KyungSun in Scotland: Happy Graduation!

April 30, 2015
My teacher/Parliamentary program coordinator, Paddy, and the girls from my flat!

My teacher/Parliamentary program coordinator, Paddy, and the girls from my flat!

Last week marked the formal end of my internship. As I reflect on my time at Holyrood, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming mix of joy, accomplishment, and sadness. It takes me back to high school graduation. I remember down the red carpet with my diploma in hand, ready for the next step in my life, but also sad for the people I’d say goodbye to. The difference between then and now is that this time, I won’t be coming back to the same place. Scotland is and has always been the temporary home that my exchange friends, church friends, teachers, and MSPs shared. Now, I will be leaving this home in 6 days.

When I first arrived, I came with two main academic goals: to learn about the policy-making process and how Scotland delivers great healthcare through its NHS (National Healthcare System). I was expecting to just see and learn the formal processes in action, but instead learned in a much greater way.

My MSP, Richard, in particular created a very open space for me to learn and grow during my time at Holyrood. I initially was very nervous when I first came in and was immediately asked to write up briefings on research Richard needed. I thought it would be something that he would just skim or put aside for later, but was surprised to find out that he had sent out the reports to other staff members on the project. I was always diligent in my work, but of course I wasn’t perfect. I still had to get used to little things like the different spellings to the bigger things like not always knowing where to look for specific information. But being able to interact and bounce off these topics with Richard made me see how passionate he is about keeping people healthy. Something that struck me was when we were reviewing the percentages of waiting times and Richard, frustrated, had said something like this:  “Can you find me a number? I don’t like this report because it gives me a percentage and people are not percentages; they should be counted each as individuals”. I admired this statement; it reflects his dedication to bringing about change for the people he serves, and I’m glad to have been part of making the changes happen.


 Richard's Alcohol Bill Launch! One of the things he really pushed for is to reduce the alcohol/tobacco consumption in Scotland. Some of the measures in his bill include things like retailers not being able to sell packs of beer cheaper than if you would buy the same amount as individual cans.

Richard’s Alcohol Bill Launch! One of the things he really pushed for is to reduce the alcohol/tobacco consumption in Scotland. Some of the measures in his bill include things like retailers not being able to sell packs of beer cheaper than if you would buy the same amount as individual cans.

The greatest thing I admire about Scottish politics are the incentives built within the political system that enables the MSPs and their staff to focus on the work rather than the position. In Scotland, politicians have a modest spending budget limit for campaigns, which makes the position more accessible to the general public. It was both surprising and amazing when the other interns and I discovered that staff members of MSPs (Member of the Scottish Parliament) were running either as MSPs or as MPs! The other interns and I agreed that we would never see this in the States simply because you need a lot of money to have a good chance in the race. I certainly wish I could bring this feature of politics back with me to the States.

It initially didn’t hit me that it was time to say goodbye. I went into work as usual, had lunch with some of the other interns, and went campaigning on my last day as a final gathering with the team. The UK Election is now officially 1 week away and my MSP/staff have been busy campaigning for Gordon Banks, the Labour candidate running for MP (Member of the UK Parliament). I spent a very relaxing, fun day down in the constituency office in Alloa getting to know the other volunteers. I also got to share a car-ride chat with Gordon Banks about his work as an MP. I could see that he is someone who values the individual relationships he has with the community he serves and he told me that if he had the choice, he would choose to work from his constituency rather than spilt his time between London and Alloa. Even on my last day, I was happy to be learning more about the people driving change in Scotland/UK. But all too soon, the day ended, and I hugged everyone goodbye.

The Labour campaign team to re-elect Gordon Banks! He has served as an MP for the past 10 years already!

The Labour campaign team to re-elect Gordon Banks! He has served as an MP for the past 10 years already!

Where we were campaigning: in the quaint town of Alloa.

Where we were campaigning: in the quaint town of Alloa.

