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The Hague-Late October-November 2006


October 19, 2006

I went over to my friend’s place for a nice dinner party with a bunch of other internationals working in The Hague.  It was a really great time to relax, eat delicious food, and get a chance to hear many more viewpoints. 

Eventually, I was talking to a few people about how they might improve their specific experiences to get the most out of it.  It was fascinating to notice the parallels in their experiences and come up with some ideas on how to better structure the program.  I became aware that communication within some of their organizations needed to be improved. There could be easy ways to improve the situation, even by including a more improved handbook for incoming staff or a more formal mode of feedback.

I also started to wonder about myself: what does it say about me that I’m willing to go out and ask these questions, encourage people around me to really discuss their experiences, at a dinner party?  At some point I took out a notepad to jot down some ideas; I was, of course, called out for being somewhat antisocial. After all, who takes notes at a dinner party?  And yet, I was really excited by this and was immediately foreseeing a whole investigation that all the Fellows could pursue throughout the year. 

I’m excited both about eliciting these responses and, hopefully, using them to form the basis of change. I think this could be a really valuable situation for a lot of us involved.

October 24, 2006

Got a chance to visit Amsterdam for an overnight today.  My former professor, who lives in Amsterdam but is teaching in South Africa, offered his apartment to me.  It was great: I got a chance to eat some delicious Indian and Indonesian food, went to the Van Gogh museum, and all around relax.  We had the day off from work for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, so having a Monday night in Amsterdam was a great break.

It felt much more like a “real” city, with dirt, trash, and people on the street, as opposed to other cities (The Hague, Haarlem, Maastricht) which are almost too clean and quiet.  It’s not to say I prefer one over the other; it felt oddly strange to see trash in the street. In any case, it was wonderful to get out of The Hague for a few days.

October 29, 2006

I had some nice correspondence with Dan Green, last year’s Fellow, over the last few days.  He’s been doing some great strategic planning work for an organization that teaches conflict resolution skills to 5th graders (Peace x Peace, at the University of Toronto).  He also expects to head down to Buenos Aires to work with a firm there as well as continuing to write policy papers for bigwigs in the government.  It’s all pretty inspiring, if you ask me – there’s hope for a good life post-Fellowship!

What I’ve loved about getting to know Dan is that he’s able to take a brotherly stance about the Fellowship: understanding what I’m going through, being there to push me further, and lending an ear when I need it.  Importantly, though, it’s not big brotherly; in other words, he isn’t looking to spoil an experience or play it off because he had felt or done the same thing.  There’s no, “When I was in that situation…” or, “Don’t worry, you’ll soon find that…”  Rather, he’s being wonderfully supportive of my uncertainty, introspection, and ideas for pushing further. I look forward to seeing him again for a beer when I’m all done.

Anyway, Dan asked me about how The Hague is, and I found myself (surprisingly?) somewhat unfulfilled with how I’ve settled into this current experience:
“So, The Hague.  I’m realizing that I’m getting comfortable with my life here: I have friends at the ICC and from elsewhere; I have my job and a rotation for my suits and my ties; I have a routine for lunch and dinner and drinks with co-workers; I have regularly scheduled practices with sports teams and I practice my Arabic a few times a week.  In all, it feels a lot like I’m living a normal life in any western city.  But I really think this isn’t enough: I don’t want to re-create my normal life in a new city, you know? Granted, it’s with people I’d never met two months ago in a city/country/continent where I’ve never lived, but that’s still too easy to fall back on that.  And I’m afraid I’m running out of ideas about how to break out of this routine and actually do other, interesting, different things…” 

So that’s the big question, then. How do I push myself further? Is it pursuing more activities, filling my days more than I do now, or is it through introspection?  Or maybe I should finally try meditating every morning, something I’ve long considered, or purposefully not attending certain social activities in order to push myself that way.  Of course, it takes significant energy to break out of any rut and I don’t know how much energy I have to give.

Maybe, then, that’s the point of it: I actually don’t know how much I can give. There have been times where I’ve pushed myself – during school, sports, and other situations – and I’d been surprised with the generally positive results.  So I guess that’s the answer: I should poke around and see how much energy is there.  To borrow from Rabbi Hillel (see July 12 in Boston): if I don’t test it now, when?

October 31, 2006

I haven’t written about something that’s been a big part of my daily routine over the last month or so.  I have applied for two graduate school scholarships, the Rhodes and the Marshall.  Both would allow for a full two years’ study in the UK, the Rhodes at Oxford specifically, and the Marshall at any university in the country.  Over the summer, I discussed these options with Insight’s President David Seibel and CEO Patrick McWhinney, exploring whether or not these programs, and graduate school in general, would be the right decision for me at this time.

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to move along with my applications, at least until yesterday when I was alerted of an issue with the Rhodes application.  It turns out that there is a range of ages they require, and the oldest one can be is 24 by October 1, 2006.  Alas, I turned 24 ten days earlier, and so there was a discrepancy.

Trying not to see this comment as final, I prepared for a “difficult conversation” by using an effective communication framework.  Basically, I try to discover the various interests of each party – the people at the Rhodes and me – and then tried to think of options that might satisfy these interests.  For example, I had an interest in flexibility and further pursuing this scholarship, but I also have interests in keeping a positive relationship with those with whom I spoke as well as, at some level, using this mode of thought.  Some of their interests include not going beyond their individual mandates and ensuring the continuing excellence of the program.

