Dec 1, 2016

The founding principle of all the activities of Zdenek and Michaela Bakala is, truly, the courage, which must, according to their belief, always go hand in hand with responsibility.
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David Dubin - report


July 2013 to May 2014


Georgetown University Law Center




From July 2013 to May 2014, the Zdenek & Michaela Bakala Foundation supported my dream to graduate from a prestigious U.S. university. I attended Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC, where I completed a Master’s degree in International Legal Studies (LL.M.). This degree, in conjunction with my previous degrees from the University of Geneva, allowed me to sit for the New York Bar Exam in July 2014. Additionally, during my studies at Georgetown University, I also obtained a Certificate in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution. This experience was extremely enriching, on an academic, personal and professional level, and I would recommend it to anyone who has the possibility to do so.

Surprisingly, the most difficult and burdensome aspect of my LL.M. experience was the application itself, which can at times seem overwhelming. Unlike for Swiss universities, applications to U.S. universities require a great number of documents and translation of documents, which need to be sent well in advance of any foreseeably reasonable deadline. Most universities require the application to be submitted in full by December, for a student wishing to start in the Fall. Accordingly, all documents must be sent a minimum of six weeks in advance for processing. In parallel, similar applications must be completed in order to successfully find financial assistance to fund an endeavor such as this. The same is true when applying to sit the New York or California Bar Exam. All in all, the process may seem daunting at first, requiring planning, perseverance and patience but the rewards are well worth the hours spent choosing between universities and programs, obtaining translations and certifications of documents etc… 


Preparation is key to reducing the strain of moving to a foreign country. Among the students that I shared my program with, some had prepared everything ahead of time, finding an apartment, furniture and the like before even setting foot in DC. Others, on the other hand, had done little more than pack a suitcase. Due to unforeseeable personal circumstances, I found myself in the latter category. In retrospect, I do not think that this negatively impacted my stay, but it did make the first few weeks much more stressful than they could have been. Therefore, one should effectively consider housing and living arrangements, visa applications, travel arrangements, financial resources and budgeting well in advance of departure. In addition, as I will explain below, one should not underestimate the importance of selecting the right classes and carefully considering one’s academic objectives and opportunities within a given program well before moving. 


I arrived in DC four days before the start of the Summer Program, on July 25th 2014. Georgetown Law offers its LL.M. students the possibility to obtain a maximum of 3 credits before the start of the semester, to complete classes that are necessary for eligibility to the New York Bar Exam (these courses can, however, also be taken during the semester). If the university you plan to attend offers this type of summer program, I highly recommend attending it. Not only did it allow me to validate some mandatory bar exam classes before the start of the semester, thereby allowing me to take more classes during the semester, it also gave me the opportunity to get settled in and adapt to the new environment early on. Furthermore, unless this is not possible, I would suggest arriving a week before the start of the classes, in order to get settled into (or look for) your apartment and to get to know your surroundings, thereby allowing you to commit all your attention to classes when your they start: due to the constraints of the 12-13 week semesters, professors generally do not allow for an “adaptation time” at the start of the semester – certain classes that I attended had 50-100 page required reading assignments due for the first day of class… 


After arriving in Washington, D.C. I spent my first 8 days between a hotel room and an Airbnb accommodation. While still in Switzerland, I had tried to search for an apartment on (a very useful and popular website in the U.S.), however this proved difficult due to the high demand on the website and not being able to meet with potential landlords in person (although I did hear of some students who conducted Skype interviews to obtain their apartment/room). It was also difficult to understand where exactly to find an apartment. Although this may be true for other cities, this is particularly true for Washington DC, where everything is very spread out and where certain areas (even in the city “center”) should be avoided. Therefore, the best option was to hunt for apartments on Facebook, either through friends of friends in the legal community (i.e. departing students for a similar background), or through the LL.M. Facebook Group, which acted as an exchange where departing students would offer apartments and furniture to arriving students. This worked relatively well, and I was able to find a student from my LL.M. who had already found an apartment and was looking for a roommate. Within a week I had found a place to stay.

For students thinking about Washington in particular, my recommendations would depend on which School you decide to attend. However, I would generally suggest to find something within walking distance from your campus, as it gets particularly hot in summer and excruciatingly cold in winter – avoid long transits (if possible), and steer clear of the metro which is often late and infrequent. I myself lived a 10 minute walk from the Law Center in Mount Vernon Square, a brand new neighborhood not far from Union Station. Other students lived either around Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, nicer areas but which required them to take the metro/taxi/bike every day. Finally, I would not recommend on-campus accommodation for students attending Georgetown Law. 


The Georgetown Law Campus is a relatively small one, with four large buildings, but over 1300 students. This makes it a very active and busy campus, where something is always happening. There are countless conferences, presentations, projections, lunch courses and other events that one can attend every day. Such opportunities to learn about different issues also allowed me to meet new people and be a part of the campus community.

Most of the classes that I took were interesting and interactive. The structure of classes differs from that at most Swiss universities. Seminars have about 10-20 students and involve heavy participation of the students, with presentations and group discussions taking up a big part of the curriculum. Larger classes have up to 80 students and generally focus on broader subjects, but still involve the participation of students, as professors often “cold call” students to explain certain parts of the reading materials. Depending on the number of classes that you take, and the content of the classes, reading assignments can be very time-consuming, as can be the numerous papers that must be handed in throughout the semester. My schedule was often very full and most of my time that was not spent in class or preparing for class was spent attending lectures or conferences on or around campus. 


While completing my LL.M. degree, I was able to meet people from around the globe, make great friends and good contacts. Georgetown Law attracts hundreds of international students every year, and over 80 nationalities were represented in the Class of 2014. This diversity allowed me to meet and work with people from different backgrounds and cultures, which was very enriching.

As said above, there are many activities planned by student organizations where students can meet and mingle, but there are also many informal events where LL.M’s get to know each other. Such events are important as an LL.M. is also useful to create an international network of friends and colleagues that you may need to refer to once you return to your home country.

Finally, Washington, D.C. has so much to offer. As the Capital of the United States, it is home to official buildings such as the White House, Congress, Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and important national monuments and parks such as the National Mall, Washington Monument, Lincoln Monument, Arlington Cemetery and the like. It is also home to many, many fascinating museums and exhibitions, most of which are free – so many that I was not able to visit them all in the year that I lived there. The city itself is also very lively and exciting, with its trendy restaurants and places to go out. I tried to use the free time at my disposal to fully take advantage of all that the University and the District had to offer, and I highly suggest doing the same! 



David Dubin - photos


© Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala