Southern Illinois University School of Law–Legal Globalization & Comparative Law 2014

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Language, Culture, and the European Court of Justice

The visit to the European Court of Justice left me with one of the strongest impression of our study tour for its exposure with the European people, most notably their language skills. Our host immediately impressed us all with his fluency in five languages (English, German, Spanish,French and Italian). When I mentioned how impressive his language skills were, he responded that he was among the least language-talented person in the EUCJ; on average the typical person at the EUCJ would master fluently between seven to ten languages. Moreover, during our visit to Germany, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands, I learned that it is quite common for the average European to speak three languages.


Language is more than a communication vessel.  Language is the reflection of the culture of the people who speak the language.  The more languages you know, the more cultures you are familiar with; and the more cultures you are familiar with, the wordier you become.  

Europe indeed is agreat example of the strength that lies within globalization. The Europeans seemed not to be afraid of new people immigrating and integrating into Europe, indeed holding such diversity to be one of their strengths. When walking in the streets of European’s cities one immediately notices how diverse the people are. Some of that diversity is internal migration within the European Union, and some is the results of immigration from a non-European countries. Whatever the reason is, it seems to build a pluralist community. From the limited exposure I had with the Europeans during our visit, I felt that the Europeans are more open to new ideas and different ways, as a direct result of this emphasis on multiculturalism and language skills. Europe learned to elevate the potential that lays with new ideas, and therefore, leverage how Globalization “shrinks” the borders between nations and strengthens the global feeling of belonging over the narrower local identity.

Europe is a growing world player that learned ofthehuge potential that lies within team efforts,and this characteristic contrasts sharplywith the Americanfocus on individuality.  In America we built an outstanding frameworks, both legal and non-legal, that were exemplaryfor thewholeworld. When that happened, America, just like Europe today, valued theteam effort. 1776revolution was not possibletodaywhen individualism and personal success alone trump other collective virtues.  I believe that America is facing today an important cross-point that will determine our future, and maybe even our very existence.  And when that time comes, I truly hope we will learn to value the necessary balance between individualism and personal success on the one hand, and the strength of community on the other.  In this manger, we may have a lot to learn from Europe.




Luxembourg, The Hague, and Amsterdam

We departed Nuremburg and headed to Luxembourg after seeing the Nazi Rally Grounds. The next day we were able to see the European Court of Justice. This court would be the equivalent of our Federal Court. Each country would be regarded as a state, and the European Union law is controlling. This building was absolutely beautiful. It was modern and the courtrooms were decked out in wood. Lining the walls of each courtroom were boxes where translators sat. In each seat there was a headset where each viewer could listen to the proceeding in his or her native language. One would think things would get lost in the translation. However, one of the speakers we had during our visit told us the translators are extremely good and even on the most complex of issues, get the translation right. There is also a lot of communication between the people who work here in order to understand the intricacies of the different languages. It was very impressive that people who spoke four or five languages actually were on the low end of numbers of languages spoken.

After our visit, we headed to The Hague and saw the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICC handles cases of war crimes, crimes against humanities and other atrocities when a country either cannot or will not punish the people responsible. Most of these cases have stemmed out of Africa so far. The International Court of Justice is an arm of the United Nations in which countries can bring suits against each other. After our visits of these beautiful courts, we headed to Amsterdam. We visited the Anne Frank house on the last day of our trip. This visit gave us an insight into the psyche of Jewish families during the Holocaust. It was inspiring that the Franks each continued to live their lives with as much normalcy as they could. Anne and Margot still studied and continued to broaden their minds. It was also heartbreaking to see some of the suffering they went through. Anne longed to be outside, to be free from the prison in which she was contained. We also knew, due to the diary, that they knew people were being gassed at the concentration camps. The fear they must have felt as they were finally discovered must have been overwhelming. One of the most heartbreaking moments was listening to Otto Frank (the father and only survivor) talk about how hard it was to read the diary. He said he really didn’t know Anne as well as he though he did, even though they were very close. As parents and children, we want to feel as though we know each other inside and out, however, it is very hard to come to grips with the fact that there are aspects of each other that we don’t know.


