Rachel Demma

When I first came to London in late August for my semester abroad with the Hansard Scholars Program, my friends and family kept asking me if I felt nervous at all. Aside from the typical nerves that come with any new beginning, I could honestly say I was not nervous for the program. After an incredible experience the previous semester in Washington DC for the Washington Policy Fellowship, I was fairly confident that I had the skills I needed to do well and distinguish myself in the program. But I didn’t realize just how important my experiences with the Policy Fellowship program would be in establishing myself across the pond.

The program I’m doing in London has two courses, a dissertation, and an internship component. So it is very similar to the Policy Fellowship, but with less academic rigor. Initially, several of the other students here were anxious about the work-school balance, the course material, and general intern duties. But after last semester I’ve had little trouble. As a result, I’ve been able to get as much out of this experience as possible instead of spending time building the necessary foundation that I already cemented in DC.

The first class, Policy and Politics, is essentially the British version of Professor Doar’s implementation class. We discuss policy goals and implementation and then have to write policy memos. While many of the students here are not comfortable doing this quite yet, after last semester I am extremely comfortable with both the assignments and material and have definitely been able to establish myself. The second course, Parliament and Politics, is similar to Professor Stromm’s class in that we discuss what drives policy and the national agenda. While the context is new (Westminster instead of Washington), the concepts are all familiar to me so I’ve been able to excel in the class and separate myself from the other students. And instead of spending time trying to understand the core concepts I learned last semester, I’ve been able to dive much more deeply into the British specifics and learn so much more.

The best part of my time here is my internship for a member of the House of Lords. Initially I was concerned that, as with the other students here, my duties would be typical intern assignments (making tea, answering phones, etc.). But after I sat with my supervisor and explained some of the work I had done last semester at NOAA and shared some of my career experience (the grant proposal, policy drafts, etc.), I have been given much more responsibility. Now I am writing more policy briefs, attending hearings as staff as opposed to as an intern shadowing staff, drafting speeches, and am helping with campaign strategy for the EU referendum. In fact, last week my boss took me to Brussels to sit in on high-end talks regarding the referendum, so it’s all very exciting! The job-ready career skills I gained last semester definitely helped me advocate for myself and allowed for such opportunities.

I’m learning so much everyday, and I know part of the reason I’m getting so much out of this is that I was able to build such a strong foundation in the basic skills while in DC, from policy memos and analysis, to work-school balance, to self-advocacy and general professional skills. I love London and the program I am apart of, but I definitely have to thank the Policy Fellowship for part of this amazing experience.