Garcia came to the United States on a whim after Penn State Law School went on an international recruiting trip to the University of Panama — his home university. Finances were not in favor to allow Garcia to attend, but a loving and sacrificial mother could not see a better fit. Garcia’s mother has made academic sacrifices all of his life, working three jobs to ensure he was private school educated and English proficient. He was enrolled to pursue a one-year, master’s degree in international arbitration in August 2018.
However, to Garcia’s surprise, his previous English education did not fully prepare him for the language barrier he was about to face. “I thought I was Shakespeare before coming to this country,” tells Garcia in regards to his initial self-evaluation.
Once arriving in State College, the global Vismoot competition peaked Garcia’s attention, motivating him to apply. The international competition is entirely in English. Penn State has a unique philosophy when it comes to their arbitration team — the coaches themselves are law school students. Garcia was initially rejected by the coaches due to “problems with his English compared to the other participants.” He was then told he would receive a spot on the team, only if someone dropped. Two short days later, one member dropped out. This is where Garcia’s story begins.
The group was composed of both JD law students and those pursuing a master’s in law — seven members and two coaches. Members included Alice Gyamfi, Sanya Kishwar, Yousra Jouglaf, Muhamed Tulic, Adam Wage, Ashley Clasen and Augusto Garcia. The two coaches were Catalina Bîzîc and William Sandman.
Garcia describes the team bond as a “natural family.” The group would spend countless hours together for the next eight months, in preparation for the global stage in Vienna. Penn State’s hopes were just to make it to the round of 64, allowing them to qualify for the following year.
Each round resulted in the halving in the number of teams. To Penn State’s surprise, they continued to hear their name get called. As a ritual before each round, the team would gather in powerful prayer.
Finally, the final matchup would be Penn State University and the University of Ottawa. A funny coincidence, the University of Ottawa had visited Penn State earlier that year to help them work on their arbitration skills. Coming full circle, Penn State clinched a victory with Garcia as one of their main oralist. They claimed the global title and became the first United States school to win the Vismoot competition in 20 years.
“For me this was a lesson of humbleness. Sometimes you have to keep your head down and just keep working. The opportunities will appear, even if in the beginning you don’t see anything,” advises Garcia.
To him and his teammates surprise, all other international teams uniformly chanted a “WE ARE” when his team went up to receive their first place recognition. Chills, love and pride filled the room, but nothing filled Garcia’s heart more than the life long friendships he created on this journey.
Garcia’s story is one of sheer resilience and humility. Never once did Garcia think to give up. He noted that a true test of resilience is pushing forward when things get tough.
I’ve realized that a lot of times we work in the beginning and when things get tougher we stop,” he says. “But that is when you have to push forward.
As a direct byproduct of his hard work and dedication, Garcia’s future looks incredibly bright. He looks forward to an international arbitration internship in London this coming September, working for Wilmer Hale. He is also scheduled to take the bar exam in February. He thanks Penn State, his family, friends and God for his success.
If you don’t work, you will never have a seat at the table.