Historic moments and feelings of community during my LL.M. at Columbia Law School in COVID times

In August 2020, I packed two suitcases, bought a one-way ticket to New York and moved across the ocean in the middle of the pandemic. The main question preceding this move was: “Should I go or defer?” Some people warned me that due to the pandemic I will not have the ‘real’ Fulbright experience. However, the words of an academic advisor at Columbia Law School resonated with me: “Where there are challenges, there are opportunities.” Just like that, I ignored all the voices telling me not to go and left for New York as the only Belgian Fulbrighter at the time. Let me share some of the LL.M. memories that provided me with a profound sense of community and made my Fulbright experience more than ‘real.’

The first time I experienced a strong feeling of community at Columbia Law School was on the 18th of September 2020, two weeks after my program had started. I was sitting in an Uber returning from Target where I had bought furniture and supplies for my university housing. As I glanced at my phone, messages announcing the saddening news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away started flooding in. Ginsburg was a Justice at the Supreme Court of the United States and conducted groundbreaking work as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. At Columbia Law School, we have a special place in our hearts for Ginsburg since she graduated first in her class and became the first female tenured professor at the Law School. Flowers, candles and words of admiration started growing in front of her portrait in the building of the Law School. Class discussions were dominated by revisiting her pathbreaking arguments based upon which she challenged laws differentiating between the sexes. It was in those moments that I truly felt what it meant to study at Columbia Law School.

Street painting

The second historic moment took place on the 7th of November 2020, a Saturday morning during which I was writing an essay in my room for one of my classes. My roommate knocked on my door and as I put off my headphones, she said “They just announced it, Biden won.” Simultaneously, I heard loud cheers and honks from outside. On Broadway, next to the campus of Columbia University, people had gathered on the streets, traffic was stopped and everyone was cheering, dancing and even crying. Having never experienced anything like this before, this scene will stay engraved in my mind.

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The third moment that will stay with me for a long time was the 7th of April 2021, the day that I received my COVID vaccine in New York City. Once the vaccination program was rolled out, there was hope that the City would slowly but surely return to its old bustling self.

The academic advisor was right saying that “where there are challenges, there are opportunities.” The pandemic caused significant challenges during my stay in New York. However, it introduced me to even more significant opportunities, ranging from experiencing historical moments to fostering strong feelings of community.

My three seasons at Columbia - spring

Fahira Hasic is a Belgian 2020-2021 Fulbright Student to Columbia University. Fahira Hasic obtained her Master of Laws with highest distinction from Ghent University. Being born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but living her whole life in Belgium, Fahira has always had an international mindset. She speaks four languages and lived in Bologna as an exchange student. Fahira will pursue her LL.M. at Columbia Law School where she will specialize in international law and antitrust law. She is convinced that the multicultural and challenging environment of both Columbia Law School and New York City will provide the perfect setting to nurture her international ambitions and to further develop an open-minded view toward the world.

Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.

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