Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Meet Ducky: The Epidemiological Sponge

When travelling it's important to know your limitations.  Some people always experience extreme cultural shock.  Others run up large cell phone bills because of habitual texting while roaming.  I, however, would much rather love to have one of those problems.  But life dealt me quite the different hand.  On take off to any foreign location I begin to soak up airborne diseases as if I didn't have a little thing called an immune system.  I forgot how to slow down and make sure I was ready for the coming cold/flu I should have known was coming.

Instead I spent the first few days in the Hague exploring the city and purchasing my absolute necessities, power plug adapters and a throw away cell phone.  Looking for the Dutch version of a Best Buy I hop a tram to go to down town.  The tram system in the Hague is very efficient and clean.  The trams and buses pretty much will get you to where ever you want to go for about .9 euros.  As I wait for the tram I'm glade to know that I only have 3 minutes to wait because of the digital screen which updates as the tram travels the line.  I also notice all the locals riding their bikes.  They have dedicated bike lanes between the sidewalk and the street side parking.  Everyone rides their bikes here, young and old.  Even parents have special 3 wheeler bikes that they haul the kids around in.
I jump off the tram in downtown.  Downtown is crowded, plenty of locals, tourists, and of course working ex-pats.  Something my landlord mentioned was that the Hague is a major ex-pat city just as many foreigners come to the Hague to work here as there are locals.  That maybe an exaggeration but downtown definitely felt very cosmopolitan.

I stumble my way through downtown not necessarily in any hurry to find my precious electronic connections but more enthralled by this European city.  I think this is about the time it hits me that I'm really living abroad now.  They have really cool architecture here, if I was more intelligent and well read about the subject I'm sure I could go on about how cool this place is for now, and coming from a person who has never been to Europe, I find it all very European.

I toss a few coins to a very decent violin street performer and sit in the large cobblestone square next to a large man made lake.  The restaurants in the square have fires flickering in glass encased freestanding fireplaces. As I'm soaking in both the atmosphere, culture, and as it happens airborne diseases (completely unawares), I finally decide I have to get a move on and find a place to buy my necessities.

Guess what? I also found Chinatown!!!

Its the day before my first day at work and I nervously fall asleep (now sleeping on the floor as my landlord hadn't replaced the bed yet).  I wake up with a full on cold/flu to a screaming alarm clock.  I was having a rough morning and make it late to orientation.  But at least between coughs I'm able to meet some really interesting people from all around the world.  My soon to be coworkers are a smart looking bunch and I'm having a great time getting to know everyone.  I even found someone from Sacramento California!  During orientation somehow I let it slip my childhood nickname and now I'm known as Ducky.  Something I learned in life about embarrassing or silly things about myself, its best to be true to yourself and just own it if it seems like it may catch on.

So what can I say but Quack Quack!

We're given a full tour of the UN ICTY.  And struggling with a growing flu I climb up and down the stairs with a lightly veiled smile and steady pace (don't want to look overwhelmed or sickly after all).  There is a lot of security and metal detectors to get through at different points in the ICTY so my ID pass is vital to scan into different corridors of the building.  After a long day of meeting people, getting settled in, reading as much material as I can (all while holding back that cough that feels like someone is tickling the back of your throat and daring you to cough for relief) I talk to my supervisor and explain my illness.  She is very understanding and I'm greatly relieved.  As I'm walking home I notice my feet hurt a lot.  At home I find a notch taken out of the heel of my foot from my rough unbroken in dress shoes.  I throw everything off me and just fall into bed.  Called in two days sick, realized I had a lot to make up for but knew I was making the right decision to recover.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

First Day: Having it Rough and Dutch

On arrival in Amsterdam, I have to catch a train from the airport to The Hague.  After some time figuring out the exchange rates I exchange enough USD's into Euro's to pay for the first month's rent and deposit to my landlord (no small amount let me assure you!).  You might be wondering why I don't just withdraw some cash from the ATM, especially because of the large amount I will be drawing out, but thanks to the fact that student loan refunds don't come in to my bank account till the start of the Spring semester I have to carry what little cash I have with me and make it work.

So with Euro's in hand, and after being done dirty on exchange rates and transaction fees, I purchase a 2nd class ticket and drag my enormously large suit case to the platform. Of course the train is completely packed and I drag my 50 lb body bag sized suit case awkwardly through the crowded train cars, while making my apologies as my tired self and suit case bump into and over people. After 10 minutes of not finding 2 seats (one for my burden and one for the beast carrying it) I sneak, about as stealthily as an oxen and cart into a library, into first class and duck into the first open seats in the back of the car.  After a long 16 hour day of travelling I collapse into my purloined soft seat and fall into a short, but less then guiltless, sleep.

I wake up as everyone is piling out at the last stop which is thankfully mine, The Hague central station.  My landlord was kind enough to pick me up, so as I wait for him I finally have a chance to just sit down and let it sink in that I'm in the Netherlands.  The first thing I notice is how clean everything is, if you're from the US like me and have ever been to a train station you are rarely surprised by how run down and dirty they can be.  Next I notice a snack vendor which specializes in serving their patrons with hot fresh fries in a paper cone covered completely in mayonnaise, which considering how I have had little to eat in the last 24 hours started to sound appealing (glade I didn't partake though, my stomach may have rebelled against my dark side appetite).

My land lord arrives and I some how fit my large suit case into his small car and myself into the even smaller seat.  As we make our way to my new home, my land lord is cheerfully chatty about the history of the Hague.  According to him, the Hague was set up by the Dutch government to be the Netherlands' international city, before which was barely a city in its own right.  Many of the foreign embassies are located in the city, as well as many if the international organizations such as major UN bodies (including of course the UN tribunal I will be working for).  Because of this almost everyone speaks English as well as a few other languages.  Most people get around in the Hague by bike or by foot.  The weather is cold but not stormy during the winter, so at least I don't have to worry about too many snow storms.  We arrive at my little corner of the Hague down a side street a short distance from a large catholic church (which I have come to realize has really loud bells in the morning and evening).

