Getting into an LLM program to pursue a J.S.D. (Ph.D.) program at a New York City law school is hard enough. Add to the mix economic sanctions between Iran and the United States; a lack of a Social Security number; no way to open a bank account; and a language barrier - and it gets even more challenging.
With a master's degree in private law from one of the top universities in Iran, Imam Sadiq University, I started my professional career as a professor teaching International Law at Iranian E-University, Allame Tabatabaee Law and Ale-Taha University. But I had lofty ambitions. I wanted to pursue my J.S.D. at a university in the city that housed the headquarters of the United Nations.
The application process seemed simple, but I faced a lot of barriers. One of the main obstacles was economic sanctions due to my country of origin - Iran. I would not be able to pay the application fee because there was not any legitimate transnational wire transfer between Iran and the United States. In the end, Fordham and St. John's universities were willing to waive the application fee and I gained admission into the LLM programs at those two schools.
The next hurdle was getting a visa. Since the United States doesn't have an embassy in Iran, I went to a third country for my interview. The length of the administrative process barred me from attending Fordham, as I missed the orientation program, so I attended St. John's University as my second option.
Although I had received Dean's scholarships from both schools, it was not enough to cover my living expenses. In order, to support myself I needed to earn money. Because of the sanctions and not having a Social Security number, no bank would allow me to open an account. As a result, I couldn't rent an apartment and I was forced to hold all my money in cash.
I ended up securing a position as a research assistant in the first month through one of my professors at St. John's Law. I was lucky because this kind of position is rare in the first semester for an LLM international law student.
Being an international student in a new environment was a cultural shock and I faced a language barrier. One of the things that stands out to me was the relationship between professors and students. Back in Iran, the core role of the professor is more significant than students, in terms of respect, knowledge, responsibilities, and as a role model in the classroom. As the diversity in the program was limited and most of the other international students were from two specific countries, a majority of the time they spoke their native languages. I did not have that much connection with them as their English was difficult for me to understand.
Because of the lack of Iranian law students in New York, I received a lot of offers from Iranian NGOs to become their representative at the United Nations. I accepted the offer, I got the pass and walked in hallways of my dream organization almost every day.
After gaining experience at St. John's, I was able to transfer to Fordham to continue my education. It was a different atmosphere and environment. Fordham Law has a modern campus at the heart of Manhattan with diligent students. Almost all of the students in our program were lawyers and from approximately 50 countries. Also, as we were in the same ages and our English language level was equivalent, I found most of my good friends there. Since there had been other Iranian students prior to my arrival, Fordham faculties had a positive perspective about previous Iranian students.
Fordham also held legal events almost every day that helped to expand my network. After graduation, I noticed the Fordham affiliation made my resume decidedly stronger because of the excellent reputation and supportive alumni.
I am now a J.S.D. candidate at Cardozo Law School, where I am grateful for the extremely helpful professors and graduate program directors. There is much I like about Cardozo, including the religious diversity that I have experienced there. My legal education now ranges from Islamic Law School in Iran to St. John's, Fordham, and Yeshiva University, and given me a truly comprehensive view of the law. After all that has happened to me and to the Iranian people, I have decided to do my dissertation on U.S. trade control laws and bilateral economic sanctions.
These past few years have been an extraordinary experience for me, both educationally and personally. I recognize how far I have come, and it still fills me with wonder. I now work as a researcher at Cardozo Law, and I recently received my first ever office key. Here's what I posted on Twitter: "This scenery is literally what I always wanted to see, looking out on Fifth Avenue through my office window."