The End of all Things

85 days.  It is July 30th 2015 and we have been in Scotland for 85 days, 12 weeks and one day, two months and 24 days.  It feels like we have been waiting for the end of our internship since we stepped off the plane, but now that it is here, it is hard to believe how fast the time has gone.  Wasn’t it just last month that I was hustled through customs in London, jetlagged beyond all belief?  It couldn’t have been more than a week ago that I tried haggis for the first time, or we climbed Arthur’s Seat and almost got struck by lightning, or met our supervisors and embarked upon this last stretch of our undergraduate degree.  By that ilk, didn’t I start at the University of Utah just last year?  Was it really in 2011?  I guess that’s one of the rewarding things about finishing your Bachelor’s degree in another country; it distances you so much that you are given the opportunity to reflect in a really meaningful way upon your schooling (and life) up till this point and the direction (you think) you are going.

YEEEAHHHHHHHH TIME FOR REAL SUMMER

YEEEAHHHHHHHH TIME FOR REAL SUMMER

Today was our last day as official passholders in the Scottish Parliament.  As of tomorrow, we are just like the general public—we have to go through security and be escorted by an employee at all times.  Our freedom of the building has ended in tandem with the expiration of our visas.  Soon, it will not be legal for us to even walk upon the soil of this nation of nations.  It wasn’t perceptible at the time, but now that we are at the end of the race, it is clear that we absorbed quite a bit of the Scottish culture, just little by little.  We both feel a strong bond to our office co-workers and companions, especially because we saw comparatively little of our direct supervisors, the MSPs.  It just goes to show that the people you work with can make or break an experience, and we both were extremely fortunate to find fast friends in our colleagues.

So what did we learn?  Kya learned how to respond to constituent requests and demands, especially ones of a very sensitive nature.  Machi learned how to be an effective employee while working in an office with the polar opposite of her personal political views.  Kya gained first-hand experience working with a tough-to-please supervisor in a high-stress environment.  Machi find-tuned skills she accumulated during a previous internship.  Kya honed her problem-solving skills and became highly efficient at contacting the right person about the right problem.  We both gained a fierce loyalty towards the party and our specific politicians, even though we were thrown into the game with little previous experience or knowledge.

Although we can look back at our internships and smile warmly, we are both happy to be moving on.  Not because we had a bad time in Scotland, but it seems like an era has come to an end.  Now is the time to seek full-time (paid) employment (you’re welcome, mom and dad).  Requirements for undergraduate degrees have been fulfilled and obtained; we expect to see out paper degrees in the mail shortly.  So what’s next?  Now, at 22 years of age, that question is scarier than our shared bathroom in our flat.  Masters degrees are probably in the works, but so too are further employment and many more experiences and opportunities.  So stay tunes; in the sitcom that is the lives of Machi and Kya (known to friends as Machya), we’re just in the opening sketch.

Goodbye, Edinburgh.

Goodbye, Edinburgh.

There's No Place Like London

A post done in two voices.


Kya

In the aftermath of our non-simultaneous trips to London, we similarly  felt awe and deep gratitude to the city for such a wonderful experience.  Where we differ were our attitudes toward the city going in; where Machi was excited and nearly salivating to get to London, I almost couldn't be bothered and tried every avenue to get out of going in the first place.  This was probably because I felt obligated rather than enticed.  Luckily, my preconceived notions about London were quite wrong and I managed to have a fabulous time, despite my best efforts.

Machi

Kya’s introduction could not be more accurate. When I made the decision to travel south, I was figuring out how I could make the most of my time and how to maximize my length of stay. Scotland has been absolutely gorgeous and a wonderful place to be. But by the time June rolled in, I was ready to explore a new city and escape the clouded, rainy Scottish climate. When Kya found out she had to make the journey, she was calculating how to spend the least amount of time and how soon she could get back to the comfort of the Scottish climate. Our conversations in between our journeys would be entertaining to any fly on the wall. I was beaming and overly enthusiastic while conversationally word vomiting about my ‘grand, wonderful, perfect’ experience while  Kya was... less enthusiastic and begrudgingly packing to come back as soon as possible.