Initially, I had ruled out working in government simply because I saw it as a job that detaches you from the people you serve. But I am now re-considering the possibility of being involved in local or state government someday. I see it as a great incubator for change. I see so many possibilities as I enter my final year at University this upcoming fall. I see a long road of detours and discovery. But most of all, I see hope that I, although one person, can be a force of change.

With my Parliamentary Program diploma in hand, final research report submitted, and thank you cards given to the people who’ve given me this wonderful opportunity, the next and last thing to do is somehow begin preparing myself to say goodbye to Scotland and the friends I’ve made here. Till next time!

The Story that Changed Everything

April 1, 2015

It’s true that study abroad changes you. It’s also true that a good book will do the same. Put these two things together and kaboom! I feel like I’ve recently gained a piece of Yoda-inspired wisdom. I initially picked up a book as an easy, fun read to do on those rainy days; but it somehow tied into my abroad experience, my internship at Parliament, my major, and even my future…

It wasn’t a philosophy book. It’s called “The Monk and the Riddle” and it’s actually about an entrepreneur pitching to an investor. Then something in the middle caught me. Komisar defined it perfectly when he said that passion is what pulls you toward something while drive is what pushes you toward something. At first when I read this I was dumbstruck. Reading about the difference suddenly gave me clarity. Which made me kind of angry. Not at him, but at myself.

How long have I been pushing myself toward the “perfect” major? Toward getting good grades? Toward seizing every opportunity and getting leadership positions? Versus, how long did I spend actually being pulled toward something? I’ve always had a great drive and work ethic, but was rarely pulled by what I learned. Except global health. Looking back, learning about health inequalities, the poverty cycle, and lack of economic opportunities are the things that have pulled me toward the major I’m at now.

What stop me from acting is thinking that I can't make a difference. But then I think of my mom. She's one person but makes an impact in my life every day.

What stop me from acting is thinking that I can’t make a difference. But then I think of my mom. She’s one person but makes an impact in my life every day.

My timing could have been slightly better. It’s awful to think that I’ve spent a majority of my college career developing my drive rather than my passion. The truth is, I’ve only recently discovered my “pull”. When I first encountered global health, I knew I was drawn toward it, but there weren’t avenues for me to pursue it further. So it got pushed ahead of me as a long-term goal that I would run towards…eventually.

The main reason why I applied for the Scottish Parliament internship was to dive back into global health issues again. So far, it’s been the best decision I’ve made. I get work with people who are also passionate about making sure that every person has better access to healthcare. I see this as “global health” because the NHS is vastly different than our cocktail of private/public healthcare systems back at home. Making these comparisons have helped me better understand the complicated and difficult process of delivering policies. But it’s also shown me the dedication, and drive that stems from pursuing what you believe in (passion!). Will I continue to work with health issues in government? I’m not entirely sure. We’ll see what the rest of this year brings. Maybe another book and some new experiences will help me figure it out.


A copy of the Alcohol Bill my MSP just passed!

A copy of the Alcohol Bill my MSP just passed!

Can't believe I only have two weeks left!

Can’t believe I only have two weeks left!

The Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament

Senior year is fast approaching. I can finally describe and describe with confidence that my passion is engaging with people – to learn about their passions, what they want to do, but more than that, work with them – pool our resources together – to help build up other people. But why health? It’s an issue that I’ve had a personal relationship with during college. During finals season of my freshman year, I was struck with an illness that never fully left. But I found strength by connecting with other people (which isn’t easy to do when you’re dealing with an illness), and I wanted to help others do the same.

This upcoming fall, I am determined to find a way to bring people together. I feel like people may care about social causes but are never connected enough with the issue to invest their time into it. My goal is to find a way to bridge that gap through marketing. I just finalized my classes for this upcoming semester which is a combination of marketing, healthcare, and politics. For once, choosing my classes was easy. The hard part will be the 6 units worth of upper-level classes + everything else. But I will push forward and this time, push forward with a blossoming passion.

Senior year here we come!

Senior year here we come!