My room is located on the fourth floor (top floor in most of the Hague as it isn't a very tall city) and is very clean.  I will be sharing the apartment with three girls who also work at the UN tribunal.  I met two of the three roommates both of them are very sweet.  One of my roommates, lets call her Navi, is from Australia and her deep accent very clearly marks her as an Aussie.  My other roomie is of a former soviet union descendant and has another iconic accent, to me it sounds Russian, lets call her Nit.  Both my roomies do their best to make me feel at ease and I settle in quite quickly.  I end the evening hanging out with Navi getting to know each other before I take a shower and hit bed.  My room looks like page 34 of the IKEA showroom book, it's nice, a little cheap looking, but clean and comfortable.  The long day finally ends with me in bed falling asleep recounting my travels and thinking about all the things I need to do tomorrow.  As if to top off my day or clear my mind of whatever was troubling me, the support peg in the middle of my bed snaps and I fall through into something like an August taco. I lay there and just decide to laugh for about five minutes then wrap my blanket over the August taco and fall carelessly to sleep.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Commencing of the Travels

Wow I have a lot to catch everyone up on.  I realize this now sitting in my room in The Hague with everything more or less taken care of and I finally have time to sit down and write.  First a little about the last 40 days to give some context:

40 days ago-
  I woke up after a sleepless night shortly after Thanksgiving to find a long awaited email that I had given up on, receiving  news about my application to the UN internship.  I was so happy to be accepted but I realized I had very little time to actually get ready.  Spending spring semester in Europe means that I can't afford to keep a place in State College, so I had to find someone to replace me.  On top of that finals this semester was going to be rough, I had to make sure I had all the vaccinations, submit paper work to the UN, check for visa requirements, purchase a hitch and rent a trailer to move back to California, find a place to stay in the Netherlands, and make sure other loose ends are ready.  It was going to be a hectic last month of 2012.

17 days ago-

  Somehow I made it through most of finals and made all the arrangements I could reasonably make.  I was packing up all my stuff with help from my State College friends.  My last final was going to have to be submitted while I was on the road.  So I packed everything up and started my cross country road trip back to California with my life in a 4x9 trailer and had a few good friends with me to enjoy the ride.  We really had an amazing trip.

3 days ago-

  I spent a few days with my family and a few with my friends in California.  It was amazing to have a rare heart to heart moment with my dad and even nice to see that he worries a little about my trip.  Before I know it I'm jumping on a plane from San Francisco to London.  While I wait in the massively growing ticket counter line I watch a British couple struggling to keep track of their three little children and having little more success then trying to herd cats.  I was already in the front of the line with three hours till my flight and I felt sympathetic to both them and their kids so I gave up my place in line for them.  I have never been called chivalrous before but it was a nice compliment to receive, plus it's never too early to build up an early store of good karma on a long trip.  The flight was rough, the seats were cramped and it was a long bumpy ride.  I arrived in London with a long lay over with only Euros and US Dollars in my pocket I was really thirsty and hungry but luckily I found out that Pret A Manger accepts USD so I was able to buy a few things to hold me over!  On the flight from London to Amsterdam I sat next to a cute elderly British couple on holiday to Amsterdam.  When I tried, and failed, to order an ice tea they called me out as a yank. Lol, I have never been called a yank before but I found it entertaining and it finally started to sink in the idea that I was going to spend some significant time over seas.

Out with the Intro

I decided to start this mini blog to share my recent experiences with wrapping up law school, travelling, and coming to terms with finishing that education stage in life and becoming, for all intents and purposes other then age, an adult professional.  I wanted to do more then just the casual status update on Facebook and for those friends and family who want to know what I've been up to I wish I could afford the long distance charges to keep everyone up to date but this will have to do for now (at least until I see you in person).

Just to catch everyone up to where I am in life right now here's the short version.  If you already know what's been going on recently with me then go ahead and skip to the next entry, this is going to be a bit dry.  I grew up on a small farm in the central valley of California with good friends and an amazing family.  My family has always been a great mix of 4th generation German (mostly), and 1st generation Chinese.  We weren't rich, in fact there were some seasons where we were worried we would have to more then tighten our belts.  But our family has always been there to back us up and make sure we always made it though the toughest droughts and winter freezes (both which wreak havoc on crops).  I worked hard through school and did well in high school, and was lucky enough to get into a good college.

In Berkeley, I did my share of social activism volunteering my time to raise awareness of mixed race families and then got into international micro-finance. After graduating from Berkeley majoring in Political Economics, with a minor in Asian Studies, I took the LSAT and applied to law school.  I chose to go to Penn State, Dickinson School of Law mostly because of the faculty and learning environment.  I didn't just want to be your average general practice lawyer I wanted to work on international legal issues so I decided to pursue a Masters in International Affairs alongside my juris doctorate.  For the last 4 years I have focused on international human rights, security, energy, contracts, trade, and other international aspects of the law.  Besides working back home during the summers in a legal capacity I was also was able to go overseas and work in Hong Kong, researching and tackling all kinds of issues, from trans-sexual marriage rights and dual citizenship/residency tax law, to international corporate law and nonprofit reporting.  Fast forward to today I've been given the opportunity to finish my last semester in law school in the Netherlands as a legal intern for a UN body.  I'm really looking forward to this opportunity, the journey, and all the experiences to come and this is where I'll be sharing them.