The LL.M Experience: Living Life to the Most

tomartIllustrated by Minji Reem

A friend once told me that LL.M stands for “Living Life to the Most.”  Having lived here in New York City since August of last year and having met so many wonderful people, I can only affirm this. Living in this city was a childhood dream of mine, which came true this year. Although it gets pretty cold here in the winter, I really believe that nothing goes above living in this vibrant, never-sleeping city for a while.

Like many of the LL.M students here, I spent a lot of time traveling and exploring New York City. For many of us, this is something for which we do not have enough time while working. Ironically, while living in Brussels, I never spent as much time exploring the city as I did here in New York. This is something I regret—I am already looking forward to future visits from J.D. and LL.M friends, since this will also be an opportunity for me to be a tourist myself in Belgium.

This is the first time in my life I have had the opportunity to make international friends, and to celebrate Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Chinese New Year with them. Being a part of these festivities as a foreigner was a phenomenal experience that I would highly recommend to others—it has enabled me to acquire a better understanding of other cultural traditions. What I find amazing about the US is that it encompasses the true definition of the “mosaic identity”—as a nation of immigrants, it is comprised of people from so many different backgrounds and experiences. I believe this is what makes this country, and especially New York City, so culturally rich.

Looking back on my experiences with US society thus far, there are also a few things that strike me as concerning. First and foremost, racial prejudice is still present in everyday life, despite some wishing to think it left behind in the nation’s history. I have a lot of respect for people who are fighting against this.  Second, there is an extreme unequal distribution of wealth, and poverty is omnipresent. Many people struggle to make a living and the poor mainly depend on charity. Third, as far as the political scene is concerned, I have an aversion to the highly politicized television channels and the lack of political ethics (referring, among others, to the blocking techniques used in Congress). Given the statistics showing the disparately high number of deaths and injuries caused by firearms, I do not understand why certain states do not choose to enact stricter limits on gun possession. Finally, unequal access to and the high cost of education create barriers to entry for talented people who may otherwise be very successful.

Living in International House (characterized by its slogan “that brotherhood may prevail”) has been a critical part of my experience here at Columbia. With its 700 residents from more than 100 different countries (including the US, which accounts for one-third of the residents), this unique international community actively encourages friendship among individuals from all backgrounds and nations. It is an environment that fosters cross-cultural understanding by challenging us to put our prejudices aside, and truly appreciate the beauty of diversity. Cross-cultural understanding and respect are the most important values that I take away from the experience of living in International House as well as from the LL.M experience.

I would like to thank the Belgian American Educational Foundation (“BAEF”) for sponsoring part of my LL.M program and awarding me a stipend. Education is a truly important requirement for professional success, and BAEF has an important mission supporting both Americans and Belgians. My wish is that similar philanthropic organizations may also emerge in other countries, in order to support the exchange of promising students with the US.

Upon my return to Europe, I will certainly miss New York and my friends here. I have a lot of sweet memories. This year has made me feel like more of a world citizen and I will never forget the people who have made this year amazing!


Disclaimer: The views in this article are these of the author only and cannot be attributed to International House New York, the Belgian American Educational Foundation, or any other third parties.

Tom De Coster is an LL.M student and IP/TMT* attorney for Linklaters in Brussels, Belgium. Years of legal practice have left him longing for this one year off from work in the Big Apple, where he only has to listen to the instructions of GLS.
* IP/TMT: Intellectual Property/Telecommunications, Media and Technology

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