by Cindy Otis
Undergraduates often have an ideal view of how the world works. We assume after putting in four, long years of university study, possibly even working an on- or off-campus job, eager employers will be lining up waiting for the moment when we finally put on our caps and gowns. Rarely is that truly the case.
Most of us will realize all too late that employers are actually looking for real-world experience. For those of us hoping for international careers, employers expect us to have actually been abroad. Organizations like the Kennedy Center and the Center for the Study of Europe (CSE) realized the importance of international internships long ago. Together, these centers, with faculty support, have recently created more opportunities that, if pursued, will provide undergraduates the experience that will place them in a competitive position in a tight labor market.
During spring term 2004, I participated in the Scottish Parliament internship—a relatively new program sponsored by CSE that sends students to work directly for members of Parliament in Edinburgh. After returning from Scotland, I became the student facilitator for both the Scottish and European Parliament internships. It has been incredible to not only have participated in the internship but also help to develop the program for future interns. What started out as a small, unpredictable internship sending a few participants once a year has blossomed into an established and expanding program that sends interns abroad ten months out of the year.
With Small Beginnings
In April 2002, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited Brian Adam, a Member of Scottish (MSP) Parliament and also a member of the Church, to attend general conference. While in Utah, Adam lectured in Professor Danny Damron’s two political science classes on the history leading to the opening of the Scottish Parliament and on Scotland’s economic future.
Later, at a BYU-hosted lunch with Adam, Damron asked him if he would consider hosting BYU interns at the Scottish Parliament. “I immediately recognized what a unique opportunity this would be for students. It is not very often that students get to work in a newly formed government. As a sub-national parliament, the Scottish Parliament is small enough to provide students with substantive, hands-on experience, while still being large and significant enough to make significant contributions both to UK- and EU-wide policy,” he recalled.
MOST OF US WILL REALIZE ALL TOO LATE THAT EMPLOYERS ARE ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE.
Adam agreed to take two interns, and the Scottish Parliament became an official BYU internship program. The first interns, Ben Miller and John Nielson, both political science majors, went to Edinburgh during spring term 2002. They worked on a number of projects related to promoting tourism and promoting education in Scotland.
Initially, the internship was coordinated through the Washington Seminar office and the Kennedy Center’s international relations major. Damron had two more interns ready to go in spring 2003, Matt Cardon and Niel Sood.
After this preliminary effort, with interns serving for eight-week periods, Damron was unsure if students would consistently want to participate with no in-country faculty. However, after two groups successfully completed the internship, he began to increase advertising. BYU’s reputation among members of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Adam’s party, had also begun to grow.
In winter 2004, four interns left for a full semester: Dan Evans, Casey Ewell, Richard Arner, and Chris McCusker. Damron made his first trip to Edinburgh that February in order to establish more contacts with MSPs. “At this point I knew the program would succeed. During my trip to Edinburgh, I met with roughly fifteen MSPs and members of each party. The contacts I made on that trip were instrumental to the growth of the program,” he affirmed.
Recognizing the importance of developing the internship program, in April 2004, CSE sponsored Adam to return to BYU for the Kennedy Center’s Global Focus Lecture Series. He also met with the interns about to leave for Scotland—one of whom was me.
During a luncheon, I noticed right away that Adam was passionate about his work in the Parliament. This shouldn’t have been surprising to me; the Parliament reconvened in 1999 after a UK-imposed, 392-year recess. He told the interns that their responsibilities would include writing press releases and briefs used in debate, preparing and submitting parliamentary questions, and composing reports that would be used in policy development.
As students, we were slightly suspicious that a foreign political party would entrust important things to ignorant American students. We assumed we’d be pouring the coffee and delivering the morning donuts, as is often the case with internships. However, shortly after starting at the Parliament, my fellow interns and I were preparing briefs, writing speeches and press releases, and presenting our research to MSPs—the very things Adam had said we would be doing.
Magnifying the Opportunity
Our group of interns decided to fly to London and take the train to Edinburgh. When we arrived in Edinburgh, we were met by Adam’s son. He informed us that we would be walking the few blocks to the Parliament right away with all of our luggage. Having spent the previous night in a less-than-quality London hotel and having spent the whole day traveling, we arrived at the Parliament looking far less than professional. Adam greeted us and proceeded to introduce us to members from various parties. We were nervous about what the high officials thought of us: the shabby, poorly-dressed American interns dragging large suitcases behind them.
Despite how the internship began, my internship experience was nothing short of amazing. I worked with the SNP’s deputy party leader, Roseanna Cunningham, MSP. She gave me the task of compiling a report on nuclear energy policy. However, that soon began to turn into many other projects, including writing press releases on waste transportation and preparing briefs on reforming European Union (EU) treaties on nuclear plant maintenance and on the United Kingdom’s efforts to develop renewable energy sources.