Kya

My reasons to go to London were motivated by business, not pleasure.  I am in the process of applying for an Austrian visa to work at the US Embassy in Vienna this fall, and part of the process necessitated an in-person application at the Austrian Embassy.  In the beginning, I was told that this visit would have to be in Washington, DC, which was a fate almost too horrible to contemplate (for my pocketbook and inability to quickly overcome jetlag, not for visiting DC itself).  Through a series of desperate emails, I managed to obtain permission to go to London instead, although visiting the Austrian Consulate in Edinburgh would have been preferable.  I also made a hasty appointment to visit the US Embassy to get fingerprinted for a Department of State background check (also for the upcoming stint in Austria).  

Machi

If you have been following politics in the United Kingdom, you would be familiar that the national elections were just held in early May. The Scottish National party (SNP) is the political party which Kya and I are interning for. They swept the spring elections and took 56 of Scotland's 59 seats in Westminster. Their success is nothing short of absolutely impressive from a political standpoint and it is certainly an exciting time to be out here. For my internship I am commuting to a constituency office for my Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Angela Constance, in Livingston. One of the 56 SNP seats was taken by Hannah Bardell, who represents the same constituency as Angela. Livingston has not have an SNP elected to Westminster for quite some time so there was no office for Hannah to set up constituency. Being colleagues in the same party, Angela and Hannah have began sharing the office so Hannah comes in about once a week. During some interaction in the office Hannah made the kind offer to allow me to come work in her London office 'if I ever found myself there'  … (Insert a smug emoji here). Let’s just say I was sure to find my way to London after an invitation such as that. hahaha And that is how I ended up travelling to London.

Kya

Flying to London, my mood was uncharacteristically neutral.  I had heard so much about the snobbery and unfriendliness of Londoners and London itself, and I was ready to simply do my errands and get the hell out of there.  I wasn’t even excited by the plane taking off and landing, which usually puts me in a bubbly mood.  I must admit also that I was slightly broody on the bus ride from the airport; I couldn’t believe the volume of traffic and was thinking longingly of less-populated Scotland.  Running through my head, unbidden, was the song There’s No Place Like London from Sweeney Todd, specifically the line that says, “There's a hole in the world like a great black pit / And the vermin of the world inhabit it / And its morals aren't worth what a pig would spit / And it goes by the name of London.”

Not the best mantra to have when entering a new city, I know.

But, as soon as I got to Victoria Station and started walking toward my hostel, my spirits… well, my spirits soared.  It was twilight, and the evening sky was a lovely shade of pink that bathed the whitewashed buildings in a rosy glow.  There were restaurants and pubs lining the streets, and I could hear music and laughter as I walked by.  The air was perfectly warm and there was a light breeze, and it briefly occurred to me that maybe London isn’t as bad as I thought.

Of course, the multiple Rolls Royces, Porsches, Maseratis, and Bentleys I spotted suggest that my dream of living in the the city of Westminster might be slightly unrealistic and a bit out of my price range at this stage in my life.  But if I ever become a millionaire, I know where I am buying my London townhouse!

I didn’t even have a full day in London, but my partial day was a rousing success in my eyes.  I was first in line at the Austrian Embassy, managed to miraculously have all my documents in order AND to have the application fee waived.  I had just enough time before my appointment at the US Embassy to eat a proper English breakfast (which was good, but could have benefitted from some haggis).  The fingerprinting process went smoothly and uneventfully and they generously offered to overnight the document to Washington for me.  All this was completed before 11:00, leaving me with five hours to see London before I had to catch my bus.  I was thrilled and couldn’t stop smiling as I watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, toured the Parliament building, drank tea, blundered into the photographs of tourists, walked until my feet got blisters, and was catcalled by construction workers.

