First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.
In this edition we speak with Ridhish Rajvanshi who is currently pursuing an LL.M. from the World Trade Institute in Bern, Switzerland. A graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune (Class of ’18), Ridhish shares his impressions of the TRAIL+ program, studying international trade law, the WTI’s admission process, and a whole lot more.
Before going into the LLM, I wanted to know a bit about your time as a DAAD exchange student – how was this experience? And why did you choose to take it up?
I always wished to study abroad and explore career options outside India. I came to know about the DAAD exchange program in my high school, however, I did not apply for the same at that point of time since it would have been more beneficial to apply for such an exchange in my undergraduate years. Eventually, I did so in my second year of law.
The reason I opted for the exchange was to understand and explore different cultures around the world, international relations, teaching methodologies and also to quench my curiosity of studying and working abroad. I also wanted to ensure that I was not subscribing to the hype surrounding the idea of studying abroad and it was really worth it. The exchange gave me deeper insight and indeed helped me reach an understanding about what I really wished to pursue after my five years in law school.
“I also wanted to ensure that I was not subscribing to the hype surrounding the idea of studying abroad and it was really worth it. “
My experience in Germany was nothing less than wonderful. I was awarded 2,000 euros for approximately three months by DAAD which covered by flight expenses, visa costs, health insurance, rent, and my daily expenses. As compared to India, I realised the methodology of teaching was tilted more heavily towards self-study. The professor discussed topics, provided information about fundamental concepts of subjects / module they were teaching, but a good understanding and grasp of the module was achieved only after engaging in discussions and extensive class participation, which is rather uncommon in the Indian education system. Luckily, during my short stay, I was also able to visit multiple countries, which proved to be a very rewarding experience as well.
Did you consider working for a few years before embarking on the WTI LLM? Why apply right after your graduation?
I will be wrong in denying that I did not consider working before deciding to pursue my Master’s at WTI. It was definitively an option. However, after doing a pro and con analysis of the job market in India for trade law versus the opportunities I would be exposed to after pursuing a master degree, the latter proved to be a better choice.
I had centred my internships around firms, MNCs and government offices focusing or relating to International Trade Law. This helped me gauge the job market; at the same time I did miss out on opportunities that might have culminated into jobs.
Also, if I had worked after the end of law school, the pay scale in the field of my interest would not suffice and I would not have adequate saving for my Masters. Hence when the opportunity lay in front of me to pursue my LL.M. from a coveted institution for International Trade and Economics, I could not let go of it.
Additionally, there is always a concern that once you take up job, it is always a little difficult to get back to the routine studies, and considering my nature it would have been a rather difficult decision for me to revert to studies if I had commenced work.
“Additionally, there is always a concern that once you take up job, it is always a little difficult to get back to the routine studies, and considering my nature it would have been a rather difficult decision for me to revert to studies if I had commenced work.”
How did you narrow down on WTI? Were there any other schools that you looked at?
For a person wanting to secure a career in International trade, the global community is rather small. There are not many institutions providing an LL.M. in International Trade. Most universities around the world provide a general LL.M. and one could choose International Trade as their specialisation during the course of the degree.
Amongst the few available options, the WTI caught my eye for multiple reasons. The faculty and guest lectures associated are leading practitioners in the field. I have had the opportunity to attend lectures of Prof. Peter Van den Bossche, Dr. Arthur Appelton, Ms. Gabrielle Marceau, Dr. Thomas Cottier, Dr. Pierre Sauvé, various ambassadors to the WTO, WTO Appellate Body Members, etc just to name a few.
I also looked at the IELPO program at University of Barcelona and Georgetown University, but I did not apply for them. The WTI provided me close proximity with Geneva which is the seat of the WTO. Luckily, I got through in my first application. Sometimes you instantly know when you apply and manage to secure a seat that this is what you have always wanted and you do not need to look back at your decision.
Did you apply for any financial aid?
Yes, I did apply for financial aid. I applied with the WTI itself which provides for Director’s Scholarship and the WTI granted a partial waiver on my tuition fees. I would always be grateful to them for this. Unfortunately, not many scholarships are available for Indians planning to pursue their LL.M in Switzerland.
I do know of the Inlaks Scholarship, the Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship Programme, the J. N. Tata Endowment awards, and the R.D. Sethna Scholarships. The latter three are loan scholarships and I did not apply for them. I am also grateful to my parents who have constantly supported me and agreed to finance my education abroad.
The TRAIL+ application is fairly comprehensive. Any advice on how to approach the SoP, as well as the essay questions?
