As I sit in the Dublin Airport reflecting on the past two weeks, I’m not quite sure where to begin. This month has provided me with such amazing opportunities to network and chances to develop myself. Through my internship at NATO, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Oberammergau in Germany to attend and serve as support staff for the NATO School Legal Advisers Course, I’ve met and interviewed the ICRC Senior Delegate to NATO and the EU forces, I was invited to speak on behalf of NATO at the “Contemporary Challenges in IHL” conference hosted by the Irish Red Cross in Dublin, Ireland, and next week I’m meeting and interviewing DSACEUR, the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Europe (basically the VP of the military branch of NATO). Seeing as how life generally follows a linear framework, I will apply the same rules of time and physics and go through my experiences in chronological order.
My week in Oberammergau was truly straight out of a fairytale (caveat: for international lawyers). The location itself was absolutely picturesque. Our hotel was nestled tightly in the valley of the German Alps and provided eerily beautiful vistas of the settling fog that hugged the mountains and hid their enormity from plain view. On one afternoon away from the conference, we spent our day wandering through this Bavarian gem, awed by the unblemished character and charm of this city that is seemingly untouched by time. Every night we filled our bellies with schnitzel and spaetzel and every day we filled our brains with NATO knowledge and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The lectures varied covering broad international law topics such as the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), Cyber Attacks, Rules of Engagement (ROE), and Gender Issues to narrowly tailored presentations on the internal structure, procedures, and policies of NATO. Oberammergau truly gave me a glimpse of what my life in practicing international law could look like. It also gave me a more literal preview of the winter that awaits. On our last day in Oberammergau, we awoke to find the Alps covered in snow and transformed into a village you’d expect to find in a Christmas snow globe.
Upon my return to Mons, I was greeted lovingly by my mother, sister, and friend who came from the States to capture a glimpse of the life I’ve been living. However, with my crazed schedule, I had to balance spending time with my family and preparing for an interview at the ICRC and a presentation in Dublin. Although it was quite the juggle, I was able to join them on day trips to Bruges, Antwerp, and was able to meet them in Brussels after my interview with the ICRC.
After my all too brief family reunion, I boarded my flight and found myself in the very heart of Dublin, a city I hold very dear in a country that I love. The conference was held at the Royal Irish Academy; just a stones throw from Grafton Street, Trinity College, and St. Stephen’s Green. Being invited to present at this conference was simultaneously one of the greatest honors I’ve received and also one of the most fear inducing challenges I’ve faced as of yet. For those who know me, you know I speak too quickly, I stutter too often, I stammer when nervous, and I have one hell of a New York accent… all the ingredients of a public speaking disaster. Despite my anxiety and nerves, I knew this was something I could not turn down. My boss, Mr. Lewis Bumgardner, showed an enormous level of confidence in my ability by providing me with this opportunity and I knew, as both a representative for NATO and my own budding career, I couldn’t afford to stammer my way through the delivery. Forgetting my previous botched presentation on sequestration (where I stuttered on the word every time I said it) and my laughable attempt to eloquently deliver poetry in college (where I forgot every word in fear), I did what I could do and prepared as much as possible. Luckily, my hard work paid off. I felt comfortable in the material I was presenting and the fellow speakers gave me a small support group to help me hurdle my insecurities and speak in a conversational tone to a room of 75+ people consisting of academics, military professionals, students, journalists and operational lawyers. After the event we poured into a local pub for a celebratory Guinness. There, a fellow speaker and friend of Lewis came over and congratulated me on a job well done. He truly spoke to the nerd in me by stating, “I knew Lewis wouldn’t send a Padawan… he’d only send a Jedi.”
Overall, I made it out unscathed, with the exception of being called a war criminal by an “independent information gatherer” in the audience… but hey, there’s one in every crowd, right?
Until next time,