Testemunho Fulbrighter 2019/2020
“I always considered myself lucky for having discovered Law early on. Among those that are fortunate enough to be able to pursue higher education, many struggle after high school, doubting and hesitating over whether they chose the right path. By that point in their lives, students have engrained in themselves that this is one of, if not the most important decision that will forever dictate how everything will pan out. Of course, that is not and never was the case. Albeit being a very important decision, it does not necessarily dictate the rest of our lives and it is never too late nor the consequences catastrophic, especially such at such a young age, to realize that what we thought was going to be our path turns out not to be what we wanted or expected.
For several different reasons, after high school I chose Law and decided to study at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in Portugal. I had considered studying abroad but decided against it at the time, tucking that dream away for later on, perhaps. Upon starting my degree, I was thankful that I had made the right choice for myself – and lucky enough to have done that at my first try. I found in Law what I needed in a professional field, being intellectually stimulating with the possibility of making a difference, whether at a small or larger scale. Nonetheless, the idea of going abroad never left me and so I decided to explore my options. Law is challenging in that aspect, different from other areas such as engineering, economics or international relations, seen as, in a way, the jurisdiction in which we do our degree comparatively narrows down our prospects, since our expertise and knowledge is linked and tailored to that jurisdiction. Taking that into consideration, I decided to do a masters abroad. I saw that as an opportunity of growth, because I had the acute sense it would be an experience from which I would gain and learn a lot, in more ways than solely in knowledge of my field.
With the unconditional support of my family, friends, professors and mentors, I was able to have the conditions to study and work in order to secure two scholarships, one of which from the Fulbright Program, which lead me to eventually pursue an LL.M. (Master of Laws) at Harvard Law School.
Going to the U.S. to pursue the program, I did not know what to expect. One thing is to hear about and having a distant dream which feels unattainable of attending Harvard Law, another is to be faced with the reality of actually experiencing it. At the end of the day, words are words, but the experience is made up of, and depends on, people. Looking back, this was perhaps the biggest take-away from my year abroad. I was able to connect with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds, cultures, dreams and pasts. My LL.M. class was made of around 180 students from 61 countries (with me being the only Portuguese) and everyday I encountered and got to meet and learn from different and new people on campus.
My year abroad was an intense but overwhelmingly positive one. The LL.M. program itself was challenging because we are to perform academically, but also expected and encouraged to not undermine or forget the human, social component. The people.
During the year, I learnt more than I thought possible. I was faced with a buzzing amount of conferences, talks, speakers and discussions that shaped and shifted my understanding of law, its role in the world, and the importance of critical thinking. At the same time, events such as Thanksgiving, the Harvard-Yale Game or the LL.M. International Party (where the LL.M.s share their culture with the whole Harvard Law community, from food to dance and music performances), as well as the many socials, dinners, birthdays and quite a few late night conversations over books showed me how people are able to come together and connect under a common excitement of sharing and bonding over this experience, regardless of where they come from or where they are headed to.
My year abroad was also unique because of the global pandemic, which lead to an unprecedented change for the University. In the span of a couple of weeks, classes switched to an online format, campus was closed and all of our end-of-the-year events were cancelled or indefinitely postponed. We did not have the in-person Commencement Ceremony surrounded by friends and family that we all longed and worked so hard for and many of the goodbyes were unexpectedly and hurriedly made, when we were able to make them face to face. However, with that adversity also came a surprisingly strong resilience and outpour of support and solidarity. The Class of 2020, the Faculty and Staff mourned their losses together, made the best out of and held onto what they had and continued to be driven, inspired and focused on teaching and learning, together.
When I chose to pursue my Law degree years ago, I felt that I was making the right decision for myself, but I could have never foreseen taking me down the path that I ended up pursuing. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity. There were obstacles and challenges along the way, but that does not taint or undermine the knowledge I gained, memories I made and people I met, which I will forever treasure and look back fondly on, not taking them for granted as I continue forward. At the end of the day, this was a dream-turned-reality that would not have been possible without Fulbright, and for that I am incredibly grateful.”
Muito obrigada, Sara, welcome back!