UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Reflecting on his experience during the first few weeks of the LL.M. Program, Muhamed Tulic explained that, with the multitude of languages and cultures interacting in the same space, the halls of the Lewis Katz Building sometimes feel almost like the United Nations. Tulic, who is from Bosnia and Herzegovina and earned a B.A. in law from the University of Sarajevo, is looking forward to the intellectual spark that comes from a wide range of perspectives.
“You feel like you can really grow and challenge your mindset,” Tulic said.
With 119 students, including nine exchange students, from 34 different countries, the LL.M. class of 2019 is the largest and most diverse cohort in the history of the LL.M. program. This year’s class also includes students from 10 countries not previously represented: Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Uganda, and Vietnam.
Their collective educational, professional, and personal experiences create new learning opportunities for all students at Penn State Law.
“One of the things I most appreciate about our LL.M. students isn’t just the additional knowledge they bring to the classroom, but also the additional questions,” said Dara Purvis, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and associate professor of law. “LL.M. students naturally compare the laws of their home countries to the American law they learn in class, and their contributions to class discussion greatly enrich the understanding of all the students.”
Students likewise expressed appreciation for the expertise and effective teaching styles that Penn State Law professors bring to the classroom.
“I had high expectations for the professors here,” said Celia Karlin O’Sullivan, who comes from Sweden and had a previous exchange-student experience at San Diego State University. “Meeting them in class, in person, has actually exceeded my expectations.”
Maria Ashby Domenech agrees, comparing the interactive approach here with the more formal, lecture-based approach she was used to at the University of Barcelona, where she completed a bachelor of law degree. The collaborative style at Penn State Law makes students look forward to attending and participating in classes, she said.
One of the challenges of hosting such a large and varied group is in facilitating interactions and relationships across cultural groups—taking steps to ensure that students are stepping outside their comfort zones. To that end, the LL.M. program organized a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., for all the students at the conclusion of orientation. The trip included visits to Capitol Hill, the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and the Supreme Court, and in their free time many of the students visited other iconic locations such as the National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Archives, Holocaust Museum, and more.
Judging by the students’ reactions, it was a major success.
Tulic, who described the D.C. trip as the “icing on top” of orientation, said the experience helped the students bond together and feel more like a family. Brenda Vitisia, who considers Kenya her home country but has also lived in Abu Dhabi, India, New York City, and the United Kingdom, said the shared experience of exploring a new city helped the students realize that “we’re all together in this—we have our differences but also a lot of similarities.”
Penn State law also welcomed students from China, Mongolia, and Saudi Arabia who are enrolled in the Pre-LL.M. Legal English Certificate Program. These students are studying under Gopal Balachandran, adjunct professor and director of the certificate program, as well as a team of linguists to polish their legal English skills in preparation for entering the LL.M. program next year.
“Every class is different and I look forward every year to helping students push themselves and achieve their goals,” Balachandran said. “What excites me about the pre-LL.M. program is the various stories and experiences each student brings to the classroom. Despite these diverse backgrounds, we form a community by the end of the year.”
With orientation over and the fall semester underway, students in both the LL.M. and Pre-LL.M. group can now focus on settling into their new community at Penn State. So far, they have been impressed with the kindness of Penn State students, professors, and local residents, and the wealth of opportunities and activities on campus.
“I love the energy in this city,” Vitisia said. “It gives me great balance—not just academic but the extracurriculars as well.”
With their unique backgrounds and experiences, LL.M. students are adding to the vibrant energy of Penn State Law and the University in general.
“The LL.M. students in my classes have been newly minted law graduates, lawyers practicing in all areas, former law clerks who worked in their countries' Supreme Courts, and judges,” said Jud Mathews, an associate professor of law, adding, “The LL.M.s I have worked with tend to have a strong sense of curiosity and a hunger to learn. The law school is a more interesting place because of the LL.M. students.”