KyungSun in Scotland: Hello, Intern

March 2, 2015

On my first day of Parliament, I got stuck. It was to be expected, but it still made me sheepish when it happened. I walked through security with no problems, made my way past the lobby, and found myself at the entrance of the Labour offices. (Labour is the centre-left political party that my MSP represents). When I scanned my pass, the door wouldn’t open. I pushed and pulled and scanned my pass again and again. But it still wouldn’t budge! Thankfully, a woman saw my struggle and kindly showed me to pull the other handle.

I gave her a smile, silently thanking her for saving me. It was definitely one of these moments:

At first when I was told I’d be a researcher at the Parliament, I was expecting to read through loads of academic articles and journals. But so far, I haven’t opened a single academic article and all of the research I’ve done for my MSP, Dr. Richard, has been really interesting. Every day, I learn about a new health issue in Scotland!

This past week, I’ve conducted research ranging from the prominence of mental health problems in the LGBTQ community to the current progress on the proposal for standardized tobacco packaging (which apparently is already done in Australia, but I could never imagine this happening in the US). Usually, I take the research and prepare a background brief on the topic for Dr. Richard. Recently, I found out that he send these out to other staff members to read or makes speeches based on my notes.


Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

The coolest part about being an intern is simply: being an intern at Parliament (which they refer to as Holyrood). I love being at the hub of political activity. I get invites to receptions and meetings with other prominent politicians/media figures (like the BBC!). I also recognize faces from the news while walking down the hall or even have the chance to witness the news being filmed right in the Garden Lobby.

But the best part is when I sat one table away from Nicola Sturgeon, the first Minister of Scotland, in the cafeteria. If the name doesn’t mean anything to you, she is the Barack Obama equivalent for Scotland! But of course, this is an excitement I don’t express when I am in the office. Nicola Sturgeon represents SNP, the rival of the Labour Party.

Every Thursday, the chamber is packed with people to come watch how intense the rivalry can be. Check it out from 2:50 to 5:00. The person speaking first (wearing yellow/gray) is Kezia Dugdale, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and the one in purple suit is Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister. You are now watching First Minister’s Questions:

I’ll admit. Between being on the learning curve, being excited, researching, and attending committee meetings, I am exhausted by the time work ends at 5pm. It’s not even that I run around all day. I just sit! But the sheer fact of working from 9-5pm is still something I am not used to and now I am even more grateful to my parents for having the energy to make me dinner growing up after their long work days. I’m hoping I’ll build enough stamina soon to get through the day. After all, my weekends are now packed with travels and activities that I no longer get to do during the week. This weekend, I’m going on a hike! Hopefully I’ll have enough energy for it.

Here goes to making the most out of being abroad!

KyungSun in Scotland: The Departure Countdown

January 5, 2015

Hello everyone! My name is KyungSun and I will be studying abroad this semester at the University of Edinburgh. I’m currently a junior studying Social Entrepreneurship as part of an Interdisciplinary Studies major. Social Entrepreneurship is the idea of finding innovative solutions to solve some of our world’s pressing social problems such as poverty or lack of access to healthcare. I decided to create my own major after going to the Dominican Republic with my Global Health living and learning community. I realized that poverty is not just a political issue, but an interdisciplinary issue that requires locals and people across all disciplines to work together.

At the University of Edinburgh, I received an amazing opportunity to work with these social issues as an intern at the Scottish Parliament. I’m really excited to get out of the classroom and see how the Parliament tackles its toughest issues. But first, I’ll be taking three political science classes which end in – believe it or not – mid-February. I can’t believe I’ll be diving right into final exams once classes end – wish me luck!

As far as the city of Edinburgh itself, I know three things:

1. It’s a beautiful, diverse, and photogenic city.

2. It’s going to be crazy windy! One student told me he broke three umbrellas while he was there!

3. It’s a place with endless stories. I’m not just talking about J.K. Rowling writing her first draft of Harry Potter in Edinburgh. Everyone I’ve talked to from former abroad students to professors have had a story to tell about the city.

