One Week in Wallonia (Thomas Hughes)

| Thomas Hughes | 16 July 2012 | Brussels, Belgium |

Sitting in the back of the taxi from the Brussels Airport to my hotel, my world did not seem to have changed much. I passed an Ernst & Young, Cisco Systems, and a Sheraton Hotel. My one night stay at the Van der Vaalk Hotel was also pretty standard, aside from the exotic Belgian beer selection.  However, my world suddenly became less familiar the next day, when I departed for the Soignies train station (50km outside of Brussels) to finally meet my new boss in person and find out where I would be living until December. I noticed the changing landscape on the train leaving Brussels. Tall buildings and densely populated neighborhoods gave way to fields and country homes.

I work at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), which is situated squarely between the cities of Mons (population 92,000) and Soignies (population 26,000), approximately 9km from each. Where I live, about 1.5km from SHAPE, is a far cry from life in New York City. The small brick houses, all with immaculate little gardens it seems, are well spaced and appear as if they could have been here well over 100 years ago. The closest store is about 1.5km from my studio apartment. It is a small mom & pop grocery store but contains a fine selection of fresh bread, cheese, beer, and wine. I am planning to purchase a bicycle this weekend which will open up many more possibilities for exploration, since the bus between Soignies and Mons is erratic and arrives only once per hour (when running properly).

As unfamiliar as life outside of SHAPE seems to be, life on base is strangely familiar. Having served four years in the United States Air Force in a highly secure environment, the multiple ID checks and badge swipes required to enter the office where I work seem commonplace. Although it took the better part of a week to get my badges, logins, and systems access, my first week was quite interesting. I was able to sit in on some relatively high level meetings and converse with some senior military officials and legal advisors. I began assisting in the preparations for the 2012 NATO Legal Conference in Tirana, Albania, which will take place in September.  This is a major project for our office between now and the end of September since we are completely responsible for its coordination. I will be in Tirana to make preparations for a few days in August, and then again for more than a week in September.  As of right now, it also appears that I will be attending a conference in Siracusa, Italy from November 19-23. The main topic of this conference is Shari’a and NATO operations.

This brings me to the curriculum aspect of my internship. Since this internship will provide me with 12 credits in December, I will be doing extensive reading and writing outside of the 8:30am-5:30pm schedule. The reading list my boss presented me with contains an interesting and extensive list of works on international legal theory, history, and practice. My writing requirements will consist of two parts. The first is a major 40 page piece on how NATO Rule of Law initiatives interact with Shari’a in ongoing NATO operations. The other requirement consists of 6-7 smaller pieces (5-7 pages each) on more focused topics of interest to both me and the office.

Having given a brief overview of my upcoming semester, I will end by saying that I am looking forward to the excitement and the challenges of the coming months and am very thankful for this opportunity.

More updates to come . . .

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