Unfortunately, after speaking with the regional and national secretaries, there was nothing I could do.  It soon became clear that their guiding interest was abiding by the rules set forward by the Rhodes Trustees, including specific dates and deadlines.  Regardless of what I or they thought, they simply could not be flexible on that point.  While our relationship remained positive throughout – even strong by the end – I was to be disqualified nonetheless.

Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed.  It’s not fun to be rejected, disqualified, or turned down for anything, let alone for reasons that are way beyond my control.  It would have been nice – though perhaps, not better – had I been turned down due to my application, not due to my birth date.  And it’s never good to see a door closed, whether or not it was my best option.

What makes it worse is that, after spending 6 months learning and practicing how to explore interests, create options, and overall be creative when there appear to be conflicting positions, I was halted by what amounts to an extremely arbitrary position.  After all, having a cut-off date is fine, but why October 1? Why not September 1, or even November 1?  It is very difficult to face that, especially when it could have been such a meaningful experience.

The bright side, however, is that I still have other options, scholarships or not.  I got word I’ve been invited to interview for the Marshall Scholarship in San Francisco next week.  It’s been difficult to be fully excited for this opportunity given the earlier news about the Rhodes.  At the same time, given that other situation, this allows me to still have hope for a very exciting possibility for my future at school.

And, to get back for the interview, I’ll be going home to San Francisco!  I had discussed the possibility of being home in the U.S. with David and Patrick before, and they concurred that, though it may not be ideal for the Fellowship, it would certainly be acceptable.  It is too bad that I have to break up my experience, of course, but I think we all agree that this could be a wonderful opportunity.  And I’m certainly looking for ways to be purposeful about the trip, not seeing all my friends and trying to prepare for the interview in a meaningful way.

Anyway, I’m very fortunate to have gotten to this point and I am very excited about the interview.  A little nervous, of course, but mainly excited.  Plus, my parents already promised me they’d “fatten me up” when I’m back in California!  Gotta love ‘em.

November 3, 2006

So, I’ve got some other travel news.  Turns out, I’ll be going to San Francisco a few days later than planned. Before that, I’ll be going to Geneva, to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. 

I’ll be going there with the Prosecutor, Insight President David Seibel, and some top international mediators to discuss the new judicial frame created by the ICC. It’s thrilling to think about being part of this group, even in a small role: when I asked the Prosecutor about what I should do, he said, “Take notes and don’t say anything.” Ha! This I think I can do,

November 7, 2006

So, the meetings in Geneva were fascinating, both in terms of the substance and communication.

First the substance: the general topic was the new role of justice in international conflicts and how mediators could better understand this situation.  For many years, there was no need to negotiate for justice in ending conflict – just getting the bullets to stop flying was enough.  The first modern post-conflict court came as the Nuremburg trials, which sought to bring to justice those individuals and groups most responsible for crimes during World War II.  This system had its flaws, especially that it was regarded as “victor’s justice” by the Allies.

Eventually, the ad hoc tribunals came along in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia, as well as other types of justice systems such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  With the start of the International Criminal Court in 2002, the state signatories (now numbering 102) and the United Nations, have basically declared that impunity for the most serious crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide – is no longer an option.

One can see how mediators might have some trepidation about the new system: suddenly, they cannot allow full amnesties to be granted to the top leaders, even though these leaders are generally the lead negotiators.  It’s a very difficult situation for them, made worse because they don’t necessarily understand all the legal ins and outs of the International Criminal Court, how it can start investigations, issue warrants, and – potentially – be halted.

The discussions were mainly informational on this topic, but it was intriguing to watch the modes of communication: how were thoughts structured (if at all); when people spoke past each other, on totally different topics, how did others respond; what was the balance of substance (on the topic) and relationship (jokes, interpersonal comments, etc.) that was struck; and so on.

So in all, an amazing situation for me to find myself in, and a very informative one at that.  Here’s a shot at CHD of the Prosecutor (center), Insight’s President David Seibel (right), and me (left):

November 8, 2006

On a flight now from Amsterdam to Philly, in the 6th of 9 hours.  And then I have a 6 hour flight to San Francisco after that.  Traveling often internationally could get old really quick, I see now.

I’m preparing for my scholarship interview and trying to figure out how I’m dealing with this emotionally.  Obviously, I’m anxious to be in San Francisco and get going on this.  And, equally clear, I’m nervous because I don’t really know what to expect. I am preparing for this but somehow also feel like I’m not doing enough. And that’s frustrating: I did put in a good amount of work over the last ten weeks and I’m still not satisfied.  Is that simply because I’m a perfectionist or “maximizer”?  Can this dissatisfaction be mitigated through more preparation?

My hope is that, by naming these feelings – anxiety, nerves, and frustration with myself – I can acknowledge that they’re there and work through them.  But I’m also fearful that it won’t do anything and I’ll still be sweaty palms and the rest.

Finally, I need to think about how I will feel if – when – I am not awarded the scholarship. When it comes down to it, it’s an incredibly tough competition for a small number of spaces: generally, only four are awarded for the north-western United States.  We’ll see how it goes.