LL.M. Students Play Key Role in Law School Community

Language Tables and Other Unique Initiatives Promote Cultural Exchanges

According to American University Washington College of Law's 2011 admissions profile, this year's entering class included students who were born in 29 different countries and speak over 40 different languages.

The ILSP LL.M. Board, a student group that works with the law school's International Legal Studies Program (ILSP), has made it their mission to help the law school's esteemed international community feel at home.

"The ILSP LL.M. board is an integral part of the ILSP program. Their energy and commitment help to create a sense of community among our incredibly diverse student body," said Catherine Schenker, associate director of the International Legal Studies Program.

Although the LL.M. Board does not see their roles as that of ambassadors (because as one member puts it "all WCL students are ambassadors"), the Board plans cultural, professional, and academic activities year-round that help international students become acclimated to the D.C. community.

(Photo left: ILSP LL.M. students at fall 2011 orientation)

"Sharing and understanding different cultural experiences has been and will be a huge part of our mission," says Bianca Báez Pearson, co-president of the ILSP LL.M. Board.

"Even the Board itself has a cultural reach," adds José Millán, also co-president of the organization. "The Board's eight members hail from six different countries."

In addition to putting together the ILSP program's annual welcome party and graduation dinner, the Board organizes and promotes popular initiatives like Language Tables. Using students as teachers, Language Tables bring together individuals interested in learning a new language in a non-threatening environment.

There are currently tables exploring the Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Chinese languages. The participants have different abilities, but each table starts with the basics of the language and advances each semester.

According to Board members, other languages can be added at any time.

"The goal is simply to learn, and there are no requirements and no tests," says Millán, "The tables are not only for LL.M.'s—faculty, staff, and graduates are welcome—it's not something closed. All of us, we have the right to learn."

The Board is also coordinating an LL.M. International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition.

"Arbitration has been an area of law that has grown stronger over the past years, and is also a well-known specialization at Washington College of Law," said Báez Pearson.

The Moot Competition that uniquely involves LL.M. students is scheduled for March 2012, and will include several D.C. area universities as participants. According to Báez Pearson, there are very few opportunities for a foreign-trained lawyer studying in the U.S. to participate in these kinds of events.

"Without a doubt this will be a perfect scenario for LL.M. students to develop their arbitration skills in an environment which resembles current international commercial arbitration courts," said Báez Pearson .

The Board is working with the International Legal Studies Program and the law school's Center on International Commercial Arbitration to organize the event.

This semester the LL.M. Board will also promote and sponsor a trip to the United Nations for students in the program. They hope that providing access to the UN will serve as an additional opportunity for students to deepen their knowledge of the organization, while enriching their experience as "citizens of the world."

Despite a busy semester of planning ahead, the Board members mostly see themselves as confidants for the program's students.

(Photo right: Fall 2011 ILSP LL.M. Board members)

"It's good to have connections to the students, to be social, and to be willing to help them," said Abdullah Alzaben, the Board's special advisor for Middle East affars. "Our main function is to help students feel at home."

According to Millán, Board members are often stopped in the hallway to field questions from international students. Whether they are approached with questions about classes, books, or concerns about a landlord, Millán says the members take pride in making students feel more relaxed.

"I think that we all get a lot out of WCL, at some point we have to repay that."

The Fall 2011 ILSP LL.M. Board members include:

Jose Luis Millán, co-president; Bianca Báez Pearson, co-president; Marino Castillo, secretary; Davinia Levy, treasurer; Esteli Caleca, special advisor for Latin America and Arbitration Affairs; Fernando Pardo, special advisor for U.S. and IP Affairs; Abdullah Alzaben, special advisor for Middle East Affairs; Rong Xiang, special advisor for Asian Affairs.

For more information about the ILSP LL.M. Board's mission and members, please visit their website.