Stuck in America

| Joshua Alter | 10 July 2012 | The Hague, Netherlands |

I have a great excuse for celebrating the Fourth of July even when I am outside America. Actually, I would have a great excuse for celebrating on Independence Day even if I was not an American citizen. Although last Wednesday was just another day for the Dutch, it was also my twenty-sixth birthday.

I should have realised that Independence Day would not be a big deal across the pond when the United States Supreme Court decision in the health care case came out; office chatter was instead directed at the European Football Championship. Yet because my birthday falls on a national holiday, it means I have fond memories of barbeques, fireworks and beaches. Although I did not get the barbeque or the fireworks, the night ended by the beach. A .333 batting average gets you into the Hall of Fame. And nothing is more American than baseball.

But that stuck in America mentality has gradually disappeared as my internship at the ICTY has progressed. Although my Dutch is still rather limited (bonuskaart means bonus card at the supermarket!), I am making progress.

The trial of Ratko Mladic resumed at the ICTY on Monday. As I walked up to our front security entrance, I noticed a reporter standing in front of television cameras right outside our gate by the garden. After passing through security and entering the lobby, I noticed tables and chairs set up for the overflow of reporters that were present. An accreditation list is available on the press website, and it contains notable international media sources like BBC and Reuters, and also Balkan media outlets like Radio Television of Vojvodina and Srpska Republika News Agency (SRNA).

Although the case I work on is still in pre-trial, I will still be able to hone my international criminal litigation advocacy skills this summer. I am part of a 24-person group taking part in the ICTY Interns Advocacy Training Course on 17 July 2012. My Moot Court obligations last year meant that I only dealt with appellate advocacy and cases before the International Court of Justice. I am glad to have the opportunity to learn about trial practice while working here. Each group will be paired with an ICTY judge and I really cannot think of better trainers for our exercise. Having spent months planning and practicing for Jessup last year, I look forward to taking part in an international advocacy experience. Although the Case Study came out today, I managed to finish reading the entire thing.

In another effort to take a break from Journal teleconferences and American issues, I finally made it to Amsterdam. Since I took a train directly from the airport into The Hague upon my arrival, I had never actually been in Amsterdam before Saturday. It took me 34 days to get there, which I imagine is some sort of record for an American twenty-something visiting Holland. My friend Lisa had an 18-hour stopover and wanted to do some touring. My pleas for a day in The Hague were ignored, and I ended up getting on a train for the first time since I arrived.

Growing up on Long Island, especially where I come from, seeing the word Kosher in Hebrew letters outside a store is routine. But having spent a month in The Hague, it was so nice to see a restaurant with the words Kosher on the sign immediately when I got to Amsterdam. (Unfortunately it was Sabbath so the restaurant was not open). But juxtaposed next to the Dutch wording of its neighbouring store, I knew I was far from the (516) area code. Although I keep reminding myself that I am no longer studying abroad, now that the Field Notes site is fully operational and our journal offers went out to the rising 2L class, I have a little more flexibility. Another trip into Amsterdam is already booked for this weekend!

In some ways though, I immediately knew I was ‘no longer in Kansas.’ Although I am used to robes from Moot Court, I always understood that the judges wear robes, while the advocates wear plain white shirts, a nondescript red or navy tie and a dark suit. In the ICTY, everyone wears a robe when they are in the Court. During recesses in the trial, I see people run in and out of the Defence rooms in robes. And as you may have been able to tell, I figured out British English pretty quick. Considering I start 3L in about one month, I am hoping I unlearn it very fast. If not, I realise that I may fall out of favour with some my professors.

And for my birthday, I ended up with the best of both worlds. My uncle was at a conference in Amsterdam and took a train down to The Hague to take me out on Tuesday night. Andrew and Kristina allowed me to share the spotlight with their Fourth of July celebration on Wednesday. And I ended up celebrating the next day with my new coworkers. America will have to wait until next Independence Day for our annual joint party. But I spent this Fourth of July with family and friends.

By the beach.

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One response to “Stuck in America

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