Some of the differences do make me nervous. The University of Edinburgh will be very unlike UR. I’ll be going from a class size of 20 to lectures with over 100 students. I’ll also be living at the heart of a bustling city which is a big change to our isolated campus. I definitely love visiting cities, but I haven’t lived in one since I was five. However, I came across this video that showed me what living in Edinburgh will be like, which I discovered is going to be pretty cool. Check it out:

The main thing my friends and family keep telling me is that I’ll have a great time abroad. Subconsciously, this makes me feel pressured to make every day momentous and fun. However, I know that in reality I’ll have days where I won’t have anything exciting planned. That’s why my number one goal is to go out and explore every day. I may not end up doing anything memorable or significant. But if I find myself with two hours of free time, I’m going to spend that time getting to know Scotland better. I’ll try a new cafe. Hang out in the castle. Maybe take a bus to the outskirts. I’m open to wherever the road may take me.

The countdown for my departure has already begun and in less than a week I’ll be in Edinburgh. If there was a word for being nervous and excited simultaneously, then that’s how I’m feeling right now. I can’t wait to be in the city that I’ve heard so much about and I’m excited to have you all following me on my adventures. Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you all next week!

Jack in Czech Republic: The Case Against Traveling

December 16, 2014

So far I have only traveled to Ireland, Krakow, Munich and two additional cities in the Czech Republic. “What do you mean only!?” you ask. Compared to a bunch of my friends, that really is not that much traveling. In fact, most people seem to be away nearly every weekend. And how could you blame them? Prague is in the dead center of Europe, and traveling in Europe is relatively cheap. Let’s get this out of the way – I am not anti traveling and I totally get why people dedicate much of their time in Europe to traveling. Instead, I want to emphasize some seldom-mentioned reasons for not traveling. Here are some the reasons why I am in favor of staying home:

$$$ — Traveling in Europe, albeit cheaper than America, still costs money. But, cost is only one factor to consider when debating the merits of traveling vs. staying home. In fact, I’d contend, which I assume other study abroad students would support, that cost shouldn’t always prevent students on this once-and-a-life-time opportunity. It’s not like I don’t spend money when I am home. Still, I have saved some money staying in Prague most weekends.

Learn your city — Since I have had plenty of open weekends in Prague, I have been able to explore many different parts of the city. Going to the same restaurants, cafes, and bars on weekends gets old after a while, so, in a way, I had to explore other areas of Prague. I now feel comfortable going practically anywhere in Prague. As I wrote in my first post, directions aren’t one of my strong areas. I have, however, improved my general sense of direction, thanks, in part, to my continuous exploration of Prague.

Independence — Because of the variety of everyone’s travel schedule, I seem to find myself hanging out with new people every weekend, which I have enjoyed. Each weekend seems to create some new, for lack of a better word, crew, of people to explore Prague with.

Internship — In addition to my course load, I work two part-time internships, so I generally work five-day weeks. Although “real people” work five days a week anyway, study abroad students aren’t necessarily “real [people”. Most students have either three-day or four-day weeks, making weekend trips easier to schedule. If you are going to one of Europe’s many major attractions, you want a full weekend; leaving Friday night and coming back Sunday makes for a short trip. My internships prevented me from traveling more than anything else – a tough tradeoff for sure – but I am happy with my decision.

I’m certainly in the minority group when it comes to traveling, which makes sense. If you were studying in the heart of Europe why would you not travel as much as you could? Plenty of my pals who frequently traveled have said they aren’t going to get to some of the places they wished to see. I would encourage anyone studying in this area to travel around some, but don’t feel compelled to have to go somewhere every weekend. My study abroad situation is not better or worse than the traveling hounds – it’s just different.

I still traveled though. Here are some highlights:

Despite the gross weather, The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were absolutely breathtaking.

Despite the gross weather, The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were absolutely breathtaking.

Oktoberfest was, uh, lots of fun!

