I did my peace service from September 2021 to June 2022 at the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands. The Peace Palace is home to the International Court of Justice, the main judicial body of the UN, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), and the Hague Academy of International Law. Here, under the motto “Peace through law,” conflicts between states are resolved through adjudication in a fair and peaceful manner. The Carnegie Foundation serves these institutions, is the administrator of the Palace, takes care of its maintenance, and runs the Visitor Center and the International Law Library.
I graduated from high school at 17 and wanted to take this “won” year to try something new and finally go abroad after Covid. The Peace Service has given me the opportunity to pursue a variety of tasks in a broad-based organization. Mainly, I was involved with public education. Among other things, I was a visitor center worker, interpreter, tour guide, librarian, greffière at a moot court and quite often girl for everything, in the very best sense. What was valuable for me was the great freedom to pursue my own projects. As a high school graduate and volunteer in such an organization, it was great to be taken seriously and to be able to decide and manage things. As an additional challenge, the working language was Dutch, which I first had to develop from the basics I had acquired in my previous self-study to an everyday level.
And then during my Peace Service, war suddenly came very close. With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Peace Service suddenly took on a whole new perspective for me, and not just privately: as early as the end of February 2022, Ukraine submitted a case against Russia to the International Court of Justice, and in mid-March the first provisional measures were pronounced – in the Great Law Hall of the Peace Palace. A final verdict is still pending. Being able to follow this case from very close up was something special. Against this background, the workshops with school children were particularly important to me, as they often come to the palace with a completely different perspective and answering their questions (“If the Peace Palace exists, why is there still a war?”) was usually quite challenging. Seeing children leave the palace knowing you have made them think about peace and justice is a good feeling. In these and so many other moments, I am sure I achieved something meaningful with my work.
Privately, the first half of my service was unfortunately still very much influenced by (evening) lockdowns. Spending weeks of evenings alone in my room was not always fun. Afterwards, however, I was able to travel and get to know the country and its people all the more. The service abroad was not only a good network for me to visit other servants abroad during my service, but also afterwards I like to attend alumni meetings, and a good year after the end of my service I visited the Peace Palace again. The country also remains with me. I still read the Dutch news from time to time, notice how I perk up when I find someone to chat with in Dutch the university – and that my longing for the Netherlands has perhaps already turned into a bit of homesickness.
Even though I’m no longer dealing with peace and law with the same intensity in my bachelor’s degree program in Philosophy & Economics, it’s something I’m taking with me from The Hague. Just like many skills I could learn and consolidate there, a better understanding of international cooperation, my Dutch, flexibility and many beautiful memories. And despite the wars in Europe and around the world, I left the Netherlands with a positive feeling: Peace cannot be taken for granted. But in the past, peace for me was something to hope for. The Peace Service has taught me that you can actively work for it.