I’m a nerd. I’ll admit it, I love following international politics. Back home, I indulge my fascination and love for politics on the international stage by participating in Mizzou’s Model United Nations club. Going abroad presents a golden opportunity to pick up all sorts of cool new hobbies as well as help reinforce the love of old hobbies as well. I take special interest in British and Irish politics. I was lucky enough to be going abroad to Scotland in the Fall of 2015, only a year after their historic 2014 Independence Referendum and was able to study in Ireland this past summer not long after Leo Varadkar became the first openly gay and immigrant born Taoiseach (Irish for prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland.
“Politics have been influenced and impacted me ever since the 2004 presidential election”
My interest in politics started early. I have followed U.S. politics since I was old enough to follow campaigns. I remember my very first political experience, the 2004 presidential campaigns of John Kerry and George W. Bush. I wasn’t old enough to really participate or do anything other than carry my parent’s campaign signs around Chicago back then. But I vividly remember the 2008 presidential election being one of the most exciting events to personally be a part of. I still wasn’t old enough to vote, as I was only 13 years old, yet I knew that it would be a lifelong hobby. I still remember the massive thundering crowds in Grant Park the night President Obama addressed us as the new President elect. Growing up, my dad always told me he wanted me to be Secretary of State because it would allow me to travel around the world and indulge in my wanderlust. I’m not a political science major however, nor do I really have any interest in going into politics as a career so that particular job doesn’t seem like it will be in the cards for me. But just because I won’t be pursuing a career in international politics doesn’t mean anyone else like me shouldn’t. Sometimes it takes the perfect storm to pull you into an issue that will captivate you and make you want to learn or work toward solving that issue. For me, two of those “ah-ha!” moments were the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2015 Same-Sex Marriage Referendum being considered in Ireland. I often credit the excitement and trepidation surrounding those historic votes for stoking my interest in going abroad to both Scotland and Ireland.
Turning a Passion into a Staple of My Time Abroad
Once abroad, I discovered that one of the best perks of living in Edinburgh, the seat of power for the devolved Scottish government, was that sessions of Scottish Parliament were open to public viewing. Unless you live in D.C., you can’t go sit in on Congress with any regularity. But there I was, able to go down to Parliament to observe as much as I could, whenever I could, to learn more about the Scottish government and how devolved governments work. Through the IFSA-Butler Scotland office’s Community and Culture (C&C) session on the Scottish Parliament I was able to meet a couple Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs). It was a bit intimidating to meet these MSPs but the most important thing to remember is that they won’t bite and that you shouldn’t be too shy to ask tough questions. They have to deal with their constituents and students all the time. Through them, I was able to learn more about Scottish Independence and about all the issues surrounding it. While thankful for my continued interest in international politics, I did give up many other opportunities to pick up new interests while abroad. I wanted to go rafting in Argyll, visit the fairy pools on Skye, or even go hiking and exploring around the highlands. As fun as watching Scottish Parliament was, it was an extremely time consuming activity. With limited time abroad so many people feel pressured to do all new things while taking a break from interests and activities that occupy their time back home. But I’m here to tell people that you don’t have to forget about things you do back home while abroad. Try something new, but I would argue that it is better to mix a new hobby with an old one to help maintain some sense of equilibrium while adjusting to a new country and a new life that one must build for themselves while abroad.
Coming Home and Discovering Exciting New Opportunities
These experiences abroad helped me come home with a more informed opinion on issues as well as helped influence my future opinions on other thorny issues such as the eventual European Union Referendum held later that summer. As I stayed up all night watching Brexit coverage, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have gotten involved in U.K. politics. As a result, I became the most knowledgeable person on the subject in my family and friend group. My experiences in Scotland led me to follow Irish politics a summer later. One of the advantages I was afforded due to my involvement in international politics while abroad was the opportunity to attend a dinner for the company Tourism Ireland this past summer before heading to study in Galway. To my surprise and delight, this dinner featured a very special guest speaker. I met and spoke with the now former Taoiseach of Ireland, Enda Kenny. Not everyone will agree with me, but I personally believe that meeting Mr. Kenny was a better experience than rafting, hiking, or exploring the Isle of Skye would have been. This further cemented my opinion that no matter what path you take while abroad, further pursuing an old interest or finding a new one, each are immensely rewarding and take it from me, don’t hesitate to do something that you love.
Lexie Henning is a student at the University of Missouri and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland and the National University of Ireland Galway in Galway, Ireland.