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Interview with students of the Advanced Master’s (LLM) Programme - Andreas and DrishtiFeb-22-2021


What is your background and what brings you to the Adv. LLM programme?
Andreas: I was born in a small country called Namibia situated in southern Africa. My home languages are German and Afrikaans (which is quite similar to Dutch), so I hope to pick up Dutch very quickly during my stay in Amsterdam. After my graduation from a German high school, I moved to South Africa to study law at the University of Pretoria and thereafter completed my LLM at the University of Stellenbosch. During my LLM at Stellenbosch, I discovered an interest in international tax law and decided to specialize in it and to pursue a second LLM. 
Drishti: I am a lawyer from Mauritius.  I previously studied at Bristol University, and was called to the Bar in England. I studied the Advanced LLM in International Civil and Commercial law at Leiden University before embarking on the Advanced International Tax law at UvA-IBFD. I chose to further specialize in international taxation because it is a very specific, expanding area of law. As it involves the study of law, economics and accounting, it is a perfect blend for lawyers who like numbers, like me. I was drawn to this Advanced LLM in tax because it is very practice-oriented and furthers one’s knowledge of taxes.
What influenced your decision to attend our Adv. LLM programme over other universities?
Andreas: The programme in partnership with the IBFD has an established reputation and it is a privilege to be granted this opportunity to research and study here. The alumni of this course always referred to the high amount of personal interaction and group work and this has also been my experience so far, which I rate highly. Also, what swayed my decision was their well-organized response to the global pandemic. Their preliminary outline on how classes would be presented during the semester provided me with certainty in light of the imposed travel restrictions.
Drishti: I chose UvA-IBFD Adv. LLM mainly because of the latter’s high ranking in the top 10 best LLMs in international tax in the world. The programme also came highly recommended by some international tax practitioners I spoke to. Despite the uncertainties with the pandemic, the lecturers and coordinators had already put in place a clear structure before even starting university, which was really reassuring as I knew exactly what to expect. We even had meetings with them every two months before the start of the courses, which for me shows their true commitment to the programme.
How are you experiencing the programme so far and how are you coping with the new reality and the online education?
Andreas: International tax law is quite a challenging area of law and therefore I would say that the course is demanding and requires a lot of hard work and dedication. But it is also a very rewarding experience. Of course, studying online is making it a bit more challenging but it is definitely an interesting experience to study online! Also, the interaction and exposure to people from different cultures and backgrounds has been amazing.
Drishti: Even though studying online is undeniably different from a physical class, the courses have been tailored in such a way that they were in fact very interactive. We have had a lot of support and resources from the university and from our lecturers, which ultimately made the learning environment quite enjoyable. For example, we have a lot of discussions with our friends and lecturers in breakout rooms (via Zoom) so much so that you sometimes do not even see time passing by. Also, we created some online group study sessions, which made it more interesting for us as students. 
What do you perceive as a benefit of online classes from your experience so far?
Andreas: It is more comfortable and less time consuming to study from home. The time you would spend traveling to class by tram or bicycle can now be used to study or prepare for classes. Walking to the office building through thick snow or rainy weather is quite daunting to someone coming from Africa! On a more serious note, I think it also prepares you for the new norm that might even persist in a work environment after the pandemic. 
Drishti: With online classes, you have more time and more flexibility to manage other things on the side. For example, I have had time to also take some language classes while studying for the Master’s. Also, you can save money on traveling costs.
What do you see as the biggest challenges involved in an online classroom environment?
Andreas: There are some unexpected challenges associated with online learning. For example, you don’t have the usual interaction with students after classes that you would have in a campus setting. That means that you have to go out of your way to reach out to other students when you need insight on certain topics. I must admit that I missed working in the library because I felt that I can concentrate better in such a setting.
Drishti: You definitely miss the lack of human interactions with the online classes, be it with friends or lecturers. Finding a convenient time to work on group projects can also be challenging when some of us are in Colombia and others in Saudi Arabia.
How has the contact with the professors and other students been?
Andreas: Although the programme was offered entirely online for more than 6 months, it was structured in a way to ensure a lot of interaction between students and lecturers. This meant that you would have lectures as usual but with group work in Zoom breakout sessions at the end of each lecture. For the tax treaty negotiations course, I remember that we were divided into groups and I spent a lot of late nights working on the project with my group, which was a lot of fun. And of course, it is frustrating that you cannot meet up with your classmates for a coffee or beer!
Drishti: All the lecturers at UvA are very approachable. You can discuss anything at all with them, be it personal, professional or emotional. They take time outside their office hours to help you increase your understanding of tax laws, practices or guide you in your professional career such as getting internships or reviewing your resumés. I have also made some really good friends in this course who are from all around the globe, from Brazil to Russia. In these hard times, amongst students, we also try to help each other via Zoom calls or WhatsApp calls, even without having met each other.
What do you see as current major trends in tax law?
Andreas: The influence of the Principal Purpose Test and BEPS Action Plan 6 on case law. It will be interesting to observe how the courts in different jurisdictions will interpret the treaty GAAR.
Drishti: The taxation of the digital economy was already a huge topic of discussion before but now, with the pandemic, it has become even more important and relevant for countries, be it at the micro or macro level.
How was the application procedure? Any tips for other students?
Andreas:The application process went extremely smoothly. I think for non-EU students it is important to apply early for visa purposes.
Drishti: The application procedure was straight-forward and easy. However, I would strongly recommend getting yourself up to date with the current issues surrounding the international tax world before starting the course. I would also suggest starting the application for accommodation early because it is generally hard to find a place to live in Amsterdam.
When the programme is finished, what do you intend to do?
Andreas: I am hoping to get the opportunity to complete an internship in Europe to gain experience in the field of international taxation. If the opportunity presents itself to work in Europe full-time, then I would definitely consider it. However, one of the reasons for studying international tax law is that it is an area with many opportunities in Africa.
Drishti: Get married and have lots of children… hey, just kidding!  I hope to find a job in either transfer pricing or international tax at one of the Big Four firms.