Student Stories – Studying LLM in China at Tsinghua University

My name is Ricky Cornhill. I’ve just graduated from the University of Cambridge with an undergraduate degree in law, and I am now, along with my friends here, taking part in the LLM in Chinese law here at Tsinghua University.

My name is Orega, I am a joint degree student at Harvard Kennedy School studying International Affairs and at Georgetown Law School, focus on International Law. And so I’m really happy to be here on the LLM programme.

Hi, my name is TJ Park, I am from Georgetown Law, same as Orega, so this is our third year, first semester, and we’re doing kind of a one semester exchange student programme in LLM in Chinese law at Tsinghua as well.

For me, as a person who wants to go into international commercial law after I graduate, I was really struck whenever I was reading the financial news, or any kind of news really, how much of an impact China is having on the world today. And I figured, you know, in twenty, thirty years, it’s going to be a big part of any commercial law firm, China I mean, and that it will give me a very big edge in my later career. That’s one big reason. The other reason was just my fascination with the country, its big, long history, alongside the fact that its legal system is so young, so I get to experience that rich backdrop, but also be part of something new and fresh, which I think is quite exciting.

I am mostly focused on US foreign policy and international politics, and so thinking ahead in my career, not just a decade from now, but maybe two, three, four decades from now, I think China will play an enormous role in the international community. It’s already using its veto power more in the Security Council, it’s contributing peacekeeping troops to UN peacekeeping missions, and so you see that China’s being more involved, and I think that it’s really important for us to know, as lawyers, how China uses law as a way to solve problems, both at home and abroad. So that’s really the reason why I came here.

To be honest, if it weren’t Tsinghua, I would have actually gone somewhere else. So I actually want to just talk about Tsinghua in specific. So I did my summer associate in Hong Kong with an international law firm and basically pretty much anything that comes out of China, whether it’s SOE or just businesses, you definitely feel that Tsinghua’s present. You know, when you look at their bios, everyone’s a…. And so it is one of the top universities here, hence. This is also a huge university, right. So that is also part of the reason I actually chose this particular exchange LLM programme.

I think we have a lot of opportunities to leave campus. For example, we got to see a Criminal Court case hearing, and that was just fascinating, to not just learn about it in class, or to read about it, but to actually sit in a room where the judges are doing their work, and to see the defendants, and to see the different lawyers advocating, I thought that was a fascinating experience. We also have the chance to go to different legal departments, of corporations and of law firms, here in China, and so I think that that is extremely valuable for us as foreigners, to be able to learn in class, but also go out of class and see things in the real world.

So alongside that, I think one of the highlights about this LLM programme is the great flexibility it offers in allowing you to kind of tailor the degree to your interests. So not only is there a large amount of flexibility with the courses offered as part of the LLM specifically, with only a couple of compulsory modules, so say for example you could focus on criminal law, or commercial law, or whatever, depending on what you’re interested in, but you also have the opportunity as an LLM student to take part in all of the other courses which are offered here. So for example, Tsinghua University offers a Masters degree in Intellectual Property law. And if you are an LLM student who is particularly interested in intellectual property, heck, you can go in all of those classes, you can also take part in them, and get the credits for them. They can contribute to part of your degree. And that’s great. I also love the fact that we get exposed to leading members of the fields which we are studying. So, say for example, you want to learn about mergers and acquisitions. Tsinghua offers a course which is taught by Gao Xiqing, who recently retired as Head of the CIC in China, which is huge. So you get a wealth of experience at your fingertips, which you just couldn’t get anywhere else. And that’s really quite amazing to me.

Personally, the most fascinating thing about this programme so far was actually living on campus. You know, we are interacting with Chinese students here, and especially my background is I’m a Korean American, and I lived about sixty, seventy percent of my life in America, but you know, I lived other parts of my life in Korea and Japan, and Hong Kong, Singapore. But I’ve never actually been to China. But I had this notion that I know Asia, but without actually living in China. Which is a very, very stupid thing to say, I guess. But now I’m experiencing it.

