Hallo uit Den Haag!

I have been in The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch) just over a week, and it’s so great being back in Europe! Although the flight from Boston to London to Amsterdam was exhausting, getting from Schipol Airport to Den Haag only took 30 minutes on the train, and I even got to see some horses and cows grazing in fields along the railroad on the relaxing journey south. The linguistic shock of everything being in Dutch – a language I don’t know at all – was quite daunting at first, but over the past week I’ve picked up a few words (mostly to do with food), and everyone I’ve spoken to so far has understood English. As it turns out, the Netherlands has the highest rate of English language proficiency of any non-Anglophone country in the world, so I don’t feel that awkward talking to people in my native language. I have yet to explore much of Den Haag, but I have enjoyed all the places I’ve visited so far – especially the restaurants. There is a frituur (a type of fast-food restaurant/snack bar common in Northern France and the Low Countries) near my work which I have already visited twice. I developed quite a taste for frituur snacks when I studied abroad in Belgium as an undergrad, so one of my priorities was finding a regular place to patronize, just as I had in Brussels. I’m living in Centrum, which is the neighborhood at the heart of Den Haag, so there are tons of restaurants, bars, cafés, and stores within walking distance. Most importantly, my work is also only a short three-minute walk from my apartment.

French fries with pindasaus (peanut sauce), served in a traditional cone

Working at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has been super interesting so far! Here in Den Haag, IDEA’s Constitution-Building Program conducts research to compile information about different countries’ constitutional projects and provide guidance for lawmakers engaged in constitutional reform. This week, for instance, my boss was on mission in Chile, where the constitutional convention is completing its work drafting a new constitution (the current constitution, which many Chileans feel to be outdated, was established in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet). Meanwhile, I have been working on several projects in Den Haag.

I began the week researching “Citizens’ Assembly” initiatives in Spain and Luxembourg – assemblies of 100 citizens representing the diversity of a nation’s society whose task is to, with the assistance of subject matter experts, deliberate possible solutions to national issues and produce recommendations for the government. In recent years, such assemblies have become popular vehicles to develop climate policy. However, they have not had universal success, so IDEA wants to know what separates successful Climate Assemblies from unsuccessful ones, as well as whether governments are taking citizens’ recommendations seriously. The Knowledge Network on Climate Assemblies (KNOCA), a network of European experts and policymakers focused on promoting successful Climate Assemblies, is hosting a virtual conference at the end of June, which I will attend. Look for a post on that topic in a few weeks!

For my other big project, I have been working with my fellow intern Madeleine, an American law student from Harvard Law School. Madeline and I have researched constitutional issues surrounding the political rights of a country’s diaspora, such as whether members of a diaspora can run for office if they return home, whether they can vote in their home country’s elections, and whether they elect their own legislative representatives to advocate for their interests. This research has covered many different countries, from Albania to Ireland and from Liberia to Suriname. One of my favorite aspects of this research, aside from learning about how different countries’ governments are structured, is that I have put my French language skills to use reading complex electoral codes from Francophone countries without available English translations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have begun meeting interns at other organizations and institutions in Den Haag. Last Thursday, I met up with a large group of international interns for drinks as part of a weekly event (just like Bar Review back at W&M). While enjoying Dutch and Belgian beer, I got to know law students from around the world and hear about the different kinds of work they are doing, from national embassies to the International Criminal Court.