Luxembourg, The Hague, and Amsterdam

Luxembourg, the Hague and Amsterdam comprised the latter part of our trip. Luxembourg was a super quick excursion. Enough time only to sleep in a beautiful hotel and tour the impressive European Court of Justice. This was a real highlight of the trip for me. I would work at the EUCJ in a heartbeat …if I had any of the credentials they are looking for. The EUCJ is newly built and very modern in design. The courtrooms were both beautiful and functional. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide who allowed us to attend a hearing that arose out of Spain. In this particular hearing, five or six judges sat at the front of the courtroom and listened to the opposing parties give their oral arguments in front of them. Proceedings are always in the language where the case arose, so in this instance, the case was in Spanish. There were translators sitting in glass boxes around the perimeter of the room translating the case in real time for the judges and observers who did not understand Spanish, like me. Knowing the importance of preciseness of language in the legal profession, I realized just how crucial each translators job was as I sat watching the judges press their headpieces to their ears, straining to hear every word. The following day we visited the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. Both of which were short but interesting and informative visits.

Amsterdam was the final leg of the trip, and the most surprising for me. I really didn’t know what to expect because frankly, all I knew about the city was their liberal views towards the recreational use of marijuana. Perhaps that fact had subconsciously given me the feeling that the city would be very modern in appearance, but it is really quite classic and almost vintage looking. The timeless architecture and countless canals, juxtaposed by the infamous Red Light District and Waterlooplein flea market makes Amsterdam one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever visited. I enjoyed some of the best Dutch cheese and fresh herring while out shopping in my free time. We also took a canal tour, which is the absolute best way to get an entire view of the city, and saw the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. During class time we were able to see the former house of Anne Frank and I was surprised by how emotional it was being in her home. I was glad to find that cameras were not allowed to capture the experience. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting, in my opinion. Our final dinner in Amsterdam was at restaurant crowded with locals (always a good sign). The food was fantastic and it was an all-around enjoyable afscheid meal. I had such a great time in Europe that I really wasn’t ready to return to the U.S. just yet. The only part of me that was ready to come home was my feet, and they could have been convinced otherwise with a day or two of rest.





Amsterdam and Legalizing Morality

Amsterdam is sometimes synonymous with the wanton to Americans.  This may be because the United States is known for its propensity to regulate the morality of its citizens.  Social issues in the United States are often more on the forefront of politics than economics and even foreign affairs.

These issues have left our nation deeply divided. Will marijuana be legalized? Will we continue to allow abortions? Are we headed for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah? I, a libertarian, was pleased to see that Amsterdam has allowed its citizens to regulate their own morality rather than impose morality on its people, and yet, the city has not turned into a pillar of salt.

Amsterdam is a beautiful, clean, relatively safe city. It boasted some of the best museums in the world, live music, culture and shopping.  The people are friendly and tolerant of American tourists. Shops line the streets. A person can purchase clothing, food, treats, knickknacks, marijuana, and sex.  The last two may seem shocking for an American who has been raised in a nation where neither of those items can be purchased legally. Yet, after being in the city more than a few hours, it becomes clear that these two items do little to make up the culture of the city of Amsterdam.

The city is not inundated by crime, drunkenness, or any other of the ills that are common reasons why Americans urge the government to regulate the morality of its citizens.  Perhaps Americans can look to Holland as we move toward decriminalizing marijuana, as we have in Colorado, and to a limited extent, southern California and Seattle.


From Nuremberg to The Hague

The Nürnberg Documentation Center Audio Tour focused upon the rise of the Nazi party. Again the museum amazed, they’re both exhibits with numerical codes to punch into your audio device to hear English spoken language about a particular exhibit and when you entered an area with a plain film the film’s audio played. Today was quite interesting because it’s surrounded its focus upon the Nazi party and its key figures and ideals. There was hours of guided tour that occurred all to fast. There wasn’t enough time to hear everything. But what I did enjoy was the creation of the architecture of the Third Reich, to establish itself and inspire its people by the masses. There was also a short film about a woman responsible for taking film of many demonstrations and speeches. She described how she saw to convey what was before her. We were able to hear the inspirational words of it off Hitler himself translated, who was an extremely found speaker. One of the films had spoken about how they prepared the German people for war enacting and playing war games. I immediately thought of all of the war games our youth plays from the United States and how it exposes, desensitizes and teaches people about war and violence in an innovative fashion by the masses as well. There were also narratives taken and conveyed through film of the German women who survived the WWII that were rather moving and inspirational.


