Law Masters at ULB with my Newborn - Dr. Rana Moustafa
Updated: May 20
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Hometown: Alexandria, Egypt
Undergraduate: Faculty of law, Alexandria University, Egypt
First Masters: Faculty of law, Alexandria University, Egypt
Second Masters: Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Visiting Researcher: Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium (ULB) PhD: Faculty of law, Alexandria University, Egypt
Field: Public International Law
Rana, Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am an Assistant Professor of public international law and a mother of two sons, and I currently live in Kuwait. My passion for international law started at an early age given that my father is a Professor of international law. To pursue my passion, I joined Alexandria University, faculty of law in 2007, and in 2012 I was appointed as a lecturer at the public international law department.
When did you first consider applying to universities abroad?
At the beginning, I didn’t believe in studying abroad. I honestly thought I could acquire the same benefits by simply reading as many books as I can in my field. However, this point of view totally changed in 2013, when I attended a 3 weeks international law summer course at the Hague (Netherlands), thanks to my father’s advice. This was the moment when I discovered that reading books alone was not getting me anywhere.
Returning to Egypt, I started my PhD and then I applied for a one year visiting researcher position (2014/2015) at the Centre de droit international at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). My aim was to research and analyze all the necessary scholarly literature in the fields relevant to my PhD thesis. I had several conversations with many prominent professors at the Centre and I benefited greatly from their insights.
During that year, the Centre de droit international announced the initiation of a bilingual specialised master in international law, which allowed students to take their exams in English even though the course was delivered in French. Although at that time, I was pregnant with my baby boy, I was so encouraged to apply to this specialised master. My decision was definitely not favored by many, especially that in a few months I would be accompanied by my newly born baby. All these uncertainties did not stop me from following my dream. I was also very motivated to apply to this specialised master because I had the ability to divide my courses over two years instead of cramming them in one year. I ultimately earned my masters degree in 2017 and I decided to go back to Egypt and one year later I acquired my PhD degree in international law.
Reflecting back on your experience, what do you think are the main advantages of studying law in Belgium?
Studying law in Belgium has affected me positively on two levels; the social level and the academic level.
On the social level, I gained independence and confidence. Throughout my professional life, I had many ups and downs, but I owe my ability to face those downs mainly to studying abroad. Meeting people from different backgrounds and discussing different subject matters taught me to respect others’ opinions, no matter how much I disagreed with them.
On the academic level, the advantages are countless. Mainly, I had access to a vast number of books which indeed enriched my PhD thesis. I acquired a comprehensive knowledge about the different theories in international law and their methodologies. This has immensely affected my understanding of the different books, articles, and posts I read and the arguments raised therein. This course has strengthened as well my analysis and argumentative skills, providing me with robust guidance in both my thesis and my later publications’ journey.
Let’s go back in time a little. How did you prepare for the application process?
As I previously mentioned, I considered applying to universities abroad when I attended the 3 weeks public international law summer course at the Hague (Netherlands) in July 2013. The whole experience encouraged me to study abroad to further my academic skills. I had the opportunity to attend one of the criminal trials at the International Tribunal of Former Yugoslavia. I participated in discussion with other participants which truly enriched me culturally, socially and academically. In addition, of course, to having the opportunity to meet and have direct discussion with prominent professors of international law.
Applying to the summer course was not complex. I have not applied for a scholarship thus I was not required to send my C.V. or recommendation letter. However, if you are planning to apply to a scholarship, you need to prepare, besides your C.V., a motivation letter that reflects your true interest in international law and clarifies how the course will benefit you. You also need to send a recommendation letter from a professor of international law that stresses on your skills in the field of international law and again clarifies how the course will benefit you.
What about your application at the Centre de droit International at ULB?
I first applied as a visiting researcher at the Centre de Droit International (ULB) in 2014. The application process was not complex as I was only required to send my PhD proposal.
As for the specialized master in international law at the same Centre, the application process was challenging because the number of places for this master was very limited. Although no recommendation letters were required, I had to substantiate my application with all my grades in international law courses during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. I also attached my certificate of participation at the Hague summer school even though it was not required. I also highlighted my previous mooting experience in Egypt to appear as a strong candidate for this specialised master.
How did funding fit in the picture? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have for others?
As a faculty member, I was fortunate to be funded from Alexandria University. This was supplemented by personal and family funds.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying?
Start taking courses in your field of interest. Participate in activities that add up to your different skills. Do not wait till it’s time to fill an application. I have participated in the International Criminal Court moot court and the Model of European Union held at the Library of Alexandria. I also advice students to follow free online courses such as those available at the website Coursera.
Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider when applying to universities abroad?
To be more integrated in the social, cultural life of the country where you study. The advantages of interacting with others are equally important as pursuing your studies.
Can you tell us more about your experience as a mother studying and taking care of your baby at the same time.
I believe my experience was unique because I studied abroad during my pregnancy period and, after giving birth. I used to leave my child at a nursery near my university for nearly 8 hours and pick him up after finishing. It was really hard for me and my son at the beginning, but we soon enough got very adapted.
I would love to advise mothers, who are planning to take their babies, to book a place at public nurseries while being pregnant. Don’t wait till giving birth, because it is hard to find places at public nurseries which are way cheaper than private nurseries.
What can you tell mothers who are afraid to apply for masters programs because they feel worried about balancing both roles?
I would love to encourage all mothers to take a similar step because pursuing your dreams and fulfilling your ambitions can provide you with a boost of energy allowing you to give your child all the love needed. All you need for this experience is of course a good nursery, which is not a difficult thing to find in Europe, but most importantly a supporting husband. I would love to take this opportunity to thank my husband for his support throughout my study abroad experience.