I am often asked what it is like, at my age, to begin anew with my life and my education, in a new country. Well, I do find myself in a bit of a “gray” area, as it were.
My position in the LLM program is somewhat awkward at times. For one thing, I am far older than most students. For another, I have many years of experience practicing criminal law, and there is a world of difference between the realities of practicing criminal law and simply reading and writing about it from the ivory tower of academia. Unsurprisingly, my perspective is a bit different than the average student, or teacher for that matter. My background sometimes leads others to assume that by some sort of legal osmosis, I must understand international criminal law as well, or that it must be very easy for me. I don’t, and it isn’t.
International criminal law is a very young practice area, a truly brave new world. It is very exciting. And all very, very, new to me. A complete mash-up of common law adversarial and civil law inquisitorial systems, it is a surreal landscape of the comfortably familiar juxtaposed with the wholly unexpected. All those tribunals, no real precedential authority from one to the other, and no one convenient place to find case law. Court web sites are not all very user-friendly, and I often have better luck finding cases with Google. All those acronyms, not to mention Latin and French phrases. Dutch is far easier to learn than this lingo!
My life is the same surreal mash-up of the old and the new, the young and the old. This dichotomy can be confusing, for me as well as everyone else. Most people my age are not doing what I am doing; they are either comfortably entrenched with careers and family or else simply retired. And most of the people who are doing what I am doing are half my age and have yet to begin a career, let alone think about a second one. Like the former group, I am accustomed to a certain comfort level; like the latter group, I still am not always sure what I want to be when I grow up. Both groups ask me, and I often ask myself, what am DOING, exactly? I am not always sure how to answer that question.
But perhaps the answer is not important. Perhaps, like this hybrid creature that is international criminal law, I will make it up as I go along. Perhaps like Utrecht itself, where the 600-year-old Dom tower plays carillon versions of the Beatles or Adele, I can juxtapose a medieval core with an ever-evolving new outlook. Neither abandoning the past nor entrenched in it, moving steadily forward…cracks of age, gray areas and all!