Machi

With a few days to myself, I happily joined the globs of international tourists and hit all the hot spots. I walked around parliament square, waved to the royal family at Buckingham Palace (with the assumption they were inside), had an overpriced ice cream cone in Hyde Park, visited the Churchill war rooms, saw the outlandish designer shopping district, attended Les Miserables and took a spin on the London Eye. I fell even more in love with the city with every place/activity I checked off the list. However, the highlight of my experience came once Hannah arrived.

In the wake of being recently elected, I'm sure you can image the hectic lifestyle those in public service are thrown into. Picture yourself applying for a job, getting a phone call one night saying you got it, and suddenly nose diving into a completely new world. There’s no training and you are literally starting from scratch. Amidst trying to figure out the basics such as where your office is (if you have an office), hiring your staff and all those other fundamentals- you still have to perform all the duties you applied for. Working and answering constituents, preparing for debates, writing and giving speeches, travelling in between two offices and appearing at various functions.  By the time I arrived to work with Hannah, she had been in office for a month and was just getting moved into her new office.

It was quite the experience to be helping out in the office. My tasks were no more glamorous from any other internships I have completed, but I gained much insight seeing seeing the beginnings of a political career. One of the tasks I assisted her with was ordering office supplies and reading the rules of stationary use. This may sound a bit mundane, however it is something else to look out the window and realize you’re staring at the grounds of Westminster with a view most people don’t get as you are sorting through the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of the House of Common stationary.

Amidst her new hectic work schedule, Hannah was kind enough to take myself and her new Office manager/researcher, Steph, into the Pugin Room for a late afternoon snack and eventually the Members Dining room for dinner. As if this wasn’t already a Cinderella, once-in-a-lifetime experience, there is another highlight worth mentioning.

At the table next to ours a man by the name of Alex Salmond was also enjoying a delicious meal. If you follow British politics you would be familiar with that name. He was the fourth First Minister for Scotland and was the leader of the SNP for twenty years. Hannah was his personal assistant for sometime so she introduced myself and Steph to him. He kindly invited us to join his table for dessert. I could write an entire blog post about my star struck experience but I will spare you.

Selfie with the big guy

Selfie with the big guy

Kya

In conclusion, I love London. I’m sorry I went in with such a dour attitude (I partially blame the Scots).  I can’t wait to go back with a little more time, direction, and maybe a friend or two.  In the meantime, I am going to watch What a Girl Wants and cry over a pint of ice cream.

Machi

Although I was blown away from the city itself, I am even more struck with Hannah's kind personality and her desire to help anyone in whatever way she can. My experience in London was extremely unique and I truly owe it all to her. Admiring her generosity takes me back to a brief experience I had at my previous internship.

One of the opportunities my internship from last semester offers to interns is the chance to sit down with the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Justin Harding, to ask him questions. One of the interns asked something along the lines of “Is there any one characteristic or personality trait you would contribute to career success?” His answer has been engrained in my head ever since. He looked at all of us around the the table and very seriously replied, “Once an intern, always an intern.”  

The statement was to encompass the idea that as you are climbing your career ladder and looking up to what future opportunities hold for you, you still stop to look down and pull others up. Just because you may move up you must always act as if you're on the bottom. Never allowing yourself to become above small tasks like pulling papers off the printer and going out of your way to deliver them. You don’t cease getting to know everyone's name in the office, even the custodial staff. You continue to have a down to earth perspective; that although everyone is at different stages in their professional life, you are still a team working towards common goals.

Hannah is an example of that. She is still in the whirlwind of being recently elected, battling sleep deprivation and yet, she still went out of her way to create a once in a lifetime experience for a lowly intern. She even insisted that I stay at her flat around the corner from Westminster to save on my own personal expenses. Because ‘she remembers what it was like being young and wanting to take opportunities and didn’t want the fear of costs of transportation and living accommodations to ruin anything for (me) you.”