The following train rides to Luxembourg were gorgeous as we had a chance to take in much of the Rein river, the small villages, churches, and castles along the way. But our experience with the European court of Justice was most memorable. Our guide Enrico was fantastic. Not to mention the presentations by the archivist, advocate general assistant and the press/media briefer before the hearing we witnessed. The oral arguments were in Spanish and related to Spanish government troubles related to government compensation to supplement a retired employee that was unable to collect what was due to them. Oral advocacy was at work, aided by multiple translators. I found it some entertaining how the undertones of politics played a role in the proceeding by some judges questioning. There were clear references to Spain’s economic situation with relation to these pay outs to these employees but the EU law provided no cap. I quickly became infatuated with the European court of Justice its library of international law and documents. I know of no where else that is most suited for International law studies with the vast amounts of references and sources available to the court. WOW! I maybe petitioning the library for material in the future with respect my work with International Law. If I do have the opportunity to be employed within the field of Public international law such a source is invaluable. Now what EU Member state would I attempt to gain dual citizenship with?

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The Hague proved to be quite the location for international Law. We visited the ICJ and Icc in the same day. The ICC experience proved to be rather unique with talks by the special prosecutor Hans and Mr. Koerner. Here seemed very much like an educational lecture on what the court has done, is doing and where it is headed.  They seemed to need all the help they could get. They advertised at the front “media entrance” internship brochures. This exposure to the court spurred an interest in me to research the Rome statute, the courts rules of evidence, etc. to compare them to our Rules in the United States. The US has not signed onto the treaty that would allow this court to establish its jurisdiction. Even though the state has the option of whether or not to utilize the court. It must be primarily for financial reason that the U.S. has signed onto the respective treaty.


But what proved to be extra special today was the visit to the Peace Palace. Finally seeing the structure and location where much of what I have read and studied throughout my undergraduate and Juris doctorate study brought a sense of permanence to International Law. Fun fact the UN only rents the property from the Carnegie Foundation. But having the opportunity to speak with the clerk for judge Joan Donoghue was inspirational. Michael Becker, some one with a similar path as mine, and similar course of study is indeed contributing to public International Law. It can be done. Naturally he was a Yale graduate, somewhat intimidating but not discouraging. I had the opportunity to hear how the justices write case notes and decide on an opinion to use. Pretty neat! We had a brief tour of the grounds and where the judges convene. I truly visited a diplomatic haven. The palace had a clock tower with beautiful bells as well.



Amsterdam and the Power of Words

The last leg of our tour consisted of three days in Amsterdam.  First and foremost, I discovered that Amsterdam is the largest city in Holland, and Holland is a territory in The Netherlands.  This may sound very simple, but it took a lady in McDonalds, a debate among peers, Wikipedia, and a final conversation with a native of The Netherlands to get this answer!  

This basic fact in place, I must start this post by stating that this city was by far my favorite of the trip. We were able to take a canal tour throughout the city, stopping at the stops to explore all the shops and dine. On the canal tour, we were able to see the beautiful buildings that have been standing in Amsterdam for hundreds of years.  Taking in a deep breath in Amsterdam on a canal tour is exactly what I imagined Europe would be like. I really felt like I had explored other countries by the time we got to this portion of the trip. We were so busy in Germany, soaking up information and understanding international court systems, that this was the perfect opportunity to sit back and reflect.

This leads me to my deepest and most profound form of reflection I have ever experienced in my life. On Saturday morning in Amsterdam, we were able to go through the Anne Frank Memorial House. The Frank family moved to Amsterdam, Holland to escape Nazi Germany and hid in the house that still stands. Gradually ascending the house, floor by floor, reading quotes by Anne all over the walls, I was emotionally struck.  Anne was a brilliant young girl, aware of the world and able to portray it through words. Seeing the walls she pasted newspaper pictures all over with a pot of glue gave me chills, and feeling the darkness they lived in for two years moved me to tears.  I happen to think the power behind words is indescribable, and so did Anne.  All she ever wanted to be was a writer, and although her life was ended much too early, she became exactly that.  I bought the book in the bookstore in the museum to reread, and I am devouring every word. The entire trip, ups and downs, was more than worthwhile, for this experience alone.  I have a deep respect for Anne Frank, and she has inspired my heart to continue to express myself through words.






The Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House: This was a very interesting place to visit. It was a split between the actual house (with items being rebuilt or put into it that the Nazis may have taken from the house or destroyed) on one half and a museum in the other half. I had read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was younger but did not remember much about her family’s story. To see the house that they were cooped up on for a long period of time was moving. To learn about the people who were trying to keep them safe despite Nazi threats and to learn about the people all over the Netherlands that had tried to save their Jewish friends and resist the Nazi regime was moving. To see how much Anne had written at such a young age and how much she could have become had the Nazis not snuffed her life out gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. There were so many good people who did what they could to help those who were being harmed and hunted, really helped my outlook on humanity.