Energy Law and Climate Law L.L.M in the Netherlands, Groningen University
"Shoneez Gabrielle Gani talks Energy Law and Climate Law."
Where it all started
In 2013, I graduated from UCT with an L.L.B. The following year (2014) I began reading for an L.L.M in Mineral and Petroleum Law at UCT and balancing two jobs at the same time. I worked as a researcher for a Professor and as a tutor for a few Private law courses such as Property law and Expropriation law. The year had just began and I settled in quite well. I found accommodation near the University area, joined a nearby gym, got involved in various cultural activities and writing my thesis paper. I had created a comfortable environment in Cape Town and had set goals for that year with regard to my work and academics.
Approximately five months into 2014, my comfort zone was a shaken ( … in a good way). I received an email in which I was informed that I had been accepted into the Erasmus Mundus Programme. I had applied for the Erasmus Mundus the previous year (2013) and had completely forgotten about it at the time I received the email. The Erasmus Mundus Programme “is a cooperation and mobility programme in the field of higher education that aims to enhance the quality of European higher education and to promote dialogue and understanding between people and cultures through cooperation with Third-world Countries”.
The Erasmus Mundus Programme only accepts a select few in the country for Master and Doctorate studies, and given the large amount of people that apply every year, I was not sure if I stood a good chance. I was elated when I found out that I had been accepted into the Programme. I was selected at two Universities: University of Brussels, Belgium; and the University of Groningen, Netherland. I immediately knew which University I wanted to choose because I had dreamed of studying Energy law at Groningen University.
Deciding to move to Holland and study at Groningen University opened a new and exciting chapter in my life. It also meant that a lot of changes to my “comfort zone” needed to happen before I could leave. I took a leave of absence from the UCT L.L.M and resigned from the tutoring and research work. It also meant attending to various administrative tasks such as registering for a resident permit at the embassy, finding accommodation, making flight arrangements and so on. The administrative work was very time-consuming and probably caused the most stress before leaving the country. Though, the opportunity to study energy law at such a prestigious institution was an opportunity of a life-time. It was all worth it. In addition to that, I am very passionate about traveling, exploring new cultures, new environments and meeting new people, so it also provided an opportunity for personal growth aside from my academics.
Why University of Groningen and Energy law
The energy sector is becoming increasingly important across the globe. Energy is directly linked to the well-being and prosperity of people in their day-to-day lives. There are seven billion people around the world who use energy to “make their lives richer, more productive, safer and healthier”. People have become accustomed to an uninterrupted supply of energy for living and working purposes. A key challenge is meeting these energy demands in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
I’ve always wanted to study energy law at Groningen because the university is a prestigious institution for students seeking to learn more about the energy sector. Groningen Uni. has made energy one of its three main research themes and makes major contributions to the study of the transition to sustainable production and consumption of energy.
I registered for the L.L.M in European Law specialising in Energy law and Climate law. Only 6 people world-wide were chosen for the L.L.M. My classmates included people from Greece, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and myself from South Africa. The courses were diverse and covered a variety of topics. My courses included: Energy law; Energy contracting; Climate law; International Environmental law; Economics of Regulation (I wrote my paper on the economic costs and benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing in South Africa); European Labour law; European Environmental law and the Master thesis (I wrote the paper on public participation and hydraulic fracturing in the European Union).
I found the courses very interesting. In the beginning, it took a while to adjust, particularly because (1) I knew next to nothing about European Law; (2) Other than my UCT thesis on hydraulic fracturing, my knowledge on energy law was very limited. Initially, this was quite intimidating as my classmates had all graduated from European schools, so their knowledge of EU law and EU energy law was more advanced; (3) I had to adjust to a new environment. I was away from my comfort zone in South Africa, and I was faced with new people, cultures and languages all around me. However, I settled in fairly quickly, I found everyone in Groningen to be very friendly. It was also very easy to move around the town (and the country) because of the efficient public transport system.
During my studies, my passion and love for energy law grew more and more. I grasped the concepts very quickly and I did extra readings on EU law and Energy law to get a better understanding of the course material. In spite of the initial barriers, I was very pleased with my performance. The whole experience showed me that if you have a goal – go for it! Period! It really does not matter how many barriers there may be in the beginning - consistently working smart and working hard will put you ahead.
Groningen is well-known to be a “student town”. It is filled with students from all over the world – from Bulgaria; Slovakia; U.K; U.S; China; Mexico; France; Iceland; Norway; Nigeria; Brazil; Honduras and so on. Many of the University departments are spread throughout the town (in a way it reminded me of the Stellenbosch community back home). Every second shop was either a clothing shop, pub or restaurant over-looking the canals flowing through the city.
I moved into a post-graduate student residence that accommodated international students. The house was filled with Master and Doctorate students from all over the world. It was tons of fun. There were lots of interesting kitchen conversations when everyone made their breakfast/lunch/dinner. I learnt a lot about other people’s cultures. At the end of every month, the whole house would have a “family dinner”. Each person would cook a traditional meal from their country and we would all get a taste of the different cuisines. It was an awesome experience. I made friends that will always be dear to me and I still keep in contact with many of them.
Living in Groningen felt like a dream. There were very few cars, and there were probably more bicycles than people. Bicycles were the main form of transport to move around the town. The town was fairly small, so one could ride from the North to the South of Groningen within a 25 minute cycle. There was no way a person could survive in the Netherlands without a bicycle. It is a “must have”. I bought my bicycle for 95 euros – only to be stolen 2 months later at the train station. I think the only crime I’ve heard of in the Netherlands is bicycle theft. That’s why most people carry 2 – 3 locks on their bike. Bicycles are everywhere.
I think one of the most interesting adjustments was being stuck in bicycle traffic. Unlike, South Africa, there is never motor vehicle traffic in the Netherlands. A typical morning to University would be leaving at 06:45am to skip bicycle traffic. The bicycle lanes have their own separate robots and road lanes. A typical Dutch person would ride their bicycles without any hands on the bike; fathers would be carrying their children on the front and back of the bike, dropping off their kids at school; businessmen dressed in smart suits and ladies in their high heels and dresses would be speeding off to work in front of the bicycle line. One of my proudest moments in the Netherlands was when I could finally ride my bicycle in bicycle traffic, without any hands while wearing my favourite pair of high heels. I had been practicing for months. I felt like a true Dutchman. I took tons of videos while riding the bike and sent it to family and friends back home – “look mom, no hands!”. It was actually quite hilarious. Everyone back home thought I was crazy, but that was the norm in Holland.
I grew so much during my studies in the Netherlands. In the beginning, everything was simultaneously new, exciting and a bit daunting. The experiences both academically and outside the classroom helped me grow. I was exposed to an exciting area of law - Energy law and Climate law. This allowed me to acquire a better understanding of energy and its role in our day-to-day lives. I also got more involved in other activities such as crossfit, boxing, salsa dancing and weight lifting. Some of these activities were new challenges to me, so it was exciting to push myself to an extra-mile outside the classroom. I also had the opportunity to travel to other places outside of Holland such as Belgium; Venice and Bologna (Italy); and Barcelona (Spain) amongst others. Overall, the opportunities and challenges I was faced with both academically and outside the classroom allowed me to become a more well-rounded person. I found an unwaivered balance in my academics, social life and exercise which made me feel more solid.