I literally cannot tell you how many times I have heard that question in the past four months or so. Along with, “so where in Canada are you from,” “what’s next” has become my least favourite question.
As soon as the end of my contract in Kathmandu was in sight, I felt a huge (self-imposed) pressure to find something as amazing as my past positions – and let’s face it, the UN, CBA and IIDEA are pretty hard organisations to top. I’ve been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to do work that I truly care about, and to have been able to have had contracts lined up immediately following one another since finishing law school. And sometimes I even forget how hard I had to hustle to get those positions: but then, I remember my rejection letter from U of T, I remember getting a PFO from a certain firm the day after OCIs, I remember hearing everyone talking about their OCI schedules and being pulled into an empty classroom by a friend so I could break down crying in peace and then I remember how quickly my one OCI was over, I remember an interview I flew halfway across the country for only to realise they were interviewing roughly 16 people every hour and that even with the brother of a friend interviewing me I would never fit in with their firm, I remember vividly the breakdown post fire-back when Phil had to run me out of the office so I could cry on James St about my future, I remember going into the Tribunal and talking about how I bombed my CBA interview, I remember all the ridiculous rejection letters I’ve received, which is probably hitting the 1000 mark by this point – my favourite was the one where they sent a bcc, indicated that it was a mass bcc, thanked us for applying, and noted that 23 of the applicants weren’t even lawyers.
So what’s next? A lot more hustling.
Probably many more breakdowns that make me feel like the most awkward person ever (I hate crying in front of people, so thank you to the friends that know when to get me the hell out of a room). And eventually, I’ll be where I want to be again. And then it’ll end. And I’ll hustle some more.
Or, I’ll be living in my parents’ basement for the next 20 years, who’s to say?
What I can tell you for sure? The reverse culture shock is real. I literally just had a half hour mental argument with myself regarding whether or not it was worth it to heat up my dinner (which in Nepal, required me to use the my precious fuel and the stove top, thus dirtying a new pan, with the legitimate concern that I wouldn’t have running water to wash any of the dishes), and then I remembered I have a microwave now. I had a similar mental argument last night when deciding how much food to make – if I make too much it goes bad because the fridge is only on 11 hours a day, plus then one of my pots is just sitting in my fridge (no tupperware in my Nepal flat), just kidding, you have electricity now… I’m also hoarding plastic bags like there is no tomorrow (for real, there’s just a stash of them in the reusable bags that I also brought from Nepal… I was really worried about running out of bags to carry my groceries in when I left?), and whenever I feel a tram pass by me, I think it’s an aftershock and look for the best earthquake-safe place to hide. I’m ridiculous right now.
Anyways, I’ve been super delayed in writing my wrap up to Nepal and let everyone know what is going on with my life now, but it’s literally been a whirlwind… I’ll try to keep this short but we all know how terrible I am at that.
First off – I miss Nepal and all the amazing people I met there so terribly already. I don’t have words to express how much I love you all and how impressed I am by all you do there. My friends there know everything I went through, and what we went through together – I really can’t tell you how much your support meant to me, even when I was trying to laugh everything off, and I hope that I was able to support you in the same way, or that I can pay you back somehow in the future. You’re all fantastic individuals, and you constantly reminded me to look past the people on the opposite end of that spectrum, as hard as that can sometimes be. Again, whether we met at work, on the trek, by me crushing you in beer pong, or through Internations (LOLOLOLOL but srsly thanks Internations) – you are forever and always my Kathmancru. I will never forget the most awkward game night, rock climbing, the time we missed the earthquake and everyone else in the city freaked out, spitting hot fire to Eminem, losing our minds on the way to Everest and replenishing our calories in beer on the way down, settling disputes at Buddha Bar, the night we got back to Kathmandu from EBC and felt like heroes (The Fox and the Hound for life, but I guess Mulan will do in a pinch), stalking Prince Harry (and me taking it way too seriously), making friends because I needed somewhere to shower, the Coachella of Nepal, cycling expeditions, bowties and loud shirts… I could go on forever.
My time there ended pretty great – I managed to pull together my report from the co-operative women programming workshop we did, and I really hope that it can be of use to policy makers and gender rights advocates in Nepal as they move forward in implementing strategies for achieving gender equity. It really did show that there’s a lot of overlap in concerns from women from varied ethnic groups in Nepal, and that we can try to create unified platforms to push for social change. I really do have great hope for Nepal’s future – I really can’t say enough about the inspirational people I met working there, locals and internationals, and I can’t wait to see what you all achieve.
But of course, on my last night out I had to
hit the clubs contribute to the local economy one last time, which meant that meeting my driver at 8.00 to get to the airport was a little rough. Of course, my flight was delayed (nothing like a hangover in an airconditioning-less airport in 40 degree weather), but I had booked an 18-hour layover in Doha, so I wasn’t too worried.
