Alumni Commentary

A Love Letter to Philadelphia


From the Balkans to Latin America to Canada: Temple Law gave Safo Musta LLM ’02 her passport to the world.

I will never forget the first time I set my eyes on Philly’s skyline. I was in a cab, exhausted and sleepless from a long flight, five thousand miles away from my hometown of Tirana, alone and nervous at the thought of the unknown ahead of me. Then the lights of a great city emerged in the distance. I felt as if I was thrown on the set of ″Philadelphia,‶ a legal drama from 1993, the only reference I had at the time to a city that would soon become very dear to me. The view before my eyes was stunning. An air of excitement filled my lungs. It was love at first sight.

I arrived in Philly in August of 2001 to pursue an LL.M. in American and International Law at Temple Law School, a dream made possible thanks to the prestigious Ron Brown scholarship program of the US Department of Education for students from Southeastern Europe. It was a time of many firsts for me – first time being far from my home country and being an international student, first time on the continent, my first exposure to American law and legal education, my first time living, studying, and breathing a foreign language. Little did I know that soon after my first encounter with Philadelphia and Temple Law School, the world around me would change forever, as did my own.

The recent news of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 brings back memories of those early days at Temple. I still recall the cancelled classes on that Tuesday morning from twenty years ago. My course schedule read ″Immigration and Nationality‶ with Professor Jan Ting. Instead, we tuned into the live coverage of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in shock. In the days that followed the air felt heavier, life stood still and time re-dimensioned. But I will never forget the sea of the American flags proudly displayed in every corner of the city as its citizens stood together in mourning and in solidarity. Needless to say, my memories of those first days in the city are bittersweet. A generation was marked by 9/11.  My life journey was marked by it.

My post Temple years brought me to so many different places and opened new horizons for me. Over the past years I have been enriched by professional and personal experiences in ways I could have never imagined. From working in international development programs in the Balkans to community building programs in Ontario or volunteering in Panama, I have come to appreciate the beauty of each of these unique journeys and of the people I have met on the way.

I never cease to be fascinated by the distinct flavor of each of these experiences unfolding before me in the backdrop of diverse landscapes, languages, and cultures. Whether it was consulting business associations to become sustainable in Kosovo, leading a study on local labor market shortages in Ontario or teaching English in Panama, the skills earned at Temple Law have helped me stand out from the crowd. Most importantly, they have translated into so many different professional contexts, overcoming geography, language, and cultural barriers. Being part of the amazing Temple Law community has been a badge of honor that I wear with pride.

I love each of the places I have come to live, work and study in since I first left my hometown of Tirana in 2001. For a few years now Ottawa has been my permanent home with Bogotá appearing next on the horizon. As an international development graduate student of the University of Ottawa, I am conducting research on transitional justice programs in Colombia, linking both my passion for law and international development in the Latin American context. As the world emerges from a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic, the prospect of conducting research work near the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá fills my heart with renewed joy.

I share much love for each of the cities I have come to know in these twenty years. They have all influenced me in infinite ways. But wherever I go, Philadelphia holds a special place in my heart as my first city love. This city has given me so much including an elite legal education, my life companion, and an appetite for international work and life. I could have not asked for better gifts. This city has made me who I am today.

The author, Safo Musta LLM ’02, at the University of Ottawa.

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