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I received a quick note this week from Marlene Houngbedji, who made an appearance on the blog earlier this year. She told me that she was just about to climb on a plane to Ireland to attend a conference at the National University of Ireland-Galway. Not just attend the conference, but present a paper she wrote for Prof. Mazurana’s class, which earned her an invitation to participate. Marlene is listed among the Parallel Session Speakers in the conference agenda, where you can also find the abstract of her talk.
Marlene completed the one-year LLM program in May, and she is currently working as a summer legal researcher for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative-Harvard Humanitarian Academy. She will start a permanent position in the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Division of the Department of Homeland Security later this summer.
There are always gaps in what we’ve covered on the blog, and I regret that I haven’t written enough (or asked others to write enough) about the LL.M. program. This year I had heard talk around the office about a student who is very active in the community, so I reached out to Marlene Houngbedji to ask for her reflections on the program. Her thoughts on being an LLM student follow, rounding out a week when we have already heard from a graduate and a professor.
A doorway to major changes opened when I was admitted to the Fletcher School’s LL.M. program. My rather colorful pre-Fletcher professional journey had kept me away from the legal world for a long period. I had therefore been seeking a program that values international backgrounds while reinforcing prior (might I say: outdated?) knowledge of public international law. Although it feels like I started classes a mere few weeks ago, my first semester, the winter break and even a two-day New York career trip surreptitiously elapsed while I was busy being studious, and we’re already in our third week of the spring semester.
The time is therefore ripe for a mid-year assessment of my Fletcher post-graduate venture.
Balancing academic and professional goals
For me, acquiring experience in case law, and studying international law with a U.S. perspective are some of the program’s most valuable features. Not only does Fletcher’s LL.M. program cover a broader international legal range than other U.S. LL.M. programs to which I had considered applying, but it also offers students trained in civil law exposure to the common law system. I indeed find it fascinating to compare how universal legal concepts are interpreted from one system to the other. Some of my classmates and I never missed post-lecture opportunities to assail Professor Cerone with comments and questions on why legal theory is so different in the U.S., which made for quite heated yet entertaining fall-semester discussions!
The small number of students in the program permits frequent interactions with our faculty, which in turn, makes it easy to receive personalized guidance on course choices and professional goals. In speaking of the latter, our recent Office of Career Services-sponsored trip to New York introduced those of us interested in the legal profession to the UN Office of Legal Affairs (codification division) and to UN Women, dedicated to gender empowerment, among other organizations. Learning about the types of careers available to students of a discipline as abstract as international law has most definitely helped me choose my second semester classes accordingly.
I was not sure what to expect from world class faculty and my fellow students last semester, nor did I have a definite idea of what, as the recipient of a foreign law degree, was expected of me. Though I had decided what area of international law would become my field of expertise before applying to the Fletcher School, the variety of courses from which I could choose triggered a moment of panic. For a few days after classes began, it seemed that in picking classes in each division, to fulfill the breadth requirement, I was set to study topics with little to no relevance to traditional legal training. Apples and oranges in an academic setting.
Creating a personalized curriculum
The breadth of options turned out to work to my advantage, however, as it allowed me to tailor my curriculum to my academic and professional needs, while remaining within the requirements of the LL.M. program. My interest in human rights, protection of vulnerable groups in conflicts, and refugees’ and women’s issues prompted me to choose Professor Hannum’s International Human Rights Law, Professor Cerone’s International Humanitarian Law, Professors Mazurana and Stites’ Gender in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, and to cross-register for a course in international refugee law at Harvard Law School. A corresponding practical apprenticeship at the Boston branch of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic doubled my course load, but the privilege of working on gender asylum cases added a real-life component to theory and increased my familiarity with the U.S. judicial system.
This was how I was able to understand how seemingly unrelated disciplines and course content can reconcile into a multi-faceted perspective on law. By graduation, I will have learned to legally analyze human security through gender and economic lenses, and to paint a legal triptych comprising human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law panels with gendered shades and nuances.
As it turns out, apples and oranges do mix, sometimes…
An annual Fletcher tradition is the “Faculty and Staff Waits on You” dinner, which is pretty much what it sounds like. And an annual tradition of the event is the auction of, well, all sorts of interesting stuff provided by the community. And a tradition of the auction is to provide the funds raised to a worthy organization. This year, the funds went to AYO, an NGO with which a 2012 LLM graduate, Sevan Karian, is working. Sevan contacted me recently with information about AYO and the auction. I asked him to tell me more.
AYO means “YES” in Armenian (and could also mean “Armenian Youth Organization”). This is the new name we’ve just chosen on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of our organization. Today, AYO’s mission is to help the unprivileged kids of Armenia through education programs, using sports and arts as tools for their development.
AYO builds or improves schools, orphanages, and kindergartens in very poor and remote villages of the country, as well as the infrastructure to practice sports and arts around these buildings. In addition, AYO organizes summer camps every year in these villages, thanks to dozens of volunteers coming from France and elsewhere to spend a month with the children to teach them new skills. This video tells AYO’s story:
I became involved in AYO after 2005, when I had lived with indigenous communities in southern Mexico (Chiapas). I realized that I really wanted to be involved with a development aid organization in order to help people, and particularly children, in need. Back in Paris, I met by chance with the former leaders of AYO. They were looking for young people to revitalize this organization, which was falling apart. With a few friends, I devoted my free time over the next five years — when I was a law student and then a lawyer — to restructuring the organization, restoring contact with local populations in Armenia, as well as finding and organizing new projects in poor villages, which have taken place every summer since 2007!
