Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reflections on First Quarter in UW Law School

It's the exam period and I'm blowing off steam after a day of way too much coffee, a really long, intensive and exhausting First Amendment review class and then some more on Sale of Goods.

All things start as they must at the beginning. Despite the name of this blog, future events cannot affect past events, not even as a correlative factor. And it starts with a simple desire to study abroad as an exchange student for a year, as a sort of consolation prize for not being able to get an overseas scholarship in a year which broke all records for the largest number of people with 4As. And this despite being in the "Arts" stream with having done two S-Papers (and maybe because of that C5 I got for GP, officially the lowest grade ever to come from Hwa Chong Humanz).

And so I went through the grind of the application process, chose as my first three choices US Law Schools (followed in no particular order Canada, Australia and I think UK). Panicked over not getting called for an interview, got the call and then started to panic over the thought of the interview. And then finally panicked prior to entering the room for the interview (mind you this was spread over a couple of weeks, possible more than a month or two as I recall).

And it was over in 2 minutes literally.

It was in reality a simply matter of getting told I sucked and I didn't rank highly enough to go to NYU or Columbia (not a big surprise considering the people picked to go there i.e. Shou Min and Louis, both I have absolutely no hesitation in saying are better overall law students than I am) but whether I would like to go to this other US law school. I mean, hey, it's not the list so you haven't quite checked it out, you'll be the first NUS law student there so now real pressure, really, and oh take your time, yeah, let us know by this afternoon.

Um....right. After stuttering out a few confused statements, I was shown the door.

Alright, here's the serious part. I came to the US for the academic challenge. It's a post-graduate degree here. Many of them have multiple degrees. And in one class that I'm taking, 80% of them have at least a basic law degree if not a Master of Laws (yes that's what the LL in LL.M or LL.B stand for). And the people here have taken on significant debt through student loans and know what they are getting into.

As such, being in the midst of highly driven and intelligent, vocal and articulate people (admittedly the last two is a relative point compared to Singapore) has been fairly strenuous to say the least. I have held my own (although it took two weeks to get understood with my accent) thus far and it would be a coup for me to do well enough to break into the top half of the class/cohort. It's always a nice ego boost when your peers and Professors think that you're doing your LL.M and then realize that you're actually an undergraduate.

What kicks it up a notch is the fact that this is a quarter system and classes are generally confined to 50 minutes or an hour 20 minutes. And this is every single day unlike our system back home where you could have one massive 3 hour lecture and a 2 hour tutorial per week. In the latter case, you don't really feel the grind. Here, it hits you by the 3rd week. And furthermore, quarter system means no one month long study break, much less a mid-term break.

So being single here, with absolutely no other call on my time (I gave up debate here in the UW after a couple of weeks because there simply wasn't enough time), what is absolutely remarkable is how the students, despite being married or actually having kids, can still juggle everything. The maturity shows I think, and it's been cognitively odd to switch from being one of the older people in the cohort (by simply virtue of having gone through National Service) to being one of the youngest (there's another exchange student who's possibly younger).

And of course, there's the whole adapting to a new culture, a new place, living alone and independently for the first time (I got upgraded to a 4 person bunk after I became an instructor but that was that). It helps I think to be a fairly solitary creature. I think it's probably me but it's fairly hard to make new friends in law school here. Unlike an undergraduate program and not taking the same classes as the 1L (first year in law) means breaking into cliques. Not to mention being the only Singaporean on exchange here.

But as Alex and Mark can testify, I do get into misanthropic moods (it got pretty bad during the Australs admittedly) and hey, after my first year in NUS Law, I know it took some time for the rest of the cohort to *ahem* warm up to me.

But if any future law student from NUS is thinking of doing an exchange in the US, all I have got to say is that you really need to be mentally prepared for it or have strong adaptive and coping capabilities. Two years in NUS Law will set you up fro certain expectations that you simply cannot carry over here. But unless I screw up my exams, what I will say is that it will be a rewarding and enriching experience.


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At 7:18 AM, Blogger gambitch said...

Good to see you're doing pretty fine. Hey, at least you can post a long coherent thing like this reflecting on your time here without sounding like it's a disaster. That's good enough for a start.

Keep up the good work!

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Nah, it's a good experience overall and I'm very grateful to have it (not that I would mind getting a scholarship to do my LL.M at Havard/Yale of course but that's a separate and impossible story)


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