Travels With Nathalie
How Nathalie Bougenies’ travels helped shape her practice
Published in 2022 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine on July 1, 2022
Nathalie Bougenies grew up in Ath, Belgium, surrounded by family who rarely left their small town, and her parents were determined that wouldn’t be her. So each year, starting when Bougenies was 9 months old, the family took a trip abroad.
A visit to Tunisia when she was 10 or 11 stands out in her mind. “It was the first time that we went to a non-European country and where I felt very different because I looked so different,” she says. “People spoke my language, but the food, the people, the architecture—that was really a trip that impacted me because it felt so different from anything I had experienced before.”
For her gap year, she traveled alone to the U.S., lived in Olympia, Washington, and attended a year of American high school as part of the Rotary exchange program.
“I fell in love with the people and the culture, particularly critical thinking and just being exposed to more cultures—even within a small and fairly white community. Let’s face it, Olympia is not that diverse. But to me it felt diverse. That really opened up my mind and made me want more of it,” she says.
The individualistic culture of the U.S. appealed to Bougenies, too. “The American ideal of, ‘Well, if you work hard, you can do anything and you can be anything.’ That certainly resonated with me because my parents didn’t go to college. No one in my family went to college before me. I just always knew that was a ticket to do what I wanted to do,” she says.
The one-year visit turned into much more. Bougenies used the GPA from her year in U.S. high school to apply for scholarships and she wound up staying for university, switching her study plans from engineering to international development.
St. Martin’s University in Lacey, a suburb of Olympia, had sister schools around the world, so she studied in Japan and South Africa, and went on a community service trip to Mexico to build houses. Her time in Japan was one of her favorite trips. But it was the visit to South Africa, as part of her public health senior thesis, that shaped her future.
Bougenies worked in a health clinic during the country’s AIDS crisis. “I saw things that I wasn’t really prepared to deal with, including seeing people die,” she says. “That trip made me realize that while international development and public health were of interest to me, what I had envisioned for myself of working for a nonprofit in the developing world was not something I was equipped to do—emotionally and physically. … It was a painful experience.”
Several legal-adjacent jobs—including the Washington State Senate Committee Services where she worked with attorneys drafting bills, and the University of Oregon where she helped international students with visas—began to nudge her toward the law. Lawyers she knew would say, “It seems like you’re enjoying this and you’re good at it. Have you considered going to law school?”
After getting her J.D. from the University of Oregon, cannabis law fell into her lap as she was searching for international firms. “When I entered into the space, the CBD industry was pretty nascent. There weren’t a lot of attorneys, so I basically had to educate myself from scratch and learn everything there was to learn,” she says.
Overall, Bougenies has been to dozens of countries, five of the seven continents—missing only South America and Antarctica—and is fluent in English and Spanish along with her native French. All of it helps. “Any client we work with has some sort of international exposure because of the globalized world in which we live,” she says. “To be able to help them navigate these various cultures, not just of a legal perspective but a cultural perspective as well, is invaluable.”