Debate over Brexit provides unique experiences
For Penn State Berks Global Studies majors Joseph Glodek and Brianna Mora, their fall 2019 internships in UK Parliament provided the perfect “living laboratory” for learning about international politics and law–as well as their own career interests. They also learned firsthand about the volatile and somewhat unpredictable nature of working in government as the deadline for Brexit, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, loomed and Parliament was temporarily shut down not once, but twice.
Just a few weeks into their internships, Glodek of Skippack, Pa. and Mora of Macungie, Pa. witnessed history in the making when Prime Minister Boris Johnson shut down Parliament in response to a bill forcing him to request a three-month extension to Brexit becoming law. Two weeks later, the UK Supreme Court ruled that his suspension of Parliament was illegal, and that Parliament was to be reopened without delay.
On Oct. 19, Johnson called a special session of Parliament–the first Saturday session in 37 years. The purpose was to vote on a new bill to decide when Brexit would happen. Johnson was committed to keeping to the original October timeframe, while many members of Parliament wanted the three-month extension to review the plans in more detail. In the end, Parliament won.
Later in October, Johnson responded by calling for a snap general election to “get Brexit done” to be held on Dec. 12. This election dissolved Parliament, which meant that every seat became vacant and all Members of Parliament (MPs) had to stand for re-election.
The snap election also left Glodek and Mora with two options: end their internships without having earned enough credits or complete their work remotely. They chose the latter.
A senior Global Studies major with a minor in Political Science, Glodek was assigned to work with Alan Mak, a British Conservative Party politician who was elected as the MP for the Havant constituency in Hampshire in 2015. Mak is the first person of Chinese and East Asian origin to be elected to the House of Commons.
Glodek’s internship began routinely enough: His duties included going from house-to-house in Mak’s constituency area and distributing surveys to gauge popular opinion of Mak’s performance in Parliament and of Brexit. He also gave tours of the Houses of Parliament to the public and coordinated campaign mailings. While he spent most of his time in a building across from the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets, he did have an opportunity to attend sessions from time to time. One such session was the historic Saturday meeting held to vote on the Brexit timeline–a session that Glodek noted was attended by nearly every Member of Parliament.
After the snap election was called, Glodek explained that he continued to work for Mak remotely, conducting research on various Chinese organizations and companies. He also took classes through the International Education of Students (IES) Abroad, a nonprofit provider of study abroad and internship programs for college and university students. IES also coordinated both Glodek’s and Mora’s UK Parliament internships.
Glodek stated that his favorite course was Women’s “Herstory” and he had the opportunity to conduct research on Odette Sansom, a Special Operations Executive agent, the most highly decorated woman during World War II, and one of the few women to be awarded both the George Cross and appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. He visited both the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum to find source materials.
“I enjoyed the experience and I got a better sense of how international government works,” states Glodek. Although he is still deciding what he wants to do after graduation, he is now considering positions in government and would eventually like to work as a diplomat.
For Brianna Mora, a junior with a double major in Global Studies and Political Science and a minor in Spanish, her desire to pursue a career in law led her to the internship in UK Parliament.
Mora was assigned to Dr. Lisa Cameron, a Scottish National Party politician who has been the MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow since winning the seat at the 2015 general election.
Working for a member of the Scottish National Party provided Mora with a unique perspective. While UK Parliament is the legislative body of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, all three countries do not always agree on law and policy. Scotland is strongly opposed to Brexit but as part of the UK Parliament system, the country has been overruled.
While working for Cameron, Mora conducted research on her constituency, worked on her campaign and helped to develop her website design. She also gave tours of the Houses of Parliament to the public.
In addition to her internship, Mora enrolled in four courses through IES. In one course on the European Union, she had the opportunity to visit the EU Commission in Brussels, where she met with students from IES Freiberg to debate the subject of Brexit. This experience gave her a unique perspective on Brexit from students from another country in the EU outside the United Kingdom.
When asked how her internship impacted her, Mora commented, “Before leaving, I was very nervous. I’m very independent but I’ve never been on my own in a foreign country. I gained a sense of confidence and a lot of knowledge. And now I know what I want to do.”
After graduation, Mora intends to attend law school and would eventually like to work in international human rights law with a focus on Europe.
What does the future hold for Mora? This spring, she will be traveling to Switzerland as part of another Global Studies course.