It may sound cliché, but it is amazing how seemingly innocuous decisions can drastically change your trajectory. I write this from The Hague, but barely a month ago I had no idea that I would be spending my summer here on the “Old Continent.” A few months back I received an email from the Editor of Field Notes, Joshua Alter, that a position with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia would be available for the summer; I sent my resume to the appropriate recipients thinking that it would be summarily thrown away. Imagine my surprise when, several weeks later after I had all but forgotten about my application, I received an email asking if I would like to interview for the position. I was stunned, but also skeptical that I would secure the position, as interviews are not my forte. After my interview, I spent an anxiety-filled weekend waiting for a response, but on Monday morning, I woke to learn that I had been offered the position.
Suddenly, all the anxiety I had about whether or not I would get the position was replaced with newfound worry: how was I going to make this work? It seems, in my excitement, I had momentarily disregarded the fact that I actually had to get on a plane and fly to the Netherlands, as well as find a place to live for the summer, all within a span of about a month (and during final exams to boot). Thankfully, I was able to redeem some frequent-flyer miles to help pay for my plane ticket (thanks Mom!), and after finally finding a place to stay (which I have come to learn is a gargantuan task), I was 30,000 feet in the air on my way to The Hague.
Perhaps it was the fact that this experience came together so rapidly, or chalk it up to post-finals exhaustion and the refractory period the brain requires to keep itself from exploding, but it was only after I arrived that I began considering how my complete inability to speak (or read) Dutch could be a major obstacle. Outside of Schiphol Airport, I discovered that very few things were written in English. However, thanks to Google Maps and the ability of many Dutch citizens to speak some English, I have been able to navigate The Hague better than I expected, despite the fact that most street names are polysyllabic and on average 36 letters long (e.g., Van Boetzelaerlaan and Johan van Oldenbarneveltlaan, etc…).
But the highlight of, and reason for, my trip has been interning at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Although I only recently completed my first week, it has been an exciting experience. Because the case I am working on is in the trial phase, as a member of the Defense, I am able to witness motions being drafted, filed, and won, to experience how counsel prepares to cross-examine opposing witnesses, and much more. I have also been fortunate enough to work with a tremendous group of individuals from across the globe, including staff and interns from Australia, Kenya, Serbia, and a far away place called South Carolina. The entirety of the staff (perhaps save for the security personnel) are funny, interesting, and a joy to be around. I am so grateful that I get to spend my summer in a beautiful country, surrounded by wonderful people, interning at the ICTY.
In the coming months I hope to contribute to Field Notes, not only as a way to communicate with family and friends, but as a way to provide insight for those considering studying or interning abroad. My advice to those that are considering this path are to keep your eyes peeled and don’t be afraid to apply for internships and study programs abroad; even the smallest decisions can drastically change your trajectory for the better.