The most difficult, challenging, but also rewarding thing I have ever achieved is graduating from American Law School. I have never been more proud of myself, then the moment the Dean of Students called out my name on stage in front of hundreds of people, while giving me my diploma. It's been exactly a year since I graduated, so in this blogpost, I want to finally share more about my experience going to law school for 5 years both in the Netherlands and in the US.
MY LAW SCHOOL JOURNEY
My law school journey officially started in September 2013. When I was 18 years, I graduated from high school (I went to Gymnasium for all my Dutchies). I chose the major Cultuur & Maatschappij (Culture & Society) and had Cambridge English and Ancient Greek as my 'extra' courses, and graduated with an average grade of 7/10. I was debating between pursuing a law degree or a philosophy degree at the University of Groningen (RUG), but ended up choosing law due to its better career perspectives. While in the US, the hardest thing is getting into law school, for Dutch law school it's staying in one. In the Netherlands, we don't have to take the LSAT in order to get into law school - pretty much everyone with an advanced high school degree or their first year completed of a Bachelor of a University of Applied Science will be accepted for law school. However, around 50% of students that get into law school, have to drop out during their first year. This is due to the fact that all law students have to pass a minimum of 45/60 credits in their first year, which is called Bindend Studie Advies (BSA, stands for Manual Binding Study Advice) in order to stay enrolled. If they fail to pass the 45 minimum, they have to drop out.
However, the year I applied for law school, the University of Groningen decided to try out a similar test to the LSAT in the US, to see how it would work out. It consisted of 3 different tests: one part was focused on legal knowledge based on a lecture as well as study material we received beforehand, and the other two parts consisted of exercises focused on reading comprehension, analytical and logical reasoning. I remember preparing extremely well for this test, because I was so nervous about not getting in. When I received an email from the University of Groningen, I was almost to scared to open it. My test results ended up being great. I was number 4 out of the 600 people that applied, which definitely gave me a boost of confidence I chose the right path for myself.
Me and my mom at my graduation ceremony.
Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)
During my first year of my Bachelors of Laws (LL.B.) this feeling of having chosen the right path only became stronger. I got my propaedeutic diploma within 1 year (which means you pass the required 60 credits within the first year), with an average of 8.9/10, and was also accepted for Honours College. After my first year, I had to choose a specialization. I decided to go for Dutch Law, because at that time I was mainly interested in criminal law. In my third year of law school, I discovered philosophy of law. This course had the biggest impact on me - personally and career wise. After studying law for 3 years, I pretty much forgot about my love for philosophy. When I took this course, my passion for philosophy came back. I felt like phoenix awakening from its ashes - what was I doing with my life before this? Even though I enjoyed studying law, the philosophical side of this field was definitely my big love. This realization, combined with me losing my cum laude for my Bachelor of Laws degree in my very last semester of my last year of my Bachelor (which at that time, felt like the world was coming to an end for me and I ruined my legal career), put me in a peculiar state of mind (which ended up being the best thing for me and my career). In July 2016, I graduated from my Bachelor of Laws with an average of 8/10, as well as Honours College. I decided I wanted to stop focusing on having the perfect "career" or proving others I was smart enough to pursue law school, and start focusing on what actually made me happy.
Master of Laws (LL.M.) & Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
Now that my happiness was my main academic drive, I wanted to pursue more philosophical related courses. I was interested in understanding and hopefully at some point improving the legal system, rather than actually practicing law. I applied for the prestigious Research Master in Law, a Master of Laws (LL.M.) that takes two years, rather than one year like all Dutch LL.M. degrees. Only around 20 people get accepted each year, so I was very worried about getting in. The Research Master combined a regular LL.M. with broader courses, focused on legal theory and philosophy of law. In addition, the Research Master paid particular attention to research and writing skills, logic, and argumentation. It seemed like the perfect fit for me.
Fortunately enough, I was accepted, which meant that I would start with my new Master in September 2016. In addition, I also decided to pursue a second degree: I applied for a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Philosophy of a Specific Scientific Field. This is a one year Philosophy crash course degree, featuring a mixture of philosophy minor and third year Bachelor courses. Even though it was quite challenging combining a Master degree with a second Bachelor, I managed to finish one semester of my Philosophy Bachelor and two semesters of my Law Master in one academic year.
US Exchange Programme
Whenever I would hang out with fellow students that studied abroad, they would always tell me the same thing, over and over again: Lilia, you HAVE to do it, it has changed my life for the better. Rather than continuing with my studies in Groningen, I decided to take a break and to go on an international exchange for one semester. One of the reasons why I wanted to move to Groningen was because I wanted to go as far away as I could from my home town. After studying in Groningen for 4 years, I started to develop a similar feeling of wanderlust again. I loved Groningen, but I needed a change. And what better place to go as far as possible from the Netherlands, than the US?
