Sunday, May 6, 2012

Academic ups and downs

This month the light course schedule I had in the first half of the semester has come back to haunt me. Remember way back when in February when I was the taught the first half of my "Law of WTO" course? Well I kept waiting to hear when the next prof would pick up where we left off. Turns out the remainder of the class is scheduled to take place every night this week from 4 to 8pm - the exact same hours that I work. If I don't pass this course I cannot graduate so I somehow have to figure out how to write an exam for which I have only attended half of the classes. If only that were my only challenge - due to the classes that were cancelled/started late in the term/public holidays, this week I have seven extra classes to attend. On top of that, I have an exam (my very first at ULB = eek) all day Friday. I am quite worried about it because I find the format very challenging: we will be given a topic at 9am and will have until 5pm to write a response to the question. The following Monday the prof will meet with each student individually to ask them questions about our written submission as well as the course material in general. All this to say I am feeling quite stressed.
On the upside, I have had some memorable moments at l'ULB these past few weeks. A guest lecturer from Cambridge came to speak to us about the complementarity principle of the International Criminal Court. (The complementarity principle means that the ICC can only try cases that states are unable or unwilling to try themselves). This actually leads to a paradox: because the ICC relies so heavily on cooperation at the state level, in reality, it can only try cases that the states are willing and able to try. Madam Justice (and Vice President) of the European Court of Human Rights, Fran├žoise Tulkens, also dropped by to discuss the influence of extrajudicial elements on the court's decisions. I had a question to ask but of course I had the typical fear that it was a stupid one. In my bumbly French I tried to pose the question as logically as possible and much to my surprise a great hush befell the classroom. The judge didn't know what to say!
The greatest highlight by far, however, was our visit to the Hague. We caught a 6am train there in time to arrive bright and early at the International Criminal Court. It was so cool! After hearing from an intern, we were ushered into the viewing gallery to see first-hand where the trials take place. Absolutely no electronics are allowed in the gallery because there is a 1/2 hour gap between real-time action and when the proceedings are posted online. This is to allow for any names to be eliminated from the record or any other confidential information. We spoke to a lawyer who works in Chambers for a judge and he was recounting that everyone assumes international criminal trials are nail-biting and dramatic when actually, that couldn't be more far from the truth. Due to the fact that every word has to be simultaneously interpreted, there are rules about how fast one can speak. If you ask or answer a question, you have to wait 5 whole seconds for the interpreter to catch up. Once, the accused spoke a language that no interpreter on Earth knew how to speak so one had to be trained from scratch! Such basic factors as language greatly contribute to the glacial pace at which these trials proceed. After a picnic lunch in a park nearby we headed for the International Court of Justice where we heard the pleadings of Colombia regarding a land dispute it is trying to settle with Nicaragua. For some reason it surprised me that the lawyers representing both countries were not nationals of Nicaragua or of Colombia - they were British, Belgian and French. I should have realized that of course, it's like any court case- the parties want to be represented by the top dogs wherever they happen to be from. Another surprise was that the lawyers inserted jokes into their oral arguments. One even quoted Winnie the Pooh at one stage! Some judges cracked a smile while others remained completely stone-faced. It was awesome that we got to meet privately with the lawyers from both sides (separately of course) so they could tell us about what it was really like to argue on behalf of a state. It sounded like a lot of sleepless nights spent in hotel conference rooms, a ton of research, then fingers crossed for the outcome. At the end of our intellectually stimulating day we all shared some tapas at a Chinese restaurant and headed back for Brussels on the train. I was beyond exhausted when we finally arrived at 12:30am but it was definitely worth it.
(outside the ICC)
(outside the ICJ)
Even though it's now May, Spring has yet to arrive. To remind myself that it's on its way I went to see the Royal Palace greenhouses which open for only 3 weeks a year. Other than getting very irritated at the slow walkers in front of me, it was quite a pleasant experience. It was interesting seeing the king's digs (if only from the outside) and venturing into another part of Brussels altogether.
(weirdest flower I saw) The 20K is now less than a month away and I'm still going on my haphazard training runs. I haven't been for a long run in a few weeks since my last one was a bit traumatizing. I got completely lost in the forest and after having run for 1.5 hours I finally spotted a family to ask for directions. When I inquired as to my location, they just kept repeating how far I was from home. Not helpful or comforting! They told me to go back the way I came. I couldn't mentally wrap my head around heading back in the same direction knowing I had 1.5 hours of running ahead of me (thirst and hunger were beginning to kick in - I had only planned on being gone for 1.5 hours total after all). So I hitchhiked on the side of a country road back to civilization. The man who picked me up also happened to be running the 20K. He was rather amused at my predicament. I was not - especially when it still took me an hour to run home from the point where he dropped me off. The only upside I could see to this whole fiasco is that at least I now know I can run over 20k! Even though it's been raining a ton, we still get the occasional burst of sunshine which has rainbows popping up all over the place. My friend took this last week from his office window:

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