By: Marlene M. Houngbedji
It was less than a year ago.
I had been deployed to the Helmand province, Afghanistan, for over six months, and had confirmed that I would be leaving the United States Navy shortly after my battalion would return to its homeport. A strong desire to return to my legal roots led me to consider several post-graduate programs, despite the many comments I received on the challenges of attending college as a mid-career professional who had graduated from law school, well, a long time ago… Yet there was no use avoiding what had become obvious: the traditional legal education I had previously received was no longer sufficient to provide for the tools I needed to work in a rather complex field. Assisting vulnerable groups in times of conflict would require that I acquired a broader, current contextual grasp of both the institutional and social settings within which international law is created, interpreted, and implemented. Then I went on a search of acquaintances and former classmates who had been successful in the type of career I wanted, and noticed one peculiar fact: they all attended the same institution. This was how, in the semi-privacy of a dusty, dimly lit tent surrounded by sand and sparse bushes, that I decided that Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy should become part of my history as well.
Three weeks after going through the entertaining yet informative Blietzkrieg the school’s Admission Office calls ‘Orientation Week,’ I confess to have been, at times, overwhelmed by the breadth of knowledge, resources and opportunities for both personal and academic growth Fletcher provides. Even social functions serve a purpose; a welcome reception by the Foreign Lawyers Association this week, dinner at Professor Chayes two weeks ago, where Syria was discussed between servings of hors d’oeuvres, not to mention our upcoming High Table events… It all makes for quite a networking-driven LL.M year.
I began classes presuming that I already knew enough to easily get by. I was naïve (or presumptuous?) enough to believe that if I could handle working on a Master’s degree during my seven months in the Afghan desert, despite an impossibly busy schedule in a highly stressful environment, taking four courses this fall would be a walk in the park.
Not so much.
I ended my second week of classes making a tabula rasa out of my mind, so that everything taught to me this semester would ‘take hold,’ so to speak. Between Prof. Hannum and Cerone’s International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law courses at Fletcher and a clinical course at Harvard, I am challenged in ways I had not anticipated, forced into daily, intense intellectual work-outs, and prompted to humbly reassess what I thought I knew. And I love it! It is a privilege to be back into academia in an environment as strangely diverse as Fletcher; where else, indeed, would I meet a classical pianist pursuing a degree in Diplomacy so that she may contribute the development of cultural diplomacy? Or interact with classmates ranging from German, Greek, Indian or Mexican young lawyers to a former refugee law instructor? They, too, play an active part in my Fletcher LL.M. learning experience. In speaking of the latter, I’m quite sure there is more reading I need to complete this evening.
Off to it I go…