Going to hurricane-torn Puerto Rico was not exactly a study-abroad program.

But for Natalie Trigo Reyes and 29 classmates from Harvard Law School, it was a lesson for life. The law school sent them to Puerto Rico to help victims of Hurricane Maria, which leveled the U.S. territory last year.

“It looked as if the island had been hit by a nuclear bomb,” said Trigo Reyes.

“A Nuclear Bomb”

Trigo Reyes should know; she was raised in Puerto Rico. But she grew up when she returned for a week as part of a humanitarian legal brigade.

“Now, there is vegetation, and you can see the green,” she told the Harvard Gazette. “And even though the government response has been slow and insufficient, there is a sense of hope.”

Her classmates felt it, too. Kevin Ratana Patumwat, who worked on FEMA appeals for residents, said he was touched.

“It was a powerful reminder that there are many ways to embrace the legal profession, not only as an attorney in top law firms, but also in areas where you can lift people up, give hope, and make changes in people’s lives,” he said.

Hurricane Legal Aid

Before Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean, Hurricane Harvey laid waste to Texas. Law students were there to help, too.

They volunteered at shelters, helped with claims for insurance, employment benefits and healthcare. One student got in a kayak to rescue stranded victims.

Andrew Crespo, an assistant professor at Harvard Law, said his experience with the students in Puerto Rico reminded him of his experience as a student helping Hurricane Katrina victims. He felt the national response to help.

“With Hurricane Maria, it felt different,” he said. “It felt like a struggle to get the country to realize that there were 3 million Americans without electricity or drinking water.”