A Citizen of the World Heads to The Hague

Sidoine Bao stands outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Above: Sidoine Bao stands outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague.



Internships at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are not typically meant for undergraduate students, but University of Bridgeport sophomore Sidoine Bao applied for one anyway, and she got it. Her success can be attributed to a combination of factors, including her unique background, her studies at UB, and key professor-mentors.

Bao was born and raised in Abidjan, the economic capital of the Ivory Coast. She learned about the University of Bridgeport when she attended a forum at a nearby U.S. Embassy. When she flew more than 7,500 miles from home to attend UB, she was already fluent in French, English and Spanish. Her international background and multilingualism shaped her worldview and mindset: “I consider myself a citizen of the world,” she said.

Here at UB, Bao quickly chose to major in International Political Economy and Diplomacy (IPED). She is very specifically motivated, based on her own experiences in the Ivory Coast, where coup attempts and civil war have left their mark on the country. “Growing up in this environment inspired me to study issues of diplomacy,” she said. “I care about the challenges that people face around the world. I also have an interest in politics and want to become a diplomat, so the IPED program is a perfect match.” 

While at UB, she worked toward expanding her repertoire of languages by taking three semesters of Chinese. Her worldview has also continued to be enlarged here. When asked which courses have been especially helpful, she emphatically responded, “all of them!” Then she added, recalling her interview for the position with the ICC, a course that was particularly useful that day: the Political Economy of China, taught by Chunjuan Nancy Wei, associate professor and chair of IPED.

Wei’s influence on Bao has also extended beyond the classroom. “She has been extremely supportive of me in all my endeavors,” Bao said. Wei, who is her current faculty adviser, is in turn glowing in her comments about Bao: “Sidoine has a wonderfully positive attitude, an outstanding work ethic, and a clear sense of purpose. She surely has a very bright future ahead.”

Another important mentor for Bao has been Linda Hasunuma, her previous UB faculty adviser. “She has consistently believed in me, and encouraged me to dream big, even in opportunities like this internship,” Bao said. “Although it was really for grad students, she’s the one who told me, ‘just apply, you never know!’”

Bao explained, with an eloquence that marks all of her speech, the importance of the ICC, located in the Netherlands. “The court is designed to make sure that the world puts in place legal norms to say clearly that war crimes and human rights violations are not accepted, and those who commit these crimes will be held accountable.” She added, regarding her own interest in pursuing this internship, “I have long wanted to work in an intergovernmental organization that promotes human rights.”

During the course of her five-month position, she will be tasked with a variety of responsibilities; drafting and translating official documents, preparing for diplomatic visits, and organizing conferences, where she will also have the opportunity to hone her public speaking skills.

As Bao undertakes this memorable experience, we will also have the opportunity to follow along with her. Read updates from The Hague below!

 


 

March 9, 2020

A Totally New World

Sidoine Bao stands in front of country flags at The HagueMy first week at the International Criminal Court has been thrilling and instructive even though part of me expected it to be challenging. My experience was astonishingly smooth, and I was up to speed and contributing in no time. I had several misconceptions of the Court as an outsider coming in, but it has been completely refreshing to dive into a totally new world and really see what happens beneath the surface.

Upon arrival at the court, I was introduced to a high level of discretion in combination with confidentiality. The cultural diversity of this place was amazing to me, as was the friendly working environment. I must admit that studying at the University of Bridgeport, where there is a very diverse community, helped me to easily integrate.

During my first week at the ICC, I was quickly given several tasks. I mainly assisted the protocols and events unit to plan and orchestrate diplomatic visits and special events. Each event was driven by the expectation of diplomacy between the court and invited guests. In fact, two trials were held during the month of February.

The opening conference of the Al Hassan case (Mali) and the appeal trial of the former President of the Ivory Coast and his Youth Minister; both acquitted by the court and under conditional release since mid-January 2019. During these two trials that I attended, I was able to familiarize myself with major concepts of international criminal law and the steps involved in a trial process. Additionally, I offered oral translations to some visitors and met with emblematic figures of Ivorian politics, with whom I had the opportunity to briefly discuss certain challenges facing the country today.

 


 

September 22, 2020

Back from The Hague with New Perspectives

Last semester, Sidoine Bao earned a rare undergraduate internship at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. And now she is back, bringing hard-won knowledge and new skills to her fellow students.

Sidoine Bao on the UB campusOriginally from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, she came to UB to study International Political Economy and Diplomacy. “I care about the challenges that people face around the world,” she says. “The IPED program is a perfect match.”

Last year she applied for an internship at the ICC, and though they rarely give these to undergraduates, she made it through the selection process to be chosen. In February she traveled to the Netherlands and started to work. “It was different than both my country and the U.S.,” she says. “I wanted to get more world experience, and I got it.”

Due partly to her experience at UB, she was more easily able to adapt to a multicultural and multilingual working environment. As part of the Protocol, Events, and Visits Unit, she helped plan and orchestrate special ceremonies and diplomatic visits, all while trials proceeded through the court, one of which involved her home country of Ivory Coast. With fluency in English, French, and Spanish, along with three semesters of Chinese, Bao was often asked to translate and speak to different visiting groups at the Court.

She was challenged every day by the experience. “Because I was confronted constantly with other cultures,” she says. “I understood that there is not only one way of thinking or acting.” She sharpened her public speaking skills, translated official documents, and researched the governance systems of Mali and the Philippines. Working as part of an institution designed to uphold legal norms throughout the world was inspiring. “In the IPED major we study human rights a lot and to work in that context was really special,” she says. “It intensified my ambition to work full time in an intergovernmental organization that promotes human rights.”

After the first month and a half, the ongoing pandemic required the rest of her five-month internship to be remote, but residence in The Hague was required. Now back at UB after five months in the Netherlands, Bao is bringing these experiences into the classroom. “She is quite an inspiration for all our students,” says her advisor and chair of the IPED program Prof. Nancy Wei. Sidoine is just grateful for the opportunity that UB gave her, and urges other students to push their own boundaries. “I encourage them to get involved,” she says. “Even if they don’t think they can do it.”

After this experience, she is planning to apply to a Masters degree program in international law. But her biggest takeaway? “The path towards true democracy, peace, and reconciliation seems long, but possible,” she says. “With the emergence of an educated and devoted generation.”