So that layover in Doha with Air Qatar – there are some pros and cons. The major con is that, unless you’re flying to North America, you’re only allowed one bag of 23kg – and any additional kg is 25 USD. I am not about that life. Luckily, Kathmandu’s scales weren’t working, and the online payment didn’t work so… the perks of having questionable access to electricity?
But, man, the pros. So if you have a layover in Doha between 8 and 24 hours, you qualify for free accommodation, a free city tour, and if you have a layover between 11 and 24 hours, a free meal. I could choose between an 8, 11, or 18 hour layover, and figured I’d take the longest one so I could see the city.
The next morning, I managed to talk myself into an on-call limo to take me to the airport (thanks, law school negotiating skills!), and made it to my current home – Warsaw!
I have always wanted to move to Poland, at least temporarily – it was actually my plan to spend last December and January here after wrapping up at the ICTY, but then I got the job in Nepal, so spent December with my family in London. I’ve talked about my maternal grandparents and the concentration camp they met in before – without having visited Poland, it’s always had a part of me. So I decided to move to Warsaw, take a Polish language course at the university, visit the family who still lives here, and hopefully find a job (I kind of have a pretty huge crush on the motherland so I’m really trying to have that pan out). Had I known all I had to do to get my mom to come visit me abroad was move to the homeland, I would have come here a lot sooner.
My mom visited for two weeks – her first time back in Poland since she was 16. The first week was pretty crazy busy – my mom arrived the day after I did, got to my apartment with my wujek (uncle) in tow, and we headed to Lodz and the Twardow, the village Babcia lived in prior to being taken by the Nazis. Currently, I think 90% of the population living there is related to me (and Mom, I promise I will send you all the family photos later).
After a few nights in Twardow, we headed to Lodz again for a night, Krakow for a day and then back to my place in Warsaw.
I had another free week before my course started, but since I can’t just do one thing, I applied for a pro bono position with Advocates Abroad, an American NGO that provides free legal assistance to Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, primarily in Greece. So along with my course, I’m remotely managing some files of asylum seekers, and assisting in drafting summaries of current EU regulations regarding migration as well as updating the organisation’s Canadian refugee law section. As a little plug for the organisation – I’m the first Canadian lawyer that the organisation has had, and there are so many refugees interested in coming to Canada (EVERYONE LOVES J-TRUD), so if you are a Canadian lawyer (or from another jurisdiction, they really do need all the help they can get) and can spare some time, please let me know and I can get you in touch with my supervisor/the CEO. The organisation also provides the opportunity to do pro bono field work in Greece, and research opportunities for law students or academics, so if case work isn’t your thing, you can still help!
So what’s next?
I’m committed to going back to Canada in early September for at least two months – which is really hard for me to process right now: I’ve been living outside the country for so long that it’s really hard to imagine what a life would be like there. Plus, there was part of me that thought I would be able to get to Warsaw and sort out a job here immediately and come right back in October (which is still a possibility, but we’ll see how everything shakes out).
I’ll be in Toronto the September long weekend for a QL pal’s wedding and the Hamilton area the following weekend for what’s likely to be the biggest dud of a wedding (classic Yaz), so if you aren’t at either of those events and want to meet up, please let me know and we can try to work something out! I’ll continue to do European and Canadian refugee law while in Canada, but am looking for what is more concretely next (literally anywhere in the world as long as it lets me do the things I care about: gender rights, athlete’s rights, improving the situation of historically marginalised populations, enhancing global equality, you know, the basics). For now, not being able to tell you what’s next is a good lesson in trying to relax and be okay with uncertainty… while trying to become at least a mediocre student of the Polish language?
Much love amigos, wherever you happen to be: if you haven’t had enough reading, I leave you with an excellent letter written by one of my incredibly cool friends who remains in Nepal (warning, it made me cry).
And as one last note – I am so grateful for the opportunity provided to me and my YLIP family by the Canadian Bar Association. I worked on the world’s youngest constitution, with major political leaders, supreme court justices, foreign development organisations, embassy representatives, Nepali human rights’ activists and lawyers… it was an incredibly humbling experience. I learned so much. I grew tremendously – my friends in Kathmandu know that we’ve all had our ups and downs there (personally and professionally), but I honestly wouldn’t change anything because I’ve gained so much from it, and learned more about what I want and what I myself need to work on. If you’re a lawyer under the age of 30 interested in this type of work, do not hesitate in contacting me: I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have about the program, my work and life in Nepal, and anything else! Because, let’s face it, lawyers love talking about themselves.