New in a Newborn Country


I'm lying here awake, so I decided to work on my blog. Tonight isn't a great night to be up at this hour as Shpend from my organization will pick me up for my first day of work in a few short hours. I don't know if my sleeplessness is due to jet lag, nerves, or the incredible amount of caffeine I've consumed due to the vibrant coffee culture in Pristina.

On the precipice of my first day interning at the Democracy for Development Institute, a think-tank in Pristina, Kosovo, I'm remembering the first time I ever heard of Professor Warren's Comparative Law and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding internship program. I was visiting William & Mary during admitted students weekend a year and a half ago. While sitting in on a student panel, a then-1L told us about how he was being funded to go to the Hague for the summer to work on constitution-making initiatives. That student talked about how students were sent all over the world to work on issues relating to post-conflict countries. I had developed a strong passion for developing countries during my several experiences abroad during high school and college, a passion that drove me towards a legal career in the first place. I couldn't believe that there was a possibility that I could be funded to do work that was so on point with what I wanted to do with my career. I knew I had to try my best to be part of this program. And now, over a year later, I am fortunate enough to be one of 22 law students scattered across the globe who are privy to this opportunity.

I applied to work in Kosovo for several reasons. One motivation sprouted from two influential courses I took while studying abroad in the Czech Republic. One was Crisis Management Operations, which focused on EU, UN, and NATO peacekeeping. I completed my final paper on the NATO bombings in Kosovo in 1999. The second course was the Western Balkans in Transition, which focused on the years following the dissolution of former Yugoslavia - Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia in particular. My professor was a Serbian who had studied primarily in England. The majority of my classmates were Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian. I guess it was a failing of my history education (or perhaps my history teachers never made it to the 90's before the semester ended), but I knew little to nothing of the bloody war that occurred during my lifetime that ripped apart an entire region in Europe. The tensions were real in that class, where each student from the Balkans had a vivid memory of the war. All knew someone who had been killed. One girl had been kidnapped. Every class was a potential landmine. 

After that eye-opening experience, I developed a strong interest in the Balkans. And as Kosovo is the second-youngest nation in the world, declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008, I was eager to work in such a complex, developing country whose historical wounds are so fresh. I knew I couldn't miss the chance to see its development firsthand. 

I've only been in the country for a day and a half. I'm fortunate to be rooming with another William & Mary law student, Erica Beacom, who will be working for the Center for Legal Aid and Regional Development (CLARD) this summer. Our first stop when I landed (besides the market for lunch and water) was the Newborn Monument to meet up with  a William & Mary Law alumnus who was a judge in Poland for 20 years before becoming a judge for the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). He generously offered to help us around the city on our first day. Because of him, we've already met an American prosecutor working for EULEX and a Polish Ph.D candidate in Balkans studies who will be a Fulbright scholar in the U.S. this fall (she's been truly amazing - she's taken us all over the city and is getting us involved with her ultimate frisbee team that is comprised of Kosovars and expats). 

After we haphazardly wound our way through the city, Erica and I were standing in front of the Newborn Monument, which is literally giant letters spelling out "NEWBORN" in the middle of the city. Right now the monument is decorated with camo and bulletholes with full pink hearts spread across it. Pristina is a beautiful city, but the KFOR (the NATO Kosovo Force) helicopters and jeeps remind me that many things are not yet healed. Kosovo is still experiencing the birthpains of transition, but is growing up at the same time (a funny thing to say about a place with such rich and ancient roots).

There is so much to learn. I can't wait to see a small slice of this emerging country's transition during the next ten weeks.