LL.M. students: Stay positive in times of struggle

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

I remember my first weeks in the United States., the adrenalin rush that awoke me every morning in the wee hours. How I somersaulted out of bed, excited to start the day. How I explored every corner of New York City, afraid to miss a single street. Every smell, every sound, every taste was more intense. I had made my childhood dream of coming to the U.S. come true. Here I was, about to start my LL.M. in a U.S. law school. I will never forget these indescribable emotions that overpowered me during those first months.

It has been seven years since that rush and the completion of my LL.M. degree. Today, when I travel to meet prospective LL.M. students, I can see that familiar spark in their eyes. I can see their hopes and dreams, their aspiration and determination.

When I meet them again later, a few months into their LL.M. study, something often has changed. The eyes sparkle a little less, and their hopes and dreams have turned into frustration. This saddens me deeply.

Moving to the U.S., pursuing legal study as a foreigner, being away from family, struggling financially, and trying to plan the future is immensely stressful. We seek answers and can’t find them, we face rejection, uncertainty and stress. But this is normal and part of everyone’s LL.M. experience. We must recognize these challenges for what they are: They are that part of the experience that will help us develop as professionals, that part of the experience that will help us develop as people. We only grow in relation to the stresses that we embrace and manage. A muscle does not grow by being left in perpetual peace; a muscle grows when we start to stress it.

It is important to embrace the challenges that come your way during your LL.M. and to never forget that in this very moment – amid exam preparation, visa issues and money madness – you are living a dream, a dream that most people around the world will never be able to fulfill. Be grateful for this experience, and grateful for the challenges. These challenges you curse are precisely the challenges that many wished they could meet but will never get the chance. Be excited, you made it, you are here! We are blessed to be in this position. We are blessed to be able to pursue a U.S. degree, to take a U.S. bar exam and become fully fledged attorneys.

This is not to say that we live a fairytale life in which everything is perfect. This is not to diminish the challenges you face. To the contrary, I encourage you to embrace challenges for what they are: They are part of this incredible adventure we call the LL.M.. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, one you will look back to with fondness. This is a life-changing opportunity, for the experience we gain during our time here will mold us as professionals in ways no other experience can.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).