Summer Schools in Law - Hagar Mahmoud

Updated: May 19, 2020

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Hometown: Alexandria, Egypt

Undergraduate: LL.B, Faculty of Law, Alexandria University

Masters: Masters of Law, Faculty of Law, Alexandria University

PhD Candidate: Faculty of Law, Cairo University

Field: International Law

Hagar, Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I graduated in 2013 from the faculty of law at Alexandria university with highest honors. I was looking forward to whatever comes next. I started working as a lecturer in my beloved department of international law.

I was so eager to study abroad at a top ranked university! Over the years, I applied to pursue my masters from different universities; even though I got accepted, I did not receive enough funding.

However, my journey led me to discover and take part in many summer schools and short research stays. I would never have believed that I could actually visit 9 countries in different continents on full scholarships just designed for capacity building of academics and practitioners of international law! I came to believe in their value, and how they could be life-changing. I am eager to share these incredible summer schools and opportunities that I hope would be useful in your journey.

Let’s go back in time a little. When did you first consider applying to universities abroad? What schools and scholarships did you apply to?

I am a believer in self-learning, and in working hard. I did not think I was exceptionally smart, but I believed that I am a hardworker. Ever since I was young I knew that I wanted to study in a top ranked university, holding this amazing leather professional bag and even maybe cycling inside the campus as I imagined in my head this perfect scenario (Maybe a little bit charmed by Rory in Gilmore girls American television series that I was fascinated with growing up! ).

I applied for masters degrees at Cambridge, Oxford, the Graduate Institute of international studies Geneva, SOAS University of London, the University of Edinburgh, King’s College, Leiden University, and Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. In addition to Universities’ scholarships, I have also applied for all the scholarships I have heard of: Qalaa holding scholarships, Chevening Scholarship, Open Society Foundations Scholarships and started different applications for the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD scholarships, Fulbright scholarships, even Chinese government scholarships.

I worked really hard on my French and English, given that I am not a graduate of a language school, and in 2016 I got my academic IELTS with a score of 7.5 Academic, and Delf b2 in French which qualifies me to apply for academic studies in French.

For 5 years from 2014 to 2019, I applied each cycle and waited for the moment that was going to change my life when I got a full scholarship! It didn’t happen, or it didn’t happen the way I thought it would be. Over the years, I received acceptance letters from great universities such as the Graduate Institute of international studies Geneva and SOAS University of London. However, funding was always an issue, and I needed a full scholarship.

How did you look for summer schools opportunities?

My filtration at the beginning was easy and basic: I was looking for a fully funded scholarship to participate in summer schools in the field of international law; the field that I chose and fell in love with. I started to learn more about these summer schools using: Google search, and this amazing website: scholarship position. Later on I also found about these two great platforms Marg3 and Forsa.

Can you tell us a bit about your first summer course experience?

The first one I got, which was the first one I traveled, was the United Nations Regional Courses in International Law (link) for Africa, organized by The Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs. At that time, I had no idea that it was one of the greatest, most prestigious summer courses in my field.

After all these, let’s say not successful trials from 2014-2016 to secure funding for masters abroad, I decided to give summer schools a shot. I applied for the Regional Course in December 2015 and I went through the usual procedural process, asking for a recommendation for the 100th time, getting the comment of aren’t you tired, writing the same motivation intro that I started to lose faith in, and submitting the application.

And instead of getting the usual “sorry, we regret to inform you” email, I for the first time got the precious “we are glad to inform you that” in January 2016 . So, in February I traveled for the first time on a full scholarship going to Addis Ababa with a regular comment from my friends of “are you going to negotiate about the dam” followed by laughter we all know.

What was your experience during the summer program in Addis Ababa?

This course gave me a huge confidence boost, I was the only Arab and one of only two academics, all the rest were senior lawyers, diplomats, and practitioners. In addition, the course introduced me to new networks, peers, and seniors in all countries of Africa, it also guided me to other prestigious courses that I applied for and until now I am applying for.

This course changed my life and career path. For example, over there Abdulqaawi Ahmed Yuusuf who is the current President of the International Court of Justice gave us one of our first lectures. The following day it was Joan E. Donoghue a female American judge at the ICJ, then followed by professors of Geneva graduate institute, then International law commissions members, great lawyers, reputable judges, almost everyone I dreamt of meeting they were there giving us, the 30 or so participants, very condensed lectures and very motivating speeches about empowering African International lawyers.

What other summer courses, workshops, conferences did you attend in the past 4 years?

  • The Moot Court and Seminar on the “Law of Refugees” in Beirut, Lebanon, March 2016: under the auspices of L’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) partnership with (UNESCO).

  • The International Law seminar for African Universities (AIIL) in Accra, Ghana, Aug. 2016: This course I got from the first time I applied for it! I went to Accra for a specialized International Law training for African teachers of international law, sharing techniques and methods to raise awareness and increase participation and exchange of perspectives when teaching international law in African countries.

  • The Research Institute in International and European Law of the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne as a research fellow, May-July 2017: During my stay, I entered one of the biggest libraries in the world, Cujas library (for a nerd like me that was as amusing as the Taj Mahal!). This could be done through a program of exchange doctoral students with l’École doctorale de Droit du Moyen-Orient, which is part of cooperation organized by l’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF).

