I had always wanted to live in the U.S. for a period of my life, and during the final year of law school at the University of Oslo, I figured it was “now or never”, and decided to apply for LLM programs in the U.S. the following year. After a long and time-consuming application process, I was relieved and happy when everything fell into place in the beginning of March 2013, and I could start preparing for departure.
I arrived in Philadelphia on July 23, 2013, a couple of days before the program started, and moved into a studio apartment in Fitler’s Square, a nice neighborhood located between the Law School and Center City. As I had never been to the U.S. before, I had no idea how my life in the U.S. would become. But one thing was certain; knowing that I would be the only Scandinavian in the Penn Law LLM Class of 2014, which consisted of more than 115 lawyers from 35 countries – I knew it would be a cross-cultural adventure.
The LLM program at Penn Law is a one-year, full time course of study in advanced legal topics, designed primarily for lawyers trained outside the U.S. The program is divided into three parts – a mandatory five-week summer course, a fall semester and a spring semester. The summer course consists of introductory subjects that are aimed to prepare the LLM students for studying law in the U.S. During the fall and spring semesters, LLM students take courses alongside the upper-level JD students. As an LLM student at Penn Law, you can select classes from an extensive curriculum of classes and seminars. I chose a combination of classes and seminars, focusing primarily on commercial law. It is also possible to take at least one class at another faculty of University of Pennsylvania, including the Wharton School. This option was particularly popular among my classmates who had already been practicing lawyers and were interested in taking MBA courses. Additionally, every week there are conferences, seminars and lunch talks at the Law School, which students may attend. Finally, LLM students at Penn Law can gain practical experience through work at one of the Law School’s clinics, or by engaging in volunteer work through the Penn Law Toll Public Interest Center.
Academically, the year at Penn Law was both challenging and extremely rewarding. One of the biggest challenges was the requirements as to class participation, which were quite different from what I was used to from university back home – I really had to step outside of my comfort zone. However, I felt privileged being able to take classes within my fields of interest taught by Penn Law’s talented faculty, it really broadened my perspectives on the law, and it was truly inspiring to be part of the innovative learning environment at Penn Law. Studying in the U.S. was different in so many ways, not only academically; the week before the final exams we got free donuts every morning, and, for the first time of my life I got to experience a “snow day”!
Socially, my year in Philadelphia gave me much more than I had ever expected. Penn Law is known for having a collegial student environment, something that I got to experience first-hand. The summer course gave the LLM class a great opportunity to get to know each other before the American students arrived, and we tied close bonds from very early on. Some of my classmates became like family to me, one of them another Fulbrighter from Turkey, and I now feel lucky to have close friends from so many parts of the world. When the JD students arrived in early September, each LLM student was assigned a student mentor from the JD class, which at least for me made it easier getting to know the American students. I even got to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mentor’s friends and family. At Penn Law there are also numerous student groups that arrange events and parties on a weekly basis.
Philadelphia became my home for one year, and I realized that the city has more to offer than the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue. I already miss Philly’s charming, narrow alleys and great restaurants. In my opinion, Philadelphia is the perfect city for being a student, since the size makes it easy to keep in touch with friends. I lived within walking distance from both downtown Philadelphia (Center City) and the Law School (located in University City). Admittedly, life in Philadelphia is relatively ”slow”, but when the bars close down at 2am, the good thing is that you can have a Philly cheesesteak and Insomnia cookies on your way home! And New York is only a two-hour bus ride away, so it’s easy to do weekend getaways.
My year at Penn Law gave me memories and experiences that I will never forget, and I will be forever thankful to the Fulbright Foundation for making it possible for me to go!