Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Moot Mayhem, Family Visits & Marvelous Weather

Hi everyone,

This morning marks the end of the latest much-loved visits from my family, my second official day of work at the university as a student assistant and the true beginning of thesis time (perhaps best referred to as crunch time).

Last week was nothing but moot, moot and more moot as the Utrecht University team took part in the much-anticipated ICC Moot Court Competition 2014. After a few last-minute mooting sessions with guest judges, we packed our bags (filled to the brim with our smartest business clothes) and headed to The Hague for the start of the competition. After receiving the legal problem in November, submitting our written arguments in February, and practicing our moots until May, it all came down to the week of the competition.

The sun beamed all week as teams from 50 universities descended upon the Leiden University campus located in the center of the Hague to take part, network, and of course show off their extensive knowledge of international criminal law.

The competition is set up so that all 50 teams participate in the initial main rounds of the competition. Several mock court rooms are lined with three desks for each counsel – Prosecution, Defense, and Government – and a panel of three (inevitably intimidating) judges listen to pleadings and pose questions to test your ability to be flexible with the material and back up your point of view.

I acted as counsel for the Government of Southeros (the fictional country to which I’ve spent so long reciting a speech about that it’s hard to believe it’s not real) along with my researcher. The pleading of 20 minutes (including questions) is followed by a 10-minute rebuttal, with a short sticky-note infused scramble to prepare in between. Luckily, my researcher not only knew every piece of information, but had a colour-coded system to make sure I did too.

After three excellent oral rounds, well worth all of the work we had put in, we waited in anticipation for the results. Unfortunately, only the top 9 teams can advance to semi-finals (based on both written and oral rounds), and we didn’t get the chance to move forward. The exhaustion of late study nights combined with the competitive spirit of the competition made for a mixed reaction to the news – one part relief for not having to prepare all night for the next round and one part disappointment for not being able to show more of what we can do. It’s amazing how invested you can become in a fake legal problem.

Last minute preparation before the judges arrival in Court Room 2 - ICC Moot Court 2014
I was very lucky, on my day of speaking, to have our wonderful coach, my former teacher/thesis supervisor, my teammates and my parents backing me up. The feeling of delivering a practiced speech and dealing with off-putting questions as planned is one that can’t be beat. As an added bonus, I not only got to show my parents the beautiful cities in the Netherlands, but also got to celebrate at a the competition's beach-side barbecue event, enjoying the sunshine and meeting teams from all over the world. Once the initial competitive stiffness fades, the competition presents the opportunity to meet new people, make new contacts and dance the night away.

Utrecht University ICC Moot Court Team 2014
With the competition finished, I was able to spend the remaining days with my family, biking around Utrecht and showing off some of my favourite spots including the local jazz bar Oude Pothuys, a canal-side venue with free live music every night of the week. The city is in full swing for summer and pop-up music stands and festivals take place all over the centre of town so there is no shortage of things to do. On my student budget, as long as the sun is shining, I can be found in the park reading away the day with a book.

Fun festivities aside, the next few weeks are set to be a blur of work days and thesis deadlines. The final deadline is just shy of four weeks away, and those of us who did the Moot Court are feeling the pressure to make up for some lost time. Between now and the final draft, we get the opportunity to submit one chapter for review and in the meantime we must stitch together the issues promised in our thesis outlines.  As a final act of procrastination, I headed to my local Hema (a one-stop shop for everything you could need) yesterday afternoon to pick up a healthy supply of highlighters, pens and notebooks. Now, it really is time to buckle down and get to work.

It’s hard to believe it is only a few weeks away from the finish line and there is only one task left to complete. The official invite for graduation was sent this week, an extra piece of motivation to meet the thesis deadline and be able to graduate with the class I have spent all year studying alongside.

The usual rainy weather has settled back over the city, which is probably for the best as I focus on thesis and settling into my new job. Working at the university gives me the chance to study EU policy (a new subject area for me) and to take a break from my thesis research. Not to mention, I’ve upgraded my email address from to – officially making me a member of staff (at least for a little while).

Until next time/Tot de volgende keer,


Thursday, 1 May 2014

King's Day and Laptops Astray

Good afternoon everyone,

It’s hard to believe that today is the beginning of May and that Block 4 of the Master’s programme is in full swing. It has been a rollercoaster over the last couple of couple weeks of final deadlines (marking the end of Block 3), Dutch celebrations, dreaded laptop mishaps and unexpected job opportunities.

The final essays have all officially been submitted and the grades for our work are slowly trickling in, leaving one last puzzle piece to this Master’s: the thesis. It is certainly bittersweet to be at the end of classes and not to see all of the usual faces during the week, but the class group is already busy organizing (much-needed) park dates away from thesis time and planning a fundraiser traditionally arranged by students of the LLM.

Over the weekend, the streets of Utrecht flooded with a sea of orange for the celebration of ‘’Koningsnacht’’ (King’s Night) and “Koningsdag” (King’s Day), the Dutch national holiday which began in 1885 in honour of the birth of Queen Wilhemina and has continued annually ever since. This year marks the first celebration for King Willem Alexander after his mother Queen Beatrice stepped down as monarch last year, passing the role to her son. The celebration is a mish-mash of street vendors, outdoor music stages and all things orange. The feeling in the streets of Utrecht is electric and it is certainly not something to be missed.

Like any enthusiastic international student, I headed into the city centre to soak up the spectacle of outrageous orange outfits and walk the streets closed for pedestrians, stopping at different music stages and randomly running into friends. You know it is a celebration in Utrecht when it is even impossible to ride your bike right into the city. Instead, you park your bike at the nearest spot and join the large crowds walking towards the action.

Unfortunately for me, the not-to-be-missed thrill of Koningsnacht means it is known that most people are not at home during the night. Not long into the celebrations, I received the call that my apartment had been broken into and that my laptop had been stolen. Of course, this is the dreaded moment any student can imagine when you realize you have (very naively) not backed up the files on your computer. Luckily, sending assignments by email and dropbox means I have a portion of my research, but it is certainly a lesson learned.  I am just happy that this did not happen closer to the thesis deadline. Now, it is time to change the locks, call the insurance company and make a solemn promise to myself to back up all future files.

Even though I missed the full experience of Koningsdag this year (luckily I have had the privilege to celebrate the full weekend over the past two Queen’s days), the week offered an unexpected silver-lining. I have been given the opportunity to work as a paid student-assistant for the university, starting right away and working throughout the summer. It is a great way to meet new faces at the university, build my CV, and continue to do in-depth research after my thesis is finished. It is a wonderful feeling to be chosen for a job opportunity based on your student work, and I’m looking forward to starting my first ever job in the Netherlands.

The start of May brings with it the countdown to the ICC Moot Court competition taking place at the end of the month in the Hague. The pleadings are written, the moot sessions are scheduled, and there’s nothing left to do but practice, read and then practice some more. This week we received the schedule for the Moot Court along with the memorials of the opposing teams we will face in the first rounds of the competition. It’s going to be tough work, but with regular guest judges for our practice sessions, we are gearing up to handle anything that is thrown our way.

Tot de volgende keer/Until next time!