Originally a lawyer in the energy and business sector in Paris, I came to Fletcher in 2011 for the the LLM program and I took the amazing John Hammock’s class on NGO Management and Ethics. This helped me a lot to frame my goals for AYO toward professionalization of the organization, and its expansion. I am now working almost full-time with AYO, trying to find more funds and more projects. Better organized and more efficient, AYO currently has an office in Paris with two interns, two workers in Armenia, and now a branch of the NGO opening in Boston!
I hope we will continue in this way and that AYO will be able to run several construction projects and summer camps in 2013 in Armenia, with the participation of French and also U.S. volunteers!
Regular blog readers know how I feel about volunteers — I love them! Especially volunteer blog writers. Here, interim LLM program director (and LLM alum) Hyejin Park, follows up on her first post with a run-down of fall semester out-of-class activities for LLM students.
I can’t believe it’s already the end of the semester! It’s always with mixed feelings that I find myself at this time of the year – relief at making it to the end, combined with bittersweet feelings at having to let go of another piece of my life, especially if that piece is filled with so many exciting memories. In this sense, December does seem to be a time of major transition, as well as of thanksgiving.
Finishing off the fall semester, the LLM class had several more out-of-class activities. One of them was our third High Table, featuring Andrew Loewenstein, partner at Foley Hoag LLP’s Boston office. As someone with an extensive experience in international litigation and arbitration, including disputes involving public international law, he was in an excellent position to comment on the topic of “Representing Sovereign States before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Other International Courts and Tribunals.” Since his perspective was that of a counsel and advocate in these proceedings, he focused on providing the behind-the-scenes views as to what litigating international disputes involves in practice. The class got to hear all about the strategic and tactical decisions that go into conceiving, planning, and proving the parties’ claims and defenses, which is an enlightening subject for any international lawyer, and certainly for our LLM students.
Another event took us to downtown Boston, for a November visit to the Massachusetts government. We combined our visits to all three branches of the state government in a day’s trip, as the John Adams Courthouse is adjacent to the State House, home to both the state legislature and the Governor’s Office. Fittingly for a field trip, a classic yellow school bus took us to our first destination, which was the State House.
Guided by Anthony, the State House tour director, the members of our LLM class from 13 different countries had a glimpse of how a state legislature and executive work under the U.S. federal system, including how state laws are made and how they interact with federal and international laws. Students also had a chance to expand on the comparative insight when they sat down with our local representatives, Senator Patricia Jehlen and Representative Paul Donato, to hear more about state legislative activities.
Our next stop was the John Adams Courthouse, home to the Supreme Judicial Court (the state’s highest appellate court) and the Massachusetts Appeals Court (the state’s intermediate appellate court). Here, our gracious host was the Honorable Robert Cordy, Associate Justice of the SJC and also a member of the Fletcher LLM Program’s Advisory Council. He personally took the class on a guided tour of the Courthouse, sharing all the fascinating stories behind each corner of the architecture. He even let our LLM students sit on the seats of the seven Justices of the SJC!
Thanks to our welcoming hosts, our very international LLM class was fortunate to have the chance to get a little more acquainted with the fascinating Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is at once steeped in history and very much forward-looking. Back on campus, my best wishes to all, and congratulations to the LLM students on the conclusion of the first half of their academic year!
Although this video is some months old, it only recently found its way to me. It shows Fletcher Professor Louis Aucoin pursuing his current work as the United Nations Deputy Special Representative for Liberia. Prof. Aucoin has been on leave for two semesters, but is planning to return to Fletcher at the conclusion of his UN work. The video presents a special example of how professors’ (and, for that matter, students’) professional and academic experiences come together.
Among the many topics to which I don’t give enough attention is the LLM program. To correct this situation, I’ve asked Hyejin Park, the program’s interim director to provide some updates. Hyejin is a 2012 graduate of the program, and she is covering for program director (and another graduate) Susan Simone, while Susan is on maternity leave. Here’s Hyejin’s report on her trip last weekend to New York for an event.
I spent last weekend in New York City, escaping only a short time before Hurricane Sandy, for the annual International Law Weekend 2012, which the Fletcher School co-sponsored. It was an intense two days of intellectually stimulating panels on public and private international law topics, with practitioners, academics, and students from across the East Coast in attendance – a fitting occasion for the Fletcher LLM Program to be represented. One of the panels, entitled “Metatheory of International Law,” featured Fletcher’s very own Professor Joel Trachtman.
Now back in Medford, I am only beginning to realize what a whirlwind of two months the start of the academic year has been. We welcomed 17 students from 13 different countries into the Fletcher LLM Class of 2013, including one MALD/LLM joint degree candidate. As has been the case with the four preceding LLM alumni classes, the constituent members of the current LLM class bring with them an incredibly diverse range of life and work experience, and exhibit a deep engagement with international law.
Our High Table luncheon series is well underway, with talks thus far by the Hon. Robert Cordy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, and Stuart Kerr, Director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In the spring semester, we will host, among others, Meg Kinnear, Secretary-General of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The corridors of Fletcher these days tend to seem relatively calm and quiet on the surface. I’d like to think it must have something to do with students being deeply immersed in their midterm assignments, ranging from papers on human rights law and trade law, to simulated negotiations on treaty law. I look forward to being back on the blog soon with some more updates on the LLM Program.
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