WOW. WOW. WOW. I can’t find the words to justly express my gratitude and admiration. Adjusting to her new job and still doing what she did? I have six words to describe how amazing people such as her get to where they are. “Once and intern, always and intern.”

Coming in at half time, better late than never

Well here I am, finally able to contribute to the blog! Having the opportunity to temporarily live abroad has been an experience which will undoubtedly alter many characteristics and perceptions I had before arrival. My apologies for being a typical, cliche, abroad blog poster but an experience such as this truly is life changing. To leave without being altered in some sort of way would be shameful to the opportunity.

 

Being at the halfway mark I am flooded with ideas and prompts for my first post. There are many individuals, opportunities and lessons I have learned out here I wish I could immediately post. Since I’m already playing into the typical abroad blogger, I will write about one of the lessons I have learned outside of the office.

 

It is common for any foreign outsider to observe the cultural differences in a new country. What just about anyone would observe about the Scots is their boisterous and hospitable characteristics. They are certainly a nationality that is not shy or quiet by any means. I have told my parents and friends that if the United Kingdom were a family, Scotland would be the rowdy, light-hearted big brother. If the members of the family were sitting down for dinner, Scotland would be the jolly one cracking jokes and making everyone choke on their meals from uncontrollable laughter. I have found a lot of joy from observing them and notice all sorts of common traits. One characteristic I have noticed a lot of them posses is a spirit of compassion.

 

Like any city, there are individuals without homes on the streets of Edinburgh. In Salt Lake City we have just as much of a chance of running into the occasional woman or man with a cardboard sign asking for a little help. Admittedly, like most residents of my home city, I might drop some occasional change in their cups or hand them an uneaten granola bar from my car and that’s about the extent of my interaction or good deed. Until now I haven’t really examined the… attitude we show towards those members of our society. Although we may donate a small amount to them, we still walk or drive by, hurrying to our destination. In Scotland, I have observed how their attitudes are much different.

 

Here is is not uncommon by any means to see people go out of there way to bring whatever they can to those on the streets. I commute to and from my office everyday by bus and have been able to witness many acts of kindness from the people here. While waiting for stop lights to turn yellow (and then) green, I frequently see businessmen walking home from the office and detour their routes to a food stand. It has been uplifting to see many of them stop to purchase full meals complete with a hot coffee for a homeless person ahead on their paths.

 

Indeed, these kind deeds are rather heartwarming to witness, but the thing to mention is that they take it an even further step.

 

What I have come to admire most about the people here is their generous donation of their time. I have frequently seen many individuals living on the streets being accompanied by a random stranger who decided to stop and have a chat with them.  Many of them even end the conversation with an encouraging hug before departing.  It has made me take a step back and reflect on what true service means. Yes, it is nice to make donations of money or other tangible things, but there is always something more we can give- our time. Which really is one of the most valuable things we have and often the most difficult to give. I truly am touched when I see some random individual stop from their daily routine to sit down on the hard, cobbled sidewalk on a cold and rainy afternoon to simply talk. They don’t quickly walk by while looking the other direction and ignore the requests for ‘spare change.’ If they don’t have time or money to offer, they still give acknowledgment with a polite smile and a ‘No, sorry. Not today, but have a good one.’  


Again, I apologize for the cliche blog post. But l am grateful for the reflection that these random, quality acts of service have been able to bring me. It might not be realistic to stop for a thirty minute conversation every time you decide to make some sort of donation, but perhaps think about the quality of donation you make.

Yes, I know this is creepy. But I managed to snap this pic of a young man who stopped to chat for about twenty minutes before taking off. 

Yes, I know this is creepy. But I managed to snap this pic of a young man who stopped to chat for about twenty minutes before taking off. 

