New Perspectives in New York: Studying Law at Columbia

Malik Baba was a Belgian 2022-2023 Master’s Student in Law at Columbia University. Malik Baba obtained a master degree in Law from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in 2016 and an advanced master degree in Company Law from the KU Leuven in 2019. He has been working as a dispute resolution lawyer at the law firm Stibbe since 2018 and is also a teaching assistant in the Law of obligations at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Q: “Can you briefly describe your grant project?”

My grant project aimed at earning a master’s degree in law in the United States. More particularly, I was interested in the field of dispute resolution, which is the process of resolving legal disputes between parties. Dispute resolution may take place through litigation before national courts or through arbitration before arbitral tribunals composed of “private judges” who the parties in disputes have designated. During my program, I was able to focus on arbitration, which is a more international mechanism of dispute resolution. However, I also took the opportunity to learn more about the litigation process before U.S. courts.

Q: “Can you describe a typical day in your life in the USA?”

I would usually start my day with a workout at the gym on the university campus in the morning. I would then go to the free breakfast that the Law School organized. This was a great way to meet and get to know students who I did not have class with. I would then spend all day on campus: either I was attending lectures, seminars or students events or I was preparing my next classes at the library. I would usually spend my lunch breaks at the Law School’s cafeteria with my friends. I always made time in the evening to enjoy the city with my friends: we would go to bars and restaurants, comedy clubs, sports events, music concerts, museums, musicals and whatnot. I also loved to just wander around the city by myself to feel its energy and discover new places.

Q: “Has the United States been what you expected? In what ways has life in the USA surprised you, either for its similarities to or differences from your own culture?”

Life in the USA was exactly as I expected and the culture is generally similar to the culture in my home country Belgium. Still there were a few differences that really struck me. The first one is how Americans interact with people. I found them very easy-going and also very straightforward. So it is very easy to get a conversation going with strangers but at the same time they don’t beat around the bush when they have something to say. The second one is how common it is in certain places to celebrate the culture of the country of origin of a part of the population. I think about St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Puerto Rican National Day Parade, Cinco de Mayo, the Dominican Republic National Day Parade, etc. It is a great opportunity for other people to get interested in those cultures they usually don’t know much about.

Q: “What will you do after your Fulbright grant? In what ways has your experience in the USA this year impacted your plans for the future?”

Drawing on the new skills and knowledge that I have acquired in the course of the Fulbright Program, I am now resuming both my career as a dispute resolution lawyer in Brussels and my teaching assistant mandate at the Law Faculty of the ULB. In that regard, my experience in the USA did not impact my short-term plans as they have always been to return to my home country to share my newfound knowledge. However, this experience allowed me to connect with talented individuals with bright legal careers in different fields of law. This has broadened my professional perspectives beyond being a lawyer in Belgium.

Q: “What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying to the Fulbright Program?”

I would advise anyone considering applying to the Fulbright Program to carefully think about their project. They need to have a clear idea about what they hope to achieve through the program and how those goals will further their current professional or academic position. Only then will they be able to present their project efficiently to the panel and convince them that they are a good fit for the Fulbright Program.

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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.