Working Abroad: My Expectations vs. Reality (Kristina Duffy)

| Kristina Duffy | 4 July 2012 | The Hague, Netherlands |

I left New York for the Hague on May 13, and after two days of settling in and getting to know my neighborhood a bit, I started my internship at The Hague Conference on Private International Law. One of the oldest international organizations, the Hague Conference’s first meeting was in 1893, although the conventions it adopted in its earlier years have since been replaced by later agreements. Today, The Hague’s conventions address issues that arise in the realm of private international law, and help to ameliorate the “communication and coordination” problems between states that students of introductory international law classes often learn about.

Before arriving, my two biggest fears were 1) that I would have a Devil Wears Prada-esque boss who would assign me to menial tasks like getting her coffee, and 2) thanks to one of Professor Cavanagh’s stories 1L year that has stuck with me, that I would have a tightly-wound, big firm-esque boss who would throw a document that I missed during a discovery review in my face. Luckily, both of those fears were immediately allayed after I was welcomed onto the team by my fellow interns, immediate supervisors, the other legal officers at the Permanent Bureau, and the Secretary General.

That is not to say that I haven’t gotten plenty of work! At the end of introductions, my bosses handed me a fat stack of papers to “get my feet wet,” piercing any delusions I had about the “light” European work week. The most important project I have been assigned is on the enforcement of mediation agreements in jurisdictions throughout the United States, in preparation for an Optional Protocol that has been proposed to help facilitate the implementation of the Child Abduction Convention. This research involves finding all of the statutes applicable to mediation agreements in each jurisdiction of the United States, and synthesizing the information I find to highlight any commonalities between all of the jurisdictions or approaches followed by a noteworthy number of states. I am now on the second phase of this research: writing legal memoranda on the enforcement of mediation agreements in a diverse sample of states. One of my favorite assignments so far has been researching European Court of Justice cases that interpret provisions of the Child Abduction and Child Protection Conventions. It was fascinating to see the differences between ECJ opinions and SCOTUS opinions.

The Hague Conference employs a diverse group. Of the four other interns I work with, one is Vietnamese, one is Tunisian, one is French, and one is from the United States. All of us were super excited to meet new people, and quickly became a tight group, grabbing lunches and meeting up in our time off. I also love practicing my terrible French with the lovely and very patient Vietnamese and Tunisian interns (both of whom study in France and are fluent in the language). It was a welcome surprise to me that I was able to work abroad even though I’m not fluent in another language. English was the only language I was fluent in when I arrived. I also spoke embarrassing, extremely out of practice French; and two phrases in German- ich liebe dich (from my Mom) and sheize kopf (from Catch 22)- neither of which are appropriate in a professional setting. I did not speak Dutch at all, although I’ve picked up on a few common phrases, now. That being said, I was thrilled to realize that I was surrounded by French speakers so that I would have plenty of opportunity to practice.

It came as a shock to me when I realized this weekend that my time at the Hague Conference and in the Netherlands is already half over. This realization provoked me to reflect on my time spent here so far, and I have to say I couldn’t be happier with my decision to work abroad this summer. When I applied to the Hague Conference, whether I even had a chance at securing a position was a big question mark for me. As I slowly fulfilled each step of the lengthy application process, I often wondered whether I was wasting my time. However, the sincere belief that this position was a great fit for me inspired me to work hard on all of the materials I sent to the Hague for review, checking and double checking for any small errors. Now that I’m here, I have realized that the position I was offered is a better fit for me than I even realized then. I hope that in reading these field notes, other students from St. John’s will choose to reach for opportunities that they think sound perfect for them, even if they don’t think they have much of a chance.


One response to “Working Abroad: My Expectations vs. Reality (Kristina Duffy)

  1. there is no more important ingredient to career happiness than loving your work and that it is meaningful…to you…most people give up on that. you may be on the outskirts of being there. go for it.

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