The Statement of Purpose is a reflection of you. The selection committee reads about your achievements in your CV, they do not want you to write the same thing in your Statement of Purpose. They want to learn about you, your journey on why you want to do an LL.M. They want to learn how you will embrace their program and why it is beneficial for you. They would also like to hear how you can contribute to their alumni base, what you bring to their institution.
“They want to learn about you, your journey on why you want to do an LL.M. They want to learn how you will embrace their program and why it is beneficial for you. They would also like to hear how you can contribute to their alumni base, what you bring to their institution.”
And most of all they want to see if you understand yourself by sharing with them your positives and a couple of negatives which you could transform into positives with learning at their program. This does not at all mean that you need to write in flowery English. Use simple words, and shorter sentences. Try and provide an insight of who you are, and the genuine purpose of why you want to study at their institute.
For the essay question, choose the topic you are most comfortable with. Before you commence your essay, give the topic some serious thought. The most important aspect for writing your essay is the time you put in for research. You should make brief points you wish to include in the essay. After compiling on your research, have structure ready for you essay. Ensure that you prepare facts, figures and supporting material during your research.
Avoid long sentences and check grammar always, as even you rephrase the sentences or change order, you may not notice but you will end up having grammatical errors and hence you should be cautious.
Always get someone who has successfully applied to a Masters program to proofread your Statement of Purposes, essays and recommendation letters. Someone would find some grammar issues and would even propose you structure your sentences better. Someone once told me, proofreading is not just about structuring. It gives you a better guidance and understanding.
If before sending you have not changed your draft at least 5-6 times, you did not write a good one (not a rule, but usually the case for most students).
How has the TRAIL+ experience been thus far? Anything you wish you had known before embarking on the program?
The experience has been amazing for me so far and a little tiresome as well. I completed 60 credits in my first semester, which is usually unusual. But when you like the subjects, you make time for them.
Apart from the incredible subjects of my interest I learnt, we attended the WTO Public Forum and UNCTAD Conference. The WTI is not only an academic learning ground, far the best in the field, but they also organise field trips for more practical learning and assist in networking. Plus, I also attended a couple of conferences in Geneva on topics of my interest. The level of opportunity and exposure that you get and avail is unmatchable. I also got an opportunity to participate and represent University of Bern (WTI) in the 17th John H. Jackson WTO Law Moot Court Competition, where we made it to the semi-finals of the Regional Rounds.
A subject I wish I knew better before embarking on the program would probably be Economics. The professors at WTI have been extremely understanding though and knew that being from a law background, one may not have a very in-depth knowledge of Economics. The faculty is very helpful in ensuring that everyone has their basic and fundamental concepts clear and are on the same page and this is true for every faculty that you will be taught by at the WTI. But still it’s always better to know the basics beforehand so that you can focus on learning and understanding the intricacies.
“The faculty is very helpful in ensuring that everyone has their basic and fundamental concepts clear and are on the same page and this is true for every faculty that you will be taught by at the WTI. “
Have you had the chance to do externships/internships during the course?
No, I have not had the chance to do externships/internships during the course. Switzerland does not allow you to work for the first 6 months since your residence permit is valid (usually the day you arrive in Switzerland).
The period for me has recently finished and I have applied for positions of research assistants and for internship/traineeship after completion of my degree with International Organisations and Law firms.
It is a little difficult to find jobs in Switzerland as they are quite strict with their migration laws on allowing foreigners/immigrants to work. High skilled labour is always welcomed everywhere but until the competition of one master degree here, it is usually very difficult for a non-EU-EFTA citizen to secure a job here.
Also, the MILE/TRAIL+ programs are quite extensive and time-cumbersome and you do not usually have the time to work part-time. During the winter and summer break, there are weekly courses that you would be tempted to attend rather than work.
Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates who are considering higher education outside the country?
Chase your dreams. If your dream was to get a higher education degree outside the country, do it. I have always believed in chasing my dreams. I have dreamt way bigger than what a boy born in my family and circumstances would have. I have never stopped chasing my dreams and some way or the other a way has always opened up for me to work and live that dream of mine.
“I have dreamt way bigger than what a boy born in my family and circumstances would have. I have never stopped chasing my dreams and some way or the other a way has always opened up for me to work and live that dream of mine.”
But my main advice remains that if you really want a Master’s degree from abroad or this will boost your career options substantially in a way that you could not achieve by investing the same money back at home or a master in same subject from a home university only then should you go abroad, else it is waste of money and time.
And most importantly, do not have regrets. You may be provided with an opportunity to re-work, not undo your previous regret. So always keep hope and clarity.