William and Mary Law School

Brussels and My Internship

This post is intended to make up for the month that I have been here so far with very few posts to this blog. I thought my last entry was pretty comprehensive, and I was fairly happy with it, so when it turned out that I had written it wrong and it got eaten by cyberspace, I was a little disheartened. Nevertheless, I am persisting, and will try to be more regular in the future.

I realized there are some topics I should have covered in my first post and didn't. For starters, I found my apartment just one week before moving to Brussels. It's more of a room, really; apartment is a bit of an overstatement. It is fairly spacious and has a sink and mirror area as well as a loft though. There are shared bathrooms, showers, and cooking facilities with the rest of the house. I located it on the website expatriates.com. My landlord was very accomodating and was happy to wait until I arrived for me to look at the room, sign the lease, and pay my deposit and first months' rent. (I guess he only had to wait a few days from the time I contacted him, but given that I was pretty nervous about finding a place from abroad or paying money for something that wouldn't be so great, it has turned out very well.) He was even willing to lower the deposit requirement, which is nearly universally two months' rent in Brussels, down to one months' rent since I was only going to be here 9 weeks.

I have really enjoyed my internship so far. Truth be told, I had a bit of a wanderlust in coming to Brussels; after working on the Hill and being unsure of coming to law school to begin with, I wasn't sure that I felt ready to "commit" to working at a firm or in a strictly legal environment my 1L summer. I figured that I would inevitably do so my second summer and (most likely) after graduation, so in a way, I saw this summer as a chance to try something different before getting sucked into the legal vortex.

Yet rather than simply forestalling the inevitable, working at an NGO has also helped widen my eyes to a broader field of possibilities than I'd considered before. Coming to law school, there was a pretty strong line of demarcation in my mind between traditional legal work and formulating policy. The main bridge I saw between the two at that time was legislation, which was of course a big reason for my deciding on law school. However, as my first year progressed, I slowly began to see that there were a number of ways to influence policy as a lawyer. On a different front, I also felt like I faced a chasm between legal practice and my interest in U.S. foreign policy. As nebulous as "public international law" sounded, it seemed like the best way to describe the fact that I didn't want to practice law at all--I was more interested in treaties, international organizations, etc. That wall has also slowly started to come down, particularly from being here in Brussels. Going forward, whether I end up settling more on human rights law, international relations, or even just my original plan of going back to the Hill to craft legislation, I know there is a wide field of possibilities.

Hopefully my work so far has reflected those possibilities and strengthened my abilities to pursue them. It has ranged from researching the legal framework protecting human rights in Kazakhstan to writing articles on religious freedom in China and democratic transition in Zimbabwe. One thing I would never have anticipated is that I have edited two books (it turns out that having a decent grasp of English in a place like Brussels is a valued commodity!) and am halfway through deciphering the steps and actually publishing one of them. (This is in preparation for another book that is to be published at the end of the summer, the progress of which I will be able to see pretty far from its current embryonic stage.)

It has been fascinating to grow to understand the European institutions and their functions better since being here; being on the other side of the "decisionmakers" (i.e. working to influence rather than being in the office influenced) has also given me a better perspective and a genuine appreciation for a much wider and more dynamic world of actors than I had ever taken notice of. (Of course, maybe that's because I have much more time to attend receptions and get out of the office than I ever did working on the Hill!) In some ways, it's very fulfilling to be able to focus exclusively on certain issues without needing to balance other policy considerations or weigh countervailing interests. Of course, focusing on one issue for a time or through one venue certainly doesn't preclude pursuing other issues or interests simultaneously either. The non-profit world is a rich and diverse one altogether, and could easily make for a very satisfying career.