I knew that I needed a break from my life in Groningen, so I decided to apply for a study abroad program in the US at the George Washington University Law School in Washington DC. I thought the difference between a civil and common law system would be helpful to understand for my research, as well as the fact that most of my social media following was from the US as well. It could be a potential smart business move. After months of preparation and stressing out over the fact if I would be good enough to study law at such a famous law school in the United States, I got an email saying that I was accepted for a semester of law school there. I was so excited I would start a new chapter of my life that Fall, but I also felt scared of leaving my life behind I had build by myself over the past 4 years in Groningen. However, I have never let fear stop me from doing anything I want, and this time would not be an exception.
My closest law school friends at the graduation ceremony.
US Master in Laws (LL.M.)
In August 2017, I moved to Washington DC to start with my exchange at the GW Law School. The original plan was that I would stay there for 5 months, which meant that I would finish one full semester. However, after 2 months of living in Washington DC, I realized I did not want to go back to the Netherlands yet. My intuition was telling me I needed to do everything within my power to extend my stay here. DC felt like the place I needed to be at this particular point in my life. I decided to apply again to GW Law, this time for the full General LL.M. degree. Fortunately enough, I got accepted again. This meant that I could extend my 5 month stay to a 10 month stay, while also finishing an American LL.M. degree. My main focus were philosophy of law, constitutional law, and women's rights & feminist related legal courses. After a lot of late nights at the library, a newly created caffeine addiction, and a good amount of breakouts due to extremely high stress levels, I managed to do it: I graduated from General LL.M. degree at GW Law with an GPA of 3.52 with honors, since I was part of the 10% highest GPAs of all international students.
"After a lot of late nights at the library, a newly created caffeine addiction, and a good amount of breakouts due to extremely high stress levels, I managed to do it."
We did it!
The Dean's Graduation reception with my best friend Kal & my mom.
After graduating from American Law School, I had a difficult choice to make. What should I do with my life now? Should I chase my dreams of living in the United States, or should I go back to my home country in order to finish my second LL.M. and B.A.? It wasn't easy to make this decision, but in my heart I already knew what I needed to do: I decided to stay in Washington DC. This decision wasn't easy to make. Not only is it very hard to get a visa in the US (more about that later), life here is also extremely expensive. I never had financial struggles living in the Netherlands, but ever since I moved to the US, I noticed I had to be more mindful about my expenses. This made me feel extremely anxious and stressed out, because I really needed to step up my business game in order to get back to my financial stability I had in the Netherlands. In addition, this would also mean that I would not be able to finish my Dutch LL.M. and B.A., which I also find quite difficult to come to terms with. I always thought I would still be a student for many years, especially since I am more interested in the academic or theoretical side of law, rather than practicing it. However, my intuition was telling me that I needed to stay in the US. Ever since I moved here, I felt like I belonged here. The people I met and the places I visited - everything seemed to be telling me that staying in the US was the right move. I am really excited to be pursuing this dream I had ever since I just started blogging. It felt like I was taking a big risk, but I guess life will always be a leap of faith.
It's been a year since I have graduated from law school. Instead of focusing becoming a lawyer on resolving other people's cases like most people tend to do after graduating, I spend most of my year working my own immigration case for USCIS. When I decided to apply for US work visa, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The US immigration process, even for someone coming from a privileged background and country like the Netherlands, was extremely difficult, stressful & anxiety inducing. After spending so much of my time and money on lawyers, company start up costs & required documents and forms, in January 2019 I received the news that all my hard work was for nothing: my visa got denied. I had to go back to the Netherlands, and figure out if I should just give up on this dream, or if I should try again, and have faith that this time the outcome would be different. Even though I felt like I failed, I chose to appeal my case.
This was not the end of my American dream. I still had 2 shots: my appeal at USCIS, as well as a new application at the American Embassy in the Netherlands. However, I decided to await these decisions in the Netherlands, because I needed to rethink my life and I was craving some time back home. I moved out of my apartment, sold all my furniture, and moved all the stuff I wanted to keep in a storage unit in DC. Before I left, I wanted to make a final trip in the US, and chose to go to Los Angeles. Since my immigration lawyer was situated there, I also planned a meeting with her, in order to discuss my case in person. This meeting was honestly life changing. We found a way to extend my stay in the US until September 2019, which meant that I had more time in the US and to work on my case at the embassy.
For now, this is the update I can give you on my life post-graduation. There is some more news I cannot wait to share with you, and it will be revealed very soon on my YouTube channel. For now: It feels amazing to be finally done with law school, but I will definitely miss it. Going to law school has definitely been the best decision of my life. It has shaped me as a person, taught me life lessons I will never forget, and made me grow into a person who is knowledgeable and passionate about social (in)justices. I loved being a law and philosophy student, and I would love to pursue a PhD or an additional M.A. in Philosophy if I could. Who knows. :)
WHEN DID YOU OR ARE YOU PLANNING TO GRADUATE?