From Kenya to Geneva; taking a leap of faith

by | Jun 3, 2024 | International Law | 0 comments

Our LL.M. student, Anne Mburu, shares her experience and insight into studying the LL.M. in International Law, specialising in International Economic Law and living in Geneva.

KENYA

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” my aunt would often ask. “An international lawyer,” I would reply confidently. “Why?” she would probe. “So that I can travel the world,” my wide-eyed, twelve-year-old self would say. You see, my aunt was a globe-trotting international consultant. I thought if I could blend my interest in law (propelled by my love for Boston Legal and The Good Wife – timeless classics) with a life of adventure in international spaces, I would be the happiest person ever. How wonderful to be young and naive!

Fast forward to my third year of my bachelor’s, and a friend (interestingly, an alumnus at the Graduate) reached out to set up a forum by African scholars for Africa that would delve deeper into international law with a focus on global south perspectives. This is where my love for international law was solidified. It meant dedicating weekends and evenings after school towards attending forum sessions, which allowed its members to interact with and contextualise emerging issues in international law while simultaneously building core skills in research, theory methods and writing. It was also through the forum that I came to learn about the Graduate Institute because of facilitators like Professor Neha Mishra, who volunteered their time to take up one or two sessions. After law school, I joined a prestigious law firm in Kenya and began my corporate law career, which essentially focused on banking and finance, litigation and tax, from a Kenyan law perspective. I really enjoyed my time at the firm and have taken valuable lessons with me, but I still could not shake off my desire to pursue a career in international law.  

I did some research on various schools and chose the LL.M. International Law at the Graduate Institute because of the great reviews and the fact that it was based in Geneva, a hub of international law. To my delight, I was accepted, and my journey toward my international law dream became a reality. Granted, saying goodbye to a solid career path in corporate law, as well as amazing bosses and colleagues, was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made in my life. I received quite a bit of warning from peers and professionals that the international market was difficult to navigate and that I was taking a big risk, but I felt strongly that I needed to take that leap of faith.

GENEVA

For my LL.M. in International Law, I opted to join the economic law track because of the diverse nature of its flexibility and ability to interact with human rights law and environmental law. In addition to this, Africa has been in the process of implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which will essentially promote intra-African trade. Therefore, I knew that being in this space is likely to open a lot of opportunities in the future.

When I joined the institute, I vividly recall myself and my classmates in the economics stream enthusiastically longing for a career in trade. Soon after, Professor Reinisch introduced us to investment law, and suddenly we were all singing, ‘Investment law! Investment law!’ The deeper we delved into these subjects, the more we fell in love with the diverse realms of international economic law. Before long, I found myself embracing different career prospects throughout the week: on Monday, I was a trade lawyer; on Tuesday, an investment lawyer; on Wednesday, I aspired to delve into academia; on Thursday, I explored international taxation law; and by Friday, I just wanted to survive the intensity of the programme and probably go chill at a bar. All that to say, our minds were opened up to the multiple directions we could explore. Soon, it all became confusing. Fortunately, the school provides career counselling services and workshops that have been invaluable in helping us understand our career prospects better while navigating the Geneva job market and, sometimes, to just go with the flow. Most importantly, we realised that opting for plans B, C, or D is not the end of the world; it can actually be a stepping stone to success.

Beyond my specialisation, I have also had the opportunity to take up optional courses that delve into other areas of law, such as environmental law and climate change. My time at the TradeLab Clinic in my first semester gave me firsthand insight into the work undertaken by global organisations. I am also currently doing a project under UNCTAD (as my legal clinic, which is an integral component of my LL.M) that has helped me delve deeper into various aspects of investment law and how to analyse investment law agreements. In addition to this, the professors have been nothing short of outstanding, constantly encouraging the students and guiding us on how to turn our assignments into publishable pieces that could give us an upper hand in the future. Outside of school, my time in Switzerland has been enriched by the beautiful scenery, numerous parks for leisurely walks, game nights, painting sessions by the lake, and the forging of lifelong friendships!

While coming to Geneva was a big leap of faith, I firmly believe that one ought not to shy from the unknown due to fear of failure. As we say in Swahili, ‘Mtaka cha mvunguni sharti ainame’, the translation in the context of this piece is that when you take up a challenge, you ought to own it. This is something I fully intend to do.


By Anne Mburu, student of the LL.M. in International Law programme.

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