Veröffentlicht am 08.02.2021.
Louisa Crookshanks shares her thoughts about choosing LL.M. programme at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
My name is Louisa Crookshanks, I am from Scotland and I am currently studying an LL.M. at VU Amsterdam. I recently graduated from my undergraduate law degree (LL.B.) at the University of Glasgow. My time at Glasgow and in particular my exchange year at the University of Hong Kong encouraged me to pursue a career in refugee law.
Ms. Crookshanks, it is a tough and long-time decision on where to do the LL.M and you decided on VU Amsterdam because of three main reasons: the course, the city and the cost. Which LL.M. program did you choose, what are the tuition fees for the LL.M. at VU and what, in your opinion, makes Amsterdam special?
I study the International Migration and Refugee Law specialization of the LL.M. at VU Amsterdam. I chose the VU because the course is completely unique. You gain an in-depth analysis of international and European migration law from several different perspectives. Further, living in Amsterdam is a dream. It is such a beautiful city and has the perfect balance of nature and liveliness, which is especially uplifting during lockdown. Finally, a Masters in the Netherlands is very affordable. At just over 2,000 euros it is dramatically cheaper than postgraduate studies in the UK or elsewhere and the Dutch government offer a number of allowances for students. The cost of living is not too expensive either, with cycling being the main and most sustainable mode of transport.
At VU Amsterdam there are around 24,000 students covering 130 nationalities. How did you experience the first weeks with your fellow students and how is the student population in general?
Amsterdam has a big international community which is one of the advantages of studying here. It is enriching from both an academic and personal perspective and thankfully corona has not limited the diverse student population. I get the benefit of living in the student village, Uilenstede, where I share a flat with 10 other international students. On my course we also have students from a number of different countries who offer distinctive perspectives on refugee and migration law.
As a student at VU Amsterdam, you have a wide range of facilities. What defines the Vrije University Amsterdam and besides the unique intellectual atmosphere, what is the student and campus life like?
The main building at the VU has a number of facilities, including study spaces for group and individual study. There are beautiful views over Amsterdam and cheap coffee to keep you well-fueled. Student and campus life is a little different at the moment due to the coronavirus restrictions, but the VU has still made an effort to take introduction days and international events online.
You did parts of your LL.B. in Hong Kong - a completely different culture than Amsterdam. Did you face any difficulties in the Netherlands and how did you cope with the difference of those law systems?
I am lucky because in both Hong Kong and Amsterdam I did not experience any language or cultural barriers. The English language proficiency in the Netherlands is the best I have ever experienced and the culture is also welcoming to international students. Studying law in another country is sometimes difficult as each country has their own unique system. The good thing about the LL.M at VU Amsterdam is that it focuses on international and European law, not Dutch law. Having a prior knowledge of EU law is definitely helpful, but certainly not a requirement.
You chose to study the International Migration and Refugee Law LL.M. How did your courses about immigration and asylum law at the University of Glasgow and your practical experience with an NGO assisting irregular migrants in Hong Kong influence this decision?
During my undergraduate law degree I quickly became aware that I did not want to become a corporate lawyer like most of my classmates. I always preferred public law and human rights law classes at Glasgow and I was passionate about using the law as a tool for social justice. However, it was during my time at the University of Hong Kong where I became more involved with migration and refugee law. Working with an NGO assisting irregular migrants and as part of a community organisation teaching migrant domestic workers their legal rights opened me up to the deficiencies and discrimination in migration law and the vulnerable status of refugees.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this clear specialisation, especially with regard to your further career path?
I was initially worried that focusing just on refugee and migration law would be too specific so early in my career. But, the courses offered at the VU cover a range of issues from transnational human rights to philosophy of migration law, which keeps things interesting. There is also ample opportunity to increase both written and oral communication skills through writing papers and taking part in moot courts. Further, the reputation of the VU as a centre for migration law will be beneficial in the future when searching for jobs in the field.
Get to know the campus of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
The VU is the home of the renowned Migration Law Clinic. What benefits and opportunities could you and your fellow students gain from this for your studies?
One of the reasons I chose to study at the VU was because I became aware of the Migration Law Clinic whilst taking part in an international moot court competition. The Clinic involves students in the research and writing of third party interventions or expert opinions on migration issues appearing before both national and European courts. The problem-solving, research and writing skills which you can gain from this is unmatched in any other normal course. Further, the chance to apply the knowledge you have gained in other courses to real life migratory problems is extremely rewarding.