Justin Hocking, a senior majoring in political science from Raleigh, North Carolina, said, “The newspaper article I am holding is about the rising incidence of binge drinking in Scotland. Binge drinking is basically defined as ‘drinking to get drunk.’ It costs Scotland £1.1 billion (or about $2 billion) each year. I have been researching the costs of binge drinking on the criminal justice system, which totals £276.7 million per year (roughly 25 percent of the total cost of alcohol misuse). The paper states that 90 percent of the population between 16 and 74 drink, with one-third of the men binge drinking. I have been working closely with Stewart Maxwell, MSP (West of Scotland), to endorse new policies that will reduce the instance of binge drinking in Scotland and to ask the Scottish Executive for more details on how these statistics are compiled. I feel very privileged to be a part of a process that may reduce alcohol misuse and increase health all across Scotland. I want to help others achieve efficiency and, at the same time, maintain a good quality of life. This internship has given me the opportunity to see firsthand how Parliament can educate the public and make changes for the better.”
Michelle Sweat said, “My experience in Scotland working in the Scottish Parliament was amazing even though it was nothing like I expected. As the other interns and I began preparing, we discovered that the internship was more a real-life situation than other internships because the university is less involved. Housing, flight arrangements, and special projects are all taken care of by the student. There are resources that were helpful, but above all it was a great adventure. I grew to love Scotland and hope to return as a tourist some day. One of the things that I really appreciated during my time in Parliament was the opportunity to work closely with the MSPs. I enjoyed that everyone in my office took part in day-to-day work, and there was no ‘us vs. them’ mentality. It was also interesting to be out of the United States during a presidential election and view how the press covered election news. The three months in Scotland sincerely changed my life and have made me take a greater interest in the world around me.”
In addition to my work with Cunningham, I completed projects on a topic of particular interest to myself—disability employment policy. My desk at the Parliament was, as fate would have it, directly across from the SNP’s member of the equal opportunities committee, Sandra White, MSP. While I was eager to work on this topic, I was nervous about imposing myself on an official to whom I was not assigned. However, encouraged by Damron, I introduced myself to White and offered my services. To my surprise, she was extremely excited and immediately put me to work preparing an analysis of U.S. strategies to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce and how those strategies could be implemented in Scotland.
Together, White and I created a proposal presented to the equal opportunities committee on how to better the situation of disabled people in Scotland. During the month of June, elections were taking place for the European Parliament in Brussels. As a result, we took part in the campaign process. And as a result of the elections, two members of the Scottish National Party won seats—Ian Hudghton and Alan Smith. Even though I had been to Europe several times before the internship, working for the Parliament was an incomparable experience.
Upon returning to campus fall 2004, I became the student facilitator for the internship working with Damron. The connections he had made during his trip to Edinburgh in February 2004 paid off when the first BYU student interned with the European Parliament under Ian Hudghton, MEP, during fall 2004. “My internship experience in Brussels exceeded all my expectations,” remarked Mark Utley. At the same time, three more students interned with the Scottish Parliament: Michelle Sweat, Julia Shumway, and Emily Kucera.
AS STUDENTS, WE WERE SLIGHTLY SUSPICIOUS THAT A FOREIGN POLITICAL PARTY WOULD ENTRUST IMPORTANT THINGS TO IGNORANT AMERICAN STUDENTS.
As BYU’s reputation continues to spread, interns have been given more and more important responsibilities. Sweat was asked to write a speech criticizing American foreign policy to be delivered at Edinburgh University. “Even though it was a challenging experience, I looked at it as an opportunity to expand my opinions and work on my ability to present a persuasive argument,” she said.
Both internship programs have continued to grow over the last year in several areas. First, we developed a one-credit course to prepare students for the kinds of research and writing they will do on the internship, as well as teach them about cultural differences and parliamentary systems.
Second, we developed a political science-based internship course that the majority of students take while in Scotland and Brussels. The course addresses the problems of mentoring students while not actually being in the country with them. Damron presented these ideas at the APSA Life and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C., in February 2005.
Third, we have secured internships with several other parties in the Scottish Parliament, including the Liberal-Democrats, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Conservatives, and the Pensioner Party. MSPs and MEPs are continually impressed by the quality of BYU interns’ work, their ability to handle responsibilities, and the ethical standards they uphold in the workplace.
For winter semester 2005, MSPs requested more interns than there were students to send. Five students were sent to Edinburgh: Kris Carpenter, Justin Hocking, Rebecca Bennett, Abby Clark, and Alexandra Johnson; and two were sent to the European Parliament: Emily Pettit and Meredith Stockman. Carpenter said, “The work I have been given is exciting and has relevance to the political world.”
On 17 February, CSE sponsored Jim Mather, MSP, to lecture on the economic independence of Scotland, and he also had the opportunity to meet with spring 2005 interns. They are the largest group of students to participate in the program. Nine students are in Edinburgh: Christopher Allen, Adam Heder, Diana Heder, Karene Hoopes, Christy White, Erik Kokkonen, Jacob Melzer, Kimberly Smith, and Spencer Brown; and two students are in Brussels: Emily McCarren, and Isabell Mueller.
The Edinburgh interns will have a unique experience working with Angus Robertson, SNP MP, in London for the upcoming UK parliamentary election. They will be sent to different parts of the UK for two weeks of intensive party campaigning at the SNP’s expense.
As graduation approaches, I become more and more aware of the value of international internships. CSE continues to develop other internship opportunities such as programs in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. If only I had four more semesters to participate in all the options now available for undergrads.
For more information about the Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship, see their web site at http://www.rotary.org.