As I look back at my time in Costa Rica, it is difficult to unpack everything I have experienced. There were some very hard days. No amount of planning, in my opinion, can prepare you for the unique set of challenges that come with moving to an unfamiliar country with a toddler. However, there were also some incredibly beautiful days, filled with purpose, the kindness of others and great learning experiences. I suspect it will take me a while to fully process how my adventures here have changed me. That being the case, I will limit my writing to three key takeaways from the last three months.

Crater site at Poas Volcano

On emotional resilience and human connection

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet with some of the lawyers from the Court during lunchtime to ask them questions and have an open conversation. One of the questions asked involved the necessary emotional skills one needs to work at the Court/in human rights. A lawyer pointed out the importance of removing one’s emotions from the cases, to a certain extent. Otherwise, the emotional load can be overwhelming. On the other hand, she cautioned us against desensitization. Completely negating or suppressing our feelings will not create the ideal human rights defender. Emotional boundaries, she continued, are required to make the work manageable. However, if taken too far, the emotional distance may lead to indifference. Life-changing ordeals seem less real, names become mere words on paper, and the connection with the presumptive victims is lost. In other words, there is an important balance between emotional self-protection and connection with those we are trying to help that is difficult to reach but essential to keep.

La Fortuna Waterfall

Sometimes, maintaining the status of things as they are is a victory in and of itself

Continuing with the conversation, we discussed what the future of the Court might look like. The overarching sentiment was that future decisions should be more progressive. However, one of the lawyers fairly pointed out that while ideally, that would be the case, most of the time, the Court must simply use all of its resources to maintain the status it already has within the Inter-American system. I don’t want this lesson to come across as a call for complacency. Rather, what I took away was that acknowledging the current law as it is and lobbying for progressive advancements are not mutually exclusive. Only seeing the system’s weaknesses and deficiencies can prevent us from celebrating the victories, however small they might be, that are already happening. Some days, having a State show up for its hearing is a win. When a State submits to the Court’s jurisdiction, it is progress. 

Again, I don’t mean to say that we should be complacent or accept unjust laws; we absolutely shouldn’t. I wish the law could provide victims with a better reparation system. I wish States would accept full responsibility when a violation has been committed. I wish progress always meant moving forward and not maintaining things as they are. Where can we turn to for hope, then? Despite the many factors that are outside of our control in this field, I’m grateful to have seen firsthand how everyone at the Court chooses to work diligently and passionately to provide the best outcome possible within an imperfect system. Seeing this kind of determination and dedication in others is what gives me hope for the future.

Both the expected and unexpected lessons are potent in their transformative powers

This one was a much-needed reminder. Life is filled to the brim with uncomfortable periods of growth, which are often something to be grateful for; usually in retrospect. That, nonetheless, doesn’t stop the growing pains from being quite painful when we’re in the thick of it.  I knew that in coming here, I would experience discomfort. That it wasn’t supposed to be easy. But I figured it would all be worth it for the academic and professional knowledge I would gain.

I am happy to report that my experience with the work itself was wonderful. The Court provides a fantastic work environment, and I learned so much about the Inter-American system. Conversely, my experiences outside of work were often challenging and uncomfortable. It took me a while to accept that this discomfort could breed growth because the transformation felt less tangible. The effort I was putting in at work resulted in an accumulation of tangible, legal knowledge. On the other hand, with all the difficulty outside of work, I couldn’t find a positive spin to it.

Looking back, I can see how much I’ve learned about myself, my little family who was here with me, and how much I’ve grown personally. Before my internship, I was mostly expecting to be challenged on a professional level rather than a personal one. While there were rewarding professional challenges, the personal ones seemed to be more significant. 

I now accept these experiences for what they were. I hope to take the lessons I’ve learned, both professionally and personally, to become a better student, a better lawyer, and perhaps most importantly, a better version of myself than I was upon arriving here.

Arenal Volcano at sunset