PUBLISHED:April 12, 2023

New LLM Ambassador Program connects LLM students with JDs


Patterned after LEAD Fellows, the program offers a unique cross-cultural resource for LLM students and rising 2Ls and 3Ls with a one-semester commitment.

The Office of International Studies launched a new LLM Ambassador Program last fall with the goal of helping LLM students acclimate to their classes and discover all that Duke Law School, Duke University, and the Durham community have to offer.

The program paired returning students with small groups of newly admitted LLM students and was patterned after Duke Law’s long-running LEAD Fellows program. This inaugural group was comprised of 15 second- and third-year JD students and an LLM student who extended their studies by another semester. Each ambassador was assigned five to eight LLM students and asked to coordinate at least two activities that offered academic or social benefits.

Senior Program Coordinator Leslie Allen, who developed the program with Associate Dean for International Studies Oleg Kobelev, said the idea sprang from her conversations with recent classes of LLM students. Many sought additional opportunities to engage with JDs to learn more about navigating classes and exams, engaging with faculty, staff, and fellow students, professional networking, and having fun outside of class.

“Moving to another country can be a challenging task for anybody, so I think that having a peer helping you really works—on both sides,” Allen said. She noted how the experience benefits the ambassadors by giving them a unique chance to build cross-cultural competency and broaden their personal and professional networks.

In developing the program, Allen reached out to colleagues at other law schools to learn about best practices. She found that some had informal mentorship programs, but none offered a structured peer resource. Allen and Kobelev said that they noticed a great deal of enthusiasm about the program among prospective and admitted LLM students.

“We pitched the LLM Ambassador Program to applicants or attendees when recruiting and were pleasantly surprised how receptive they were to this idea,” Allen said. “It really makes Duke Law stand out among our peer schools.”

Wenyi Zhou ’24, a JD student from Beijing, China, says she was excited to participate in the LLM Ambassador Program. She co-organized three of the social activities, including a trip to a Durham Bulls baseball game and a Duke Chapel tower climb.

“I had such a great experience at Duke during my 1L year and I think one of the things that contributed to that is that I had a wonderful [LEAD] Fellow,” Zhou said. “By the time the [LLM Ambassador Program] application came out, I wanted to do something that I benefited so much from.”

Zhou introduced herself to the LLM students in her group via email. She included some helpful information that her LEAD Fellow had shared with her during her first year at Duke, including a list of fun things to do in Durham, places to eat, and locations of local amenities.

“For my group, I had a few people from East Asia, I had a few students from Latin America and others from Europe, and it’s really interesting to see them interacting with each other,” Zhou said. “I know that some people from my LLM group went on a trip to Peru together for winter break.”

Christian Rodriguez ’24, a student in the JD/LLM in International and Comparative Law dual-degree program, said volunteering with the LLM Ambassador Program struck a professional and personal chord with him.

“As an immigrant myself, I know what it can be like to enter a new country and not know anyone,” said Rodriguez, who was born in Cali, Colombia, and calls Orlando, Fla., his home. “I wanted to take whatever opportunity I could to meet the LLM students and meet these incredible individuals who are lawyers or doing legal work in their own country.”

In addition to an outing to the Duke Lemur Center, Rodriguez showed his group how he celebrates his heritage here in North Carolina by taking them to the La Fiesta Del Pueblo Latin American festival in Raleigh. “That was awesome because I think Latin American culture and Latin American people are so important to the U.S. and for me to be able to show the LLM students that aspect of American society was great,” he said.

Fellows also hosted informal chats with students and faculty and treated LLM students to Monuts, a Durham favorite, after they turned in their memo for a key writing assignment. Zhou said it’s helpful “just to have an extra buddy to reach out to at the beginning of your LLM program.”

Sahiti Siddharth LLM ’23, from New Delhi, India, agreed. “It’s a really good transition to where you’re coming from and for adjusting to the United States and to this rigorous program at Duke Law,” she said.

Siddharth learned about the LLM Ambassador Program during orientation and was encouraged to participate. She said it’s been helpful with understanding the expectations of her classes, discussing courses, and feeling included in fun outings that don’t compete with her workload.

Yorick Ost, Exchange Student ’22

“Our LLM Ambassador took us to a Durham Bulls baseball game with another group. I really enjoyed this trip and felt it was a good opportunity to get in touch with other LLM students, as well as getting to know some JDs.”

Yorick Ost, Exchange Student ’22

“We did a picnic in the [Sarah P. Duke] Gardens and small sessions on the campus,” Siddharth said. “In my group, you had people from China, from Nigeria, Uganda, and Kazakhstan, and it was really great to learn about their cultures and their backgrounds during our discussion sessions. It was good to meet and interact with them.”

Rodriguez called the LLM Ambassador Program a wonderful opportunity for students with an open mind to learn about other cultures and customs—especially how these relate to the practice of law abroad.

Added Allen: “I knew that the end result would be greater community cohesion, more JD and LLM friendship, and an opportunity for both JDs and LLMs to forge connections that will last well beyond graduation.”

The deadline to apply for the Fall 2024 LLM Ambassador Program is April 14. Allen said she is spreading the word among JD students via Duke Law’s email and social media channels. She’s also visiting international law classes to let rising 2L and 3L students know about the program and its benefits.

The program is a six-month commitment with a budget provided by International Studies and opportunities for ambassadors to pitch ideas for group activities. And this year interested JDs will have the option to designate an interest in pairing with students from a particular region or area of international law.