An uptake in weather and workload

This week, we were treated to the best weather I have seen since I stepped on the plane in Salt Lake last month.  The wind stopped!  There were no clouds!  The sun actually made me feel warm-- sometimes, uncomfortably so!  We ate lunch outside everyday this week at work and I didn't even need a sweater.  I feel impossibly hopeful and optimistic, even though there was nothing really getting me down before.  But now I just can't really stop smiling.  Whenever I leave Utah, I always have this opportunity to truly appreciate the amazing weather we have there.

an actually nice day

Other than my feeble attempts to make those in more southerly climes jealous of the temporary good weather here, I wanted to try and put into writing my experience so far at the parliament.  My job consists mainly of research.  My MSP often asks me to read through multiple documents and summarize the most important information for him, but he also asks me more often to read through materials and get up to speed on an issue so that I am not completely ignorant about parliamentary issues.  Topics on which I now consider myself an amateur expert include offshore wind farms in Scotland, bird preservation vis-à-vis wind farms, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), climate change targets in the UK, Scotland's commitment to renewable energy, and assisted suicide.

I treated that last one in a fairly routine way; I just looked up the facts and comparative legislation in other countries and didn't give it much more thought.  I made my report for my boss, handed it in, and let myself forget about it.  Of course, the whole reason I was researching the topic was because there was a debate on a proposed assisted suicide bill later in the week.  I was invited to attend the debate, which I did happily.

The debate was quite emotional and I was not prepared for that.  I learned almost immediately in the sponsor's opening remarks that the original sponsor of the bill recently died after a long battle with Parkinson's.  MSPs shared deeply personal stories about experiences with patients and family members.  Stories of sick mothers and fathers were invoked, as well as those involving spouses and children.  One MSP, commenting on the possibility that patients could be coerced into committing doctor-assisted suicide for monetary gain, said verbatim: 

I also remember my daughter. We have talked about coercion today. Coercion did happen in respect of my daughter, and it was from me. She wanted to die. She said on several occasions, “Let me die—I can’t live with this illness. You need to help me die. Please help me die.” I did not. I held her. I held her in my arms and gave her what we in the north-east call a bosie, and I said no, I could not do that. I loved her too much, and I wanted her to live.
— Dennis Robertson, MSP

I don't think I'll ever forget that.

I bring this up not to be a downer but because I think I was caught in the vacuum of my job and forgot that politicians work for their constituents.  It was like I forgot that everything I research at work actually affects real people, and the decisions that are made could cause great joy, sadness, or may not even be noticed.  But, no matter how menial and tedious the research is for me in my office at the parliament building, I need to be more conscious that any academic or polite interest I have in these topics is greatly overshadowed by the interests of the people living in Scotland who would actually be affected by legislative action.

dusk at the parliament

Finally, add to the list of Things Kya Does in her Free Time: re-reading the Harry Potter series.  After starting them two weeks ago, I am now halfway through number six.  I last read them as a child, and now find myself much more critical of the main characters' short tempers and the author's formulaic diction.  Good fun all the same, despite that sad realization.

 

-Kya

Reflections on Medieval Cities and Exercise Classes

I feel like I owe everyone whom I ever secretly made fun of for doing Zumba a serious apology.  Not only is it actually a good workout, I am legitimately tired afterwards.

To backtrack slightly, I guess I should also mention that I joined a women-only gym since I've been here at the suggestion of one of my co-workers.  I had been having a bit of trouble motivating myself to go running on the crowded cobblestone streets, plus most of the time it's raining anyway.  So what better way to force yourself to be active than to pay a membership fee?

First class.  We are stepping from side to side and I'm laughing at how silly I look and feel.  Then we're jumping around and I'm sweating.  Then we're incorporating squats and I'm sweating more.  Now we're doing some crazy jumping jacks and... wow, my heart rate is really elevated.  Alright Zumba, I'm a convert, that was a good time and it was also a good workout.  So please accept my apologies, people who do Zumba; I have been fully humbled and I will no longer consider it meager exercise. 

