Note: This story also appears in the December/January issue of the Sho'men Club Newsletter. To become a member of the Sho'men Club, click here.
Women's rower Rachel Benders spent the fall semester in England and writes about her experience from the Old Country. Here is her experience.
It took about seven weeks for me to realize how amazing this opportunity was. Even though I knew I was in London, it never occurred to me how spectacular an experience it was going to be. The city is amazing and sometimes I take it for granted as I travel to and from class on the tube.
It took some time to get used to the new vocabulary, suddenly bikes are called 'cycles,' trash cans are 'bins,' elevators are 'lifts,' and cell phones are 'mobiles.' I found myself hyper aware of my own accent, which was very strange in its own right. Making friends was very easy as I lived with everyone in my programme, we all were adjusting to being abroad and finding our way through the city together. The first few weeks we would move in packs of seven or more just so no one got lost and that was really nice; everyone really looks out for each other. There is a sense of community among my fellow Hansard Scholars. We live, study, and sometimes work together. Most of us are from the States, but one of my flatmates is from Beirut, Lebanon.
One of the great things about the Hansard Scholars Programme is how much of the British political system we get exposed to. As being part of this programme, I've toured the Houses of Parliament, touched the Declaration of Independence, met Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, discussed Devolution with Members of Scottish Parliament, and seen Labour Partry Leader, Ed Milliband speak about the economy. I've learned so much about British Politics and my own Government in such a short time.
One of the things that seemed so foreign to me in the British system is the lack of a directly elected executive. In the States, citizens elect the President, that's all pretty straight forward; but in the United Kingdom, citizens elect their Member of Parliament and the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minister. Also new to me was the fact that all members of the Cabinet had to be part of Parliament whether as a Lord or an MP. Another shock to my understanding of the world was the concept of Devolution, which is the distribution of powers from a central point to somewhere lower down on the political scale. In the United Kingdom, Scotland received devolved powers in 1997, now having control over education, transportation, and other internal matters. But as time has gone by the discussion of secession and independence has come up among members of the Scottish National Party. It is highly likely that Scotland could leave the United Kingdom and become an independent nation within the next few decades. It was so exciting to discuss this topic with MSPs who are living this debate currently.
As part of this programme, I've been interning at NEF (New Economics Foundation). It is amazing to go into work every day and be at the forefront of new thinking. I've been working on a project called 'Co-Production' which is, most simply explained, as taking the people who use a service, like healthcare services, part of the entire process alongside the provider. My task has been to find evidence of 'Co-Production,' benefits, hang-ups, economic and social data. I didn't realize how important my work was until I was sitting in a meeting with my co-workers and explaining all the data I had come across.
I was worried about leaving the rowing team for an entire semester. But my coaches assured me that it was alright. I miss my team a lot and I just keep working out to ensure that I am ready to go when I return in the Spring.