Prior to beginning this post, I must sincerely apologize for the lack of updates shared on my behalf over the past few months. Semester two of my Master’s program was a blur of readings, assignments, and exams and it was here and gone before I could even catch my breath. While it is no excuse for keeping you all in the dark about what I have been up to, the day to day stress and at times monotony of such a jam-packed year at times made me feel like I had nothing new to share, while in reality, that of course was not the case.
Regardless, I am excited to make up for lost time and have put together this post attempting to summarize the major events of my second semester in preparation for future posts detailing what has already been a thrilling summer since the end of courses/exams.
As the semester began, it was time to choose my electives once again, which is always a difficult time given my persistent struggle to decide on which of my many interests to pursue. In the end, I selected a module on business and human rights and another on international criminal law, both of which were taught by a team of three different professors. While this was at times difficult given the wide array of teaching styles and personalities, receiving three perspectives on the same topic allowed for a much broader and nuanced understanding of the material in my opinion. However, because I am so indecisive, I also audited two additional courses, one on humanitarian law and another on UN peacekeeping missions. This proved to be worth the extra hours of class time each week, as they were great courses.
Early in the semester, I was also given the opportunity to present at a Paul Harris Fellows Luncheon for District 1240. Unbeknownst to me until arrival, this ended up being quite a large event with over 100 (by my estimation) attendees. It was a terrific opportunity to not only meet a number of terrific Rotarians from the District and hear more about the work they are doing within their clubs, but it was a privilege to share my experience as a Global Grant Scholar as a representative of all of those who have benefited from the Rotary Foundation and the contributions of Paul Harris Fellows. As the day progressed, it became clear to me that a major purpose of the event was to demonstrate the importance of the Foundation and the work that it supports, and I hope that I was able to encourage those present that their contributions have been worthwhile. If I didn’t, surely the speaker who followed me, Anne Wafula Strike MBE, may have with her incredible charisma and story of resilience as a UK paralympian and polio survivor.
A few weeks later, I gave a slightly longer presentation at the weekly meeting of my host club in Colchester. They were so welcoming as always, and it was great to finally introduce myself in greater detail to the Rotarians. I enjoyed a number of great conversations with members of the club regarding politics, both international and domestic, and just what it means to be a citizen of the world in a time of what I would characterize as significant crisis. Of course we also enjoyed much lighter conversation, likely regarding what I remember to have been a delicious meal.
Later in the semester, after entering our exam period of frantically writing three 5,000-word essays in one month, I was also able to take an evening off to travel down to London with a group of my classmates to attend the release of an Amnesty International investigation on the coalition bombing campaign in Raqqa, Syria that we had all contributed to as part of our work in the Essex Digital Verification Unit (see previous posts for more on this). It was held in a small gallery space and included three multimedia exhibitions, which merged our work mapping and geolocating airstrikes with reporting their staff had done in the field, collecting stories from the families of victims of the strikes. It was incredibly powerful to see these two components brought together and to meet the individuals who had planned and coordinated such a creative and impactful exhibition. The platform that Amnesty created to share this research is publicly available here and I strongly recommend that you take a look.
However, the novelty of that experience was short lived, as it upon my return from London it was the final week before exams were due. This involved a number of late nights typing away in my living room, regularly getting 5 hours of sleep or fewer, and at one panic at the rapidly approaching deadlines. BUT the work all got done and I was rewarded for my efforts with high marks on all three papers. It was then time to move on to one of the more challenging aspects of the entire year: preparing for the infamous written exam.
Certainly the most intimidating aspect of the Master’s program, each year, students are tested on one year’s worth of course material covering the core aspects of human rights law. The written exam is three hours long and includes three essay questions. The first is a problem question, asking you to provide legal analysis for a set of facts outlining a hypothetical situation or case. The second two questions are more straightforward essay questions. You are only allowed to bring in the core UN human rights treaties and the General Comments issued by the treaty bodies interpreting their provisions. Still this amounted to a hefty binder-full of papers and more hours spent memorizing and studying than I care to calculate. It was a very intimidating affair but one that I was glad to have gone through. The time spent learning the material was invaluable for truly gaining a deep understanding of human rights law and the shared experience of stressing over dense legalese was quite a binding experience for myself and the few classmates who became my study companions.
And I even managed to squeeze in a trip to Portugal with my family in between (although when I wasn’t at the beach, I was buried in textbooks). They had never been to Europe before, so me being in the UK, they took the opportunity to tour England, Spain and Portugal. While I unfortunately could not join for the entire trip, I met them in Lisbon, Portugal and drove with the to the south west coast of the country to Sintra and Praia das Macas. It was wonderful time and we ate our weight in fish and other delicious treats.
That pretty much covers the past semester. After the exam, I had about a week to recollect myself, relax, and prepare for an adventure that I will cover in my next post: a 3-day conference in Hong Kong hosted by Amnesty International and two weeks of personal travel in South Korea in Japan!