Edinburgh Castle photo courtesy of IE3 Global Internships
Edinburgh Castle photo courtesy of IE3 Global Internships

The walk from the bus stop on London Street down Abbey Hill toward Parliament only takes 15 minutes but heads up! Be alert for doggy piles, cigarette butts, pigeon poop, the occasional puddle of vomit and a twist of razor wire  – we are in the city, you know! Scan the skies for pigeons and tar drippings when walking under the train trestle in this seedy pocket of neighborhood, but then…..THEN (cue harps and angels) emerging from this darkness ~ BEHOLD!  Holyrood Palace on your left and behind is the glorious Arthur’s Seat (a small mountain made by volcanic rock) looming over her with Parliament only one block further. The perfect trifecta!  You now find yourself at the base of the Royal Mile, the famous street that leads uphill from Parliament to Edinburgh Castle at the top. You’ll find shops and pubs and medieval historical and ghost tours right here on the main vein of the city. The people watching is endless ~ if you want history and excitement, you could spend a full week on this street.

Scottish Parliament, photo courtesy of Michele Justice
Scottish Parliament, photo courtesy of Michele Justice

It’s time to enter Parliament and start work. The nautical images with bamboo, glass, and steel make a person wonder at the architectural elements. Sadly, the designer passed away before his work was complete which leaves much of the building’s ambiance a puzzle and open to interpretation.  Guides say the use of glass gives a person the idea that the government employees are easily accessible to the public.  First step while inside: show Security official badge strung around my neck. This maneuver makes me feel important and very official. Security guards are dressed in purple shirts and ties ~ the hue represents the color of Scotland’s native flower, the thistle.  Next step: beeline to café for morning dose of mocha from friendliest barista who calls me “luv”. When you’re new to a country and culture, even the smallest kind gestures mean a lot.  Now, gather the hot drink and go through the first of many heavily secured doors to get to desired tower. Note to self: place official pass in front of small box to right of door and wait for beep. There’s a tricky dance involved that requires timing and patience when using your pass. Make sure not to hold it in front of fire security box or any of the other three boxes that look suspiciously identical or you will be waiting for the door to unlock, and it just won’t happen. I did this once with a group of six people behind me. Luckily a Scottish friend corrected me, laughed softly at my ignorance and I proceeded to turn beet red. Once up safely on the fourth floor, I round the corner to my desk with its phone, computer, file cabinets….a certified office nook! I am an official Intern to a Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) and couldn’t feel prouder.

The days are filled with activity. One day I may be drafting letters to politicians from other countries, or doing research and compiling information about the MSP’s Cross-Party Groups.  I was fortunate to get to learn everything I could about Visual Impairment issues in Scotland, the Housing Crises, Knife Crimes, and Funerals and Bereavement. Here’s an interesting bit of information about the latter: in order to create a smaller carbon footprint, it’s becoming possible to freeze a dead body, shatter it, then grind it into a powder to be kept in a special place or scattered into the wind. It is an eco-friendly method that prevents trees from being cut down for coffins and prevents smoke from polluting the air from cremation. This is only ONE of the many exciting things I learned during the internship.

Some days I stuff envelopes, run errands, or escort special guests up to the office from the Garden Lobby. Other days I work on projects like searching for postal codes for constituents, answering phones, filing, or attending meetings and receptions in the evening. There is always something exciting to do and learn, and sometimes the best experiences are the simple ones, like when you find yourself sharing an elevator with a friendly person who wants to chat. As soon as you exchange pleasantries, the next comment will certainly be this, “Are you from Canada or the states?”

In the evening I often join a small group of MSP’s and their Assistants or other random Parliamentary staff for drinks up the Royal Mile at the Toll Booth Tavern. This is a wonderful authentic old pub built in 1591 and originally used as a place to collect taxes and as a jail. In 1820 it became a tavern and I must say, has delicious french-fries!  Of course I was corrected, they are called “chips”, and American “potato chips” are “crisps”.

By 9PM I am getting sleepy and I still have to walk 15 minutes to the nearest bus stop and take the 30 minute ride back to my sea-side apartment in Portobello. As I ride the bus at night, I reflect on the day and think about what tomorrow will bring. An elderly man gets on the bus and stands in front of me holding the railing. I touch him on the arm and ask, “Would you like my seat?” and as I start to stand up, he replies, “No thank you, luv. I’m not as old as I look.” And we both have a giggle.


Upon completing her IE3 internship, Margaret O’Neill returned to Scotland to look for full-time employment. She is  now a Parliamentary Assistant to Mr. Alastair Morgan MSP in his constituency office in Dalbeattie, Scotland.

Photo by Kristen Mahoney
Photo by Kristen Mahoney

Who are you and why do you want to go?

Most study abroad programs require application essays.  These essays typically serve as proof that you can form cogent sentences and have put some thought into your decision to apply for an international experience.  Give the program staff a chance to get to know you and impress your host institution with thoughtful, well-crafted essays.

  1. You might think your life is boring, but you still need to introduce yourself in an engaging and compelling way.  The “tell us about yourself” essay can be the hardest one to write, especially if you think that by going abroad, your life is just beginning. When writing your biography, you don’t need to worry as much about the historical facts as the essential factors that made you who you are.  Even if you spent 18 uneventful years living in a functional household surrounded by picket fences and puppies, there are still lots of factors that affected your choice of major and your intellectual and personal interests.  Focus on the things that affected you intellectually, like favorite books, important classes, or skills that you’ve learned.  Share your interests and hobbies…a dedication to a sport or craft says a lot about your passions and personality.
  2. The flipside to “my life is too boring” is “my life is too full of drama.” We have become a culture of over-sharers.  While an illness or difficult family situation may have been the most formative experience of your life, it is important to convey this information in a clear and dispassionate manner.  Remember that your program acceptance is never based on health or disability status; you will have an opportunity to disclose this later in the application process. If you choose to disclose a family tragedy or hardship in your essay, keep the facts brief and clear without going into tawdry detail or not maintaining your privacy. Focus instead on how you developed from the experience.  Restraint demonstrates maturity and keeps the focus on your abilities rather than your soap opera.
  3. Writing about your goals. Most study abroad essays will require that you describe “why you want to participate on the program.” The following answers are not sufficient: “it would be really cool;” “I’ve always wanted to date someone with a ___ accent;” and “I just want to go somewhere.”  This is the time to reflect on why your destination piqued your interest…was it the music, the culture, the food, the history?  What kinds of classes are you hoping to take and how will they fit in with your degree progress? Do you have personal goals of gaining intercultural skills or travel? Sharing these ideas lets your program advisors know that you’re putting thought into your decision and you will be willing to prepare for your adventure.
  4. Writing about transitions. Many programs require an essay to discuss how you have transitioned in life.  This is a great indicator of how well you will do when you arrive in a completely new destination, need to use a new language, and navigate a new system.  If you haven’t had a lot of life transition, talk about the transition to college or learning how to be successful in a new job or activity. Describe how you have been willing to try new things and be flexible and how you keep school and life balanced.  If you’ve had difficulty transitioning, talk about your lessons learned and the tools you have to transition in the future.
  5. Remember to keep your essays in your own authentic voice while deploying proper usage and good grammar.  Double check the spelling for the places you’re applying for…a Welsh university would cringe at receiving an application for your “Study Abroad in Whales.” You don’t have to sound stilted; the essay should sound like it is coming from a college student with a real life and real goals. Have a trusted proof-reader take a look at your essay, or take it to the Writing Center on campus for feedback.
  6. Save a copy of those essays.  They may provide the foundation for a scholarship essay or application an in the future.