First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.
Harkiran Sehgal is a 2020 law graduate of Banasthali Vidyapith, and also a 2021 graduate from Tilburg University where she completed an LL.M. in International Law and Global Governance. In this FPA, she discusses the reasons for choosing Tilburg, the LL.M. experience itself, and a whole lot more.
Tilburg is an interesting choice of university – what were some of the other schools, if any, that you considered? And what made you narrow down on Tilburg?
By the time I reached my final year in the law school, I was so sure to pursue a specialization in Human Rights Law. I was acting as a Legal Aid Coordinator at my university and was also an active National Social Service(NSS) volunteer. Because of my interest in the concepts like human rights law, international law, humanitarian law, international criminal law, and others I was confident that an LLM degree in these areas is something that can equip me with proper knowledge and is worth going for.
I almost got accepted to all the law schools in abroad. I applied to the law schools in UK, Netherlands and Switzerland. I got accepted at Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Queen Mary University London, University of Essex, University of York, SOAS London, Tilburg University and Lieden University.
Although all the universities in which I got accepted are known for their excellent LLM in human rights, however my focus was always on the modules that the university offers. The curriculum of the Tilburg’s LLM program in International Law and Global Governance provides expertise across the three core areas of international law: International Law and International Relations, Human Rights and Human Security; Global Sustainability and Environmental Law. So, going for this LLM program at Tilburg University, Netherlands was naturally the best choice for me as it offered me the opportunity to specialize in three areas which no other university did.
Any advice on how to go about the LL.M. applications in general, and the statement of purpose in particular?
Applying for an LLM can be a very time consuming process. One should always focus on the eligibility criteria of the LLM programme and should start working towards collecting all the required documents that are needed.
Speaking from my personal point of view, it is best to start researching about the universities and check their entrance requirements at least a year before so that you have enough time to collect all the documents in a timely manner and meet the eligibility criteria. Some universities have their special requirements for the LLM program, so one should always keep in mind what is actually needed.
Statement of purpose is very important criteria on which universities take their final decision. I would say it is the only document that makes your application unique and stand out over other candidates. This should always be framed in a personalized manner and should reflect the real intention of the candidate and the motivation to study a specific course. SOP may seem like an easy task at the first go, it is definitely not a piece of cake. One must keep enough time to write an SOP. A good SOP can take 3-4 months.
What were some of the expectations you had from the LL.M., and looking back, were these expectations met?
The program has an interdisciplinary approach and law-in-context focus. Not only I focused on relevant treaties and landmark cases, but also about how political institutions, economic actors, and civil society shape the way in which laws are produced and applied at the international level.
All teachers are highly qualified and enthusiastic academics with additional expertise emanating from their connections to international legal practice. The latest research is continuously fed into learning, so we were confronted with topics and ideas of the real world.
The diversity of courses as well as the different nationalities within this program allowed me to really ‘learn through diversity’. This provides interesting discussions within the classroom, but also is the first stepping stone towards any career in a globalized world. Overall, I had a wonderful experience during my LLM and it was a lot more than what I expected out of it.
Looking back, what have been some of the most rewarding aspects of the LL.M. experience?
The LLM at Tilburg tends to attract students who are interested in going beyond the nuts and bolts of black letter law, so they can spend time thinking about larger policy debates and comparative perspectives and reading legal literature that they never have time to consider.
Practically speaking, I ask lots of questions. The Professors at the university were so welcoming and ask the students to break into small groups and discuss about any question we had in the class. One of the key aspects of a good program is what you learn from your peers!
I have been amazed at how well the students and Professors work together in the spirit of cooperation and mutual learning given the diversity of backgrounds.
In addition to that, the LLM provided me the opportunity to intern at GICJ (Geneva International Centre for Justice), Switzerland that helped me develop an informed perspective on human rights issues. This internship has helped me to develop an understanding of how civil society contributes to and interacts with the UN.
During my LLM, I have learned more about the application of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international law in general and it has contributed towards developing an informed perspective related to issues that revolves around these fields.
Given that you now work in an Indian law school, are there any best practices from Tilburg that more Indian law schools could emulate?
In India, only a few dynamic and outstanding law schools remain islands of excellence amid a sea of institutionalised mediocrity. In India, we follow a completely taught system, there are few reference books at best and maybe some class room discussion. Majorly, India has a text-book study kind of model of education.
In Tilburg, we had many assignments for different modules. However, the way in which the classes were organized, allowed me to participate and reflect on my opinions that I had for specific legal issues. Going beyond the classroom, law schools in India should foster an ecosystem that promotes exploration, self-learning and real world experiences. I think this can help the law students to gain legal skills that are required in today’s world.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
I think the most important piece of advice I would have for a prospective applicant is to consider how an LLM in abroad could enhance their current career trajectory and what their hopes and expectations are for their future career. If you’re really going to enjoy the program and get the most out of it, then consider your professional aspirations.