Silvia is a fourth-year Italian student, with a strong interest in data protection, which she is currently writing her thesis on. She has just finished an internship at Dahl International Tax Law, and has begun an internship in Amsterdam related to the tech sector. In her third year, she successfully went on exchange to Los Angeles, studying for a semester at Southwestern University.
By Piyumi Jayasundera
1) When did you go on exchange and for how long?
I attended Southwestern University in the fall semester of 2015, from August to December.
2) What kind of courses did you take?
I participated in different specialisations at LL.M. and J.D. level, namely: immigration; national security; international business transactions; and mass media. These were courses that weren’t on offer at our university, and I tried to go for as much variety as possible.
3) What were your professors/teachers like?
The lectures were held in typical seminar formats, and really involved the reading of materials which was questioned heavily during the sessions. The lectures were typically more interactive than our university, as the lecturers required opinions and discussions and feedback. We were always working in group formats, with no tutorials or workshops.
4) How did you find it different to HHS?
It was different in terms of readings, which were needed to participate more in classes. The teachers were more demanding, constantly asking questions and pointing to you in class.
5) How did you find the examinations?
I had one take-home exam (open book) which had to be uploaded within a deadline; the rest were taken at the university and completed on a laptop. I found this better than written exams because it is much more efficient.
6) How did you find the atmosphere of the university?
I found it to be quite small compared to other law schools there. The office dealing with exchange students was very helpful. During the first week of exchange, they organised an introduction week to visit the main touristic attractions in the city, set up dinners and workshops giving an introduction to US law and how to get accustomed to the university. In terms of other students, they were generally older than in our university, and I found that people were more committed to their academic life.
7) Were there any international students?
There were a few exchange students and international students enrolled in the LL.M. programme, but definitely not as many as we have here.
8) What was your first impression of the city?
I had never been to the US before, so I very amazed by the size of the streets and the buildings (especially since I was used to European architecture). The first house where I lived was not in the ‘best’ neighbourhood, so my first impression was not the best, but that changed when I started to walk around and explore the different neighbourhoods, and later when I moved to a better neighbourhood near Silver Lake.
9) What did you like doing most in the city? What were your best experiences?
Because of the sun and people, I liked running, especially in the park nearby my house (Echo Park). I also enjoyed visiting as many districts as possible since LA is a very spread-out city and each neighbourhood has its own vibe and people and cultures. I loved visiting cafes and restaurants (especially healthy and vegan ones, which are very available there), as well as exploring “the artistic scene”. Memorable experiences also included the beach, visiting my first fashion show in West Hollywood, lots of nightlife, jazz clubs and bars and comedy shows.
10) How was it to find housing?
I used Airbnb (since the university didn’t provide campus accommodation). Rent is not cheap, as I had already expected. However, the quality of life is good though - living expenses were not too bad.
11) How was public transport?
There was no public transport culture as there is in Europe, and it is mostly considered as being for low-class or blue-collar people. When I told my classmates that I would come to university by bus, they were shocked because most people have cars, especially in LA.
12) What were the main problems/disadvantages that you faced?
At the beginning, it was difficult to meet people, but it actually forced me to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people and start conversations. For example, I met my current best friend in an elevator because we both got the classroom wrong. The difficulty of meeting people definitely didn’t stop me from staying at home and exploring as much as possible.
13) Where are the best places to go?
My personal favourites are a vegan restaurant called Flore; my favourite café Cito Organico, which is where I went to study; and Mohawk Bend (a restaurant and cocktail bar with really good vegan options). All of these were located near Echo Park/Silver Lake. I also really enjoyed visiting the art museums 'The Broad' and 'Lacma'.
14) Would you recommend it?
Definitely, yes! I fell in love with the city and the people who live there, and I loved the energy, the vibe and the proactivity that you could feel all around you – every person is working towards their goals and dreams in LA, and it definitely rubs off on you. I can't wait to go back soon!