  • The Hague Academy Summer School in Public International Law, in the Netherlands, July 2018 (link): I applied for this course two years in a row and I got it the second time. This was by far the most life changing course of all as it was held in the Hague academy which is located in the Peace Palace premises. I got daily exposure to ICJ judges and great professors from the most prestigious universities giving lectures on all the mainstreaming topics in our domain. We were taken on official visits to the International Criminal Court. I was also lucky to be chosen, by a random lot, to attend a session in the ICJ presided by Judge Abdelkawi that was taking place at the same time we were in the Hague.

  • The conférence sur le Droit et Civilisation en Méditerranée: vers une culture juridique commune” in Aix-en-Provence, France, Oct. 2018: this conference was held under the auspices of l’École Doctorale des Juristes de la Méditerranée (EDJM), l’École Doctorale de Droit au Moyen-Orient (EDDMO).

  • The Kautilya Fellows Programme of Foreign and Public Policy (KFP) in India, Feb. 2019: I went to India on a full scholarship to attend this amazing program that was hosted by India Foundation in association with the Ministry of External Affairs, which aims at giving an overview of India’s foreign policy strategy and its perspective on international law and international relations.

  • The AUC Summer School on Comparative Theory in Cairo, June 2019: this course was organized by the political science department of the American University in Cairo.

  • The Nuremberg Summer Academy For Young Professionals in Germany, Aug. 2019 (link): This one I applied for 3 years in a row and I did get a full scholarship and it was AMAZING exposure and a very specialized program in International Criminal law. As you might be familiar with the fact that Nuremberg is the birthplace of International Criminal Law.

  • The Faculty of Juridical, Political and Social Sciences, the University of Carthage as a Research Fellow, Nov- Dec. 2019: I stayed in Tunis for a month using the library of the University of Carthage doing my Ph.D. research. I received this one also through the AUF.

Reflecting back on your experience, what do you think are the main advantages of attending summer courses?

Compressing 7 years (2013-2020) of trials, failures, and modest success in a post is hard but exciting. Here is what I want to highlight and share with anyone, like myself, aspiring for more and not knowing if he/she is doing it the right way or if there is one!

  1. Gaining knowledge and exposure: in each domain, international law in my case, after two or three of these courses you start to hear the same big names, big courses, big TO DO’s. You start to know the trends and updates of your domain, most important journals, some people made amazing networks that got them jobs and scholarships.

  2. You have a chance to get accepted: The institutions that offer full scholarships, often a very limited number, want to, from what I heard and saw from first-hand experience and direct questions to their representatives, include people who usually don’t have enough resources to be included in such forums. So, normally you won’t find a privileged American or a Harvard student getting a scholarship, most probably they want less privileged people. I am saying that because I have been told so many times from so many uninformed people that you won’t get it because your referee is an unknown professor, or because your undergraduate degree is not fancy enough …etc. The donors and selection panels want you … your experience, your merits, your unique input, and your special background. So, don’t be ashamed of these characteristics but BUILD ON THEM.

  3. Summer programs can be intense, stimulating, and exciting: following the previous point, there is no institution, as far as my experience went, that would give you a full scholarship ( that includes air tickets, accommodation, pocket money, meals, academic material) and would let you go around and skip classes to tour around the country. Prestigious Summer Schools would make sure that you do not have a spare minute except for the weekends. For example, for three weeks when I was in India, I didn’t get a day off to go and see Taj Mahal that I dreamed all my life of seeing, I almost cried the last day until an angel came and told me that we are going in the dawn to see the sunrise there and be back in the airport by noon to catch our flights. A RISK totally worth it! My point is, summer schools (that offer full scholarships, from recognized prestigious institutions) want you to learn in three weeks what others learn in months! They are very intense programs that give you aspects of knowledge, practical life, potential opportunities, enriching connections both professionally and personally, and above all EAGERNESS to learn more!

What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying?

This is what I tell my students, and myself every day and every night:

  • Try as many times as it takes to give you a satisfying result and answer your questions.

  • Never think less of yourself because of your background, financial status, levels in languages. I remember all the participants in one of the sessions clapped their hands off for an Egyptian student who struggled through every letter of his French proposal but insisted on reading it in French anyway.

  • Learn every way you can, don’t blame your school, your teachers, your circumstances. Read, learn, ask, and research. Throw yourself into trials, and do not be afraid to get rejected several times. It will only make you stronger!

  • You are unique, you have a story to tell. Write something worth telling!

Finally, I would like to emphasise the generous and loving support of my father and mother emotionally and financially, that enabled me to keep trying no matter how long it took. And for that I will be grateful forever.

To the founders of this Amazing initiative, specifically Dr. Rana El Kahwagi and Nourhan Shaaban, and to Dr. Rana Moustafa, thank you for including me, thank you for empowering those who are trying and encouraging those who are still afraid!

Other tips?

There are some programs I discovered along the way which I did not get accepted in, but I would still like to share them with students who may be interested. For example:

  • The International Law seminar in Geneva (link): It is a very specialized simulation to the work of the international law commission in Geneva.

  • The Rabbani foundation offers many scholarships (link).

Glimpses from Hagar's Experiences Abroad:

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