Going to the gym also falls under the category of Things Kya Does in her Free Time.  Add to the list:

  • Eating meals out (sorry bank account)
  • Hiking Arthur's Seat
Arthur's Seat is actually an extinct volcano and not much of a hike.

Arthur's Seat is actually an extinct volcano and not much of a hike.

 

  • Wandering around and taking in the atmosphere
  • Going to the movie theater (although so far I have only seen Mad Max [twice])
  • Drinking tea
  • Writing in my journal
  • Meeting friends and having drinks
  • Pretending I am a local
  • Applying for graduate schools
  • Applying for jobs
  • Traveling and planning to travel

So far, "traveling" only occurred last weekend when a few fellow interns and I went to the town of St. Andrews for the day.  St. Andrews is a lovely, medieval town with truly ancient roadways, a crumbling cathedral and castle, and a university that was founded in 1413.  That's almost too old for me to even fathom, but it makes it easier to grasp when I remember that two years ago was its 600th birthday.  St. Andrews University was founded before Europe even knew about the existence of North America; before the founding of the Church of England thanks to Henry VIII; before Galileo proposed the idea of heliocentrism.  Uh.  Old.  Wow.  

Photo courtesy of Natalie Richards, fellow intern from California

Photo courtesy of Natalie Richards, fellow intern from California

I feel like we Americans often fall into this habit of thinking that anything built before the 1930s is old; in my hometown, "historic" homes were built in the late 1800s or the early 1900s.  Going to a place like this really puts it into perspective for me in a rather awe-inspiring way how long people have lived on this land and how much history really is here.

As a final note, I really just want to mention that I actually did go see Mad Max twice in the same week.  I find myself thinking about it all the time and I will probably go see it again.  Someone should really be paying me to be on their marketing team.

Goodnight Edinburgh.

Goodnight Edinburgh.

-Kya

Waiting on Summer

Today is my second weekaversary of living in Edinburgh.  The general feeling is still that of an outsider, as if the average person on the street can tell I don't really belong yet.  But I am excited for that to change and for any strangeness to blend into familiarity soon enough.  I am already quite proud that I can understand Scottish accents with greater finesse already; when I first got to the airport, I could hear people speaking and I knew in my heart it was English but I couldn't convince my brain to turn the sounds into intelligible language.  Now it's much less of a struggle for me, though not entirely organic.  As an example, a man said something to me in the elevator today and I just laughed and nodded my head and said "Yeah!" hoping that this affirmation would serve as a suitable response.  All in good time, I suppose.

Greyfriar's Kirk

Ah, but despite the weather (which involves rain literally every day), Scotland is wonderful.  The city is compact but it seems to sprawl and it is exploding with life.  I love seeing the old next to the new, like at the university where centuries-old churches are nestled in between hypermodern dormitories.  The effect, on me anyway, is the feeling of  being allotted a glimpse into a past obscured by modernity.  I also like the labyrinth of streets and closes and alleys, and I especially like them sitting at home at my desk thinking about them rather than when I am hopelessly lost among them.  I even like the food here and would eat deep friend haggis balls every day if I wasn't worried about the adverse effect it would have on my arteries (and girlish figure). 

Machi and I are roommates but we work in different locations; I at the parliament building in Edinburgh, she at a constituency office in a town called Livingston.  Both our MSPs are from the same party so we bat for the same team and have generally the same goals, but the pace of the work is different.  While I deal with political niceties and complexities and do mostly research for speeches and questionings, she works directly with constituents and probably has a better understanding of their needs than I ever will.  There are of course good and bad things about both locations; more on that later. 

The Scottish Parliament Building where all the magic happens.

The Scottish Parliament Building where all the magic happens.

That's all from me for now.  Machi is in the midst of studying for the LSAT, so she'll be a bit out of commission for the next few weeks.  But eventually, this blog will be a collection of my thoughts written by me and Machi's thoughts written by her.  Until then, Machi says hi!

-Kya

Kya Arthur's Seat