So we have this unfounded, I guess, almost a fear of the “Eastern Bloc”, right? At the same time, it’s also a fascination with it. So I think that was the biggest eye opening experience for me, just talking to people here. Just talking to people here, actual local Chinese students, we’ve had some big events that happened since we got here, luckily. The Victory Parade, at the beginning of the programme, and the discussion we had today about TPP, when I got to talk to Tsinghua law students here and see their takes on it. Now I believe in the power of sharing ideas and conversations. I believe in the power of human’s ability of basically compromising and meeting each other in the middle. So that’s been very fascinating for me.

I guess my advice is, really try to approach it with an open mind, and really try to like do as the locals do. I think I actually have some friends who have been living in Beijing for a good number of years, but you know, he’s just kinda in that little protected zone, just shuttling back and forth between his cushy job and his fancy apartment in Guomao, and all he does is just Guomao, some party scenes, doesn’t really learn the language, and that’s I guess one way for you to experience the life in a foreign country, but I think a better way of experiencing a country is just really trying to like, instead of making a judgement, just do it. And then you’ll always have time to re-evaluate. So do it. Experience first. Think later.

Yeah, if I was only going to say one thing, I’d say embrace it. For me, this has been one of the most eye-opening, fantastic moments of my life. Coming to China, experiencing it. I was actually in the country for a few months before I came to Tsinghua as part of a teaching scheme. I was teaching at a local school in Beijing, and I also did the same thing last year. And I quickly realised that a few months wasn’t enough to experience everything that this country and this city had to offer. It’s got a ton of eccentricities which you just can’t fully appreciate until you’ve been there and you’ve done it yourself. I’d say the energy here is really amazing, the people are really friendly, and everyone’s really open to showing you life in China. And it’s a really wonderful feeling. I’ve found it very easy to acclimatise here without too many problems and yeah, I’ve really enjoyed my experience.

I really appreciated the fact that it’s so easy to travel around China through train. I was able to go to Xian and see the terracotta warriors there. I’ve been to the Great Wall three times so far, and getting around town is extremely easy by metro. So I really appreciated being able to see what China has to offer both in Beijing and out of Beijing. And what I would say to someone who is considering it, I would say absolutely go for it. This too has been so far one of the best experiences of my life professionally, but also just personally. Just because I’ve been able to meet so many people with different experiences, and I think that has informed my world view. And just come with an open mind. And try to learn as much as you can, and share information, and share ideas, and I think you’ll be better off for it.



I chose bottomless because I think it was a former ambassador who said that the longer you stay in China, the less you understand it. There is just so much to learn, and it’s so complicated, that I think that it’s like a bottomless pit of ideas and history and different ways of living.

So if I had to choose one word, it would be big. I was trying to find a more fancy word than big, but honestly I feel like that best summarises my impression of China. Everything just seems to be larger than life. And… yeah. Big.

If anything, I think the people that I met here in our programme, in my class, it’s the sheer amount of interaction that we have with each other, but I feel like even me and Orega, we’re supposedly representing the US here. But we come from a very different rice field I guess. So there’s also Rayna, Connor, Temple people, you guys also come from a very different background as well. So I just think that’s actually the one thing I did not expect, this level of diversity I guess. And that’s why it’s just been very, I guess, super cool.

I think this is becoming more of a globally renowned institution. The fact that it is attracting these kinds of people, with the very globally diverse experiences.

When I applied for an LLM in Chinese law, I didn’t really appreciate that it’s not just going to be an LLM in Chinese law that I’m starting to undertake. It’s an LLM in comparative law as well. Being the only representative from Britain in a class with… I don’t know, at least seven other countries being represented? We’ve got people from Pakistan, Korea, America, Bulgaria. You get such a different perspective on the law in so many ways.

You’re learning what law is on a more fundamental level because all of your previous understandings of what the law is, what it should do, you know, you get that questioned by so many different people who come from a different place. And that’s a really valuable privilege I didn’t expect at all. And I’d say it’s probably the most cool thing about this programme.

Tsinghua is just a melting pot in terms of legal culture and just different personalities of people. One thing I didn’t expect, but I appreciated very much, was some of the speakers who came on campus. So Elon Musk, the CEO and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, and someone who has an enormous influence in what the future will look like was on campus. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, was on campus for an event. The Gates Foundation was here. And plenty more. And I think that those opportunities to hear people who are having so much impact in the world speak to Tsinghua students, is extremely valuable.

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