You just finished a project where you and your fellow students submitted an expert opinion to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding the reintroduction of internal border controls. How did you argue in that expert opinion and what could you learn from this experience?
Yes, in my first semester in the Migration Law Clinic I was part of a team of students who submitted an expert opinion to the CJEU regarding the reintroduction of internal border controls in the Schengen Area. Through our research into the Schengen Borders Code and the right to free movement we argued that the reintroduction of internal border controls for migratory reasons in Austria violates EU law. Writing an expert opinion is a different experience to writing an essay as you have to convince the court how certain legal provisions should be interpreted in light of previous case law, parliamentary reports or academic opinion. These argumentation skills will stand me well if I go on to become a practicing lawyer.
Besides your practical experience with the expert opinion, is it possible for LL. M. students to gain practical experience during their studies in local law firms, e. g. as a research assistant or intern in Amsterdam?
Yes, as well as the Clinic, students on the LL.M. can take part in internships. You can gain credits for your work as an intern or just do it as an extra-curricular activity. I am currently applying for internship positions as I think it is a great way to work out specifically what type of organisation I want to work for in the future. Students have previously worked in NGOs, law firms and government agencies.
„ I chose the VU because the course is completely unique. You gain an in-depth analysis of international and European migration law from several different perspectives.“
The reputation of the VU as a centre for migration law is beneficial for all students and the professors are considered experts in this field. How do you think the collaboration with the professors works and how could they support you with your masters?
The professors and lecturers on the Masters are extremely helpful and accommodating. Being experts in the field, they make each course insightful and stimulating and offer detailed feedback on all work submitted. Their wide range of research topics means that all students can be properly supervised when writing their Master’s thesis.
The Corona pandemic challenged Universities as well as their students. Also most of the Universities had to close and start online courses. How did Vrije University Amsterdam react and how did you and your classmates deal with it?
Corona has meant that most of my classes at the VU are now online. However, I have not felt that the quality of learning has been affected. My Masters is a small cohort which means that the zoom classes are very interactive. Being online means I can interact with likeminded classmates who are situated all over the world. In addition, we were still offered some in-person lectures at the VU before the lockdown in the Netherlands got stricter. The method of learning is definitely different but this has not made it any less effective.
Students have to cope with a lack of motivation because of the missing personal contacts and classes. What are the professors at VU Amsterdam doing to help and motivate students?
Studying online can lead to a lack of motivation, poorer time management and higher stress levels. But, the university as a whole and the professors have been trying to support us in numerous ways. For example, before our final exams in December we were offered in-person, socially distanced, exam training classes to help us prepare for our online oral exams.
Application process, how to apply and the student life
You had to do online oral exams which are really different from written exams. What differences did you face because of this change and how were you able to adjust to this other exam variation?
Online oral exams were a different experience to the written exams I was used to. Having to answer complex legal questions with little time to think and plan your answer is more terrifying and can present challenges for students who do not speak English as their first language. But, the professors were very reassuring throughout the exam and I think being able to adapt to these new situations is a skill in itself.
Being an international student means you are far away from your home country and at this time some borders are even closed. How did your student life change during the pandemic?
My student life certainly changed as a result of the pandemic. Going out with my friends used to be a large part of my social life and now all bars and restaurants are closed. We have had to find new ways of having fun, but living in student accommodation has definitely helped this. I keep in contact with my friends and family at home regularly online, which I think is important for my welfare. Hopefully, one day, they will be able to come and visit me in Amsterdam.
Finding good, affordable accommodation can be a problem in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam. In terms of applying for the LL.M. and especially the students housing did you face any difficulties?
The application process for the LL.M was very simple, especially if you have completed an undergraduate law degree (although this is not essential, the course is open to people from other degree backgrounds too). Applying for housing was the most difficult part, there was a long waiting list for student accommodation and private housing in Amsterdam is expensive. I was lucky to get a place in student accommodation, which is very affordable. I would recommend getting your application in early to avoid the stress.
Overall, I would definitely recommend studying at VU Amsterdam. The professors are helpful, the courses offered are engaging and the student population is welcoming. Whilst teaching is currently online, it is still interactive and of a good quality. Finally, you get to live in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and get really good at cycling!
Thank you, Louisa Crookshanks!