Oktoberfest was, uh, lots of fun!

For my first trip of the semester, my program took all of us to Cesky Krumlov, which is pretty much a real-life fairytale.

For my first trip of the semester, my program took all of us to Cesky Krumlov, which is pretty much a real-life fairytale.

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

A lot of the students in my program finished finals last week, so Friday night at Lucerna, a 80s-90s dance club on weekends, offered the ideal going away party.

A lot students in my program finished finals last week, so Friday night at Lucerna, a 80s-90s dance club on weekends, offered the ideal going away party.

Outside of the Classroom

April 2, 2012

One of the primary reasons I came to Bangkok was to be able to work with Step Ahead, an integrated community development organization that works in many capacities in Thailand.  Step Ahead’s work includes programs in one of the slums in Bangkok, called Khlong Toei.  There, Step Ahead runs a microfinance loan project, organizes sports activities for children, runs health clinics, and much more.  I, however, am primarily working with Step Ahead in a marketing capacity, helping them to market the products of their purse project.

The purse project is located in Pattaya, Thailand, where it is estimated (and this is a low estimation) that 25% of all residents are in some way involved in the sex industry.  Therefore, just by virtue of being born in Pattaya, residents are at risk for sexual exploitation.  Identifying this need, Step Ahead created Itsera, a brand of high-quality handmade bags, made by women in Pattaya.  This project was created as a prevention mechanism; the hope is that by earning a good wage making these bags, the women will be able to avoid the trap of sexual exploitation.

Despite being focused on marketing for Step Ahead, I had the chance to visit Khlong Toei last week.  It was so interesting to see where Step Ahead works, most of all because I spent last semester living and working on the edge of a slum in Kenya.  I could not help but make comparisons between the two in my mind.  To be honest, the slum that we saw here was much more permanent and formal compared to the slum in Kenya.  Most of the slum had paved roads weaving in and out, closed homes with roofs overhead, some people even living in permanent structures, most shacks having electricity and plumbing.  There are even a few small businesses that operate within the slum — for example, we walked by computers and washing machines, which residents can pay to use.  Not to say that Khlong Toei isn’t still very much a slum community, but it was certainly an interesting comparison to Kibera, in Kenya.

During our walk through the slum, we met one of Step Ahead’s clients, a single father with three children.  He has used a microfinance loan that he received from Step Ahead to run a chicken-foot business.  He sells chicken feet, which are a delicacy in Thailand.  School is not in session at the moment, so he and his three children were all sitting around and extracting the bones and nails from the chicken claws with the aim of selling them at the market.  It is refreshing to get a glimpse into the social issues that many Thai people are facing.  After a semester in Kenya where I only studied health and development, I have been craving that knowledge and interaction here.

Earlier this week, I was also able to attend a Needeed event.  Needeed is a new non-profit organization, which seeks to bring together professionals from the expatriate community here in Thailand.  The aim is to have organizations present at monthly meetings and identify volunteer opportunities within that organization. The hope is that expatriates with particular expertise would be able to fulfill those volunteer opportunities.

The meeting was really incredible…after the visiting organization presented, we had a brainstorm session — all 25 attendees.  It was almost magical to watch all of the ideas flying around – not only were there many nationalities in the room (Hungarian, American, Belgian, Australian, French, British), but there were also an incredible variety of different professional backgrounds represented.  There was a woman who had previously been involved in public policy, a nurse specializing in neonatal care, a psychologist doing her masters degree on post-partum depression and PTSD in Congolese refugees, a woman involved in the hospitality business – the list really goes on.  Most of these women are in Thailand because of their husbands’ jobs, and they are all well-educated and have a lot of experience in some professional capacity. Needeed seeks to bring together these untapped talents to make a difference for non-profits.  It truly is incredible to be able to not only experience another “side” of Thailand, but to meet so many fascinating people and explore potential career possibilities at the same time!

A Different Side of Bangkok

March 2, 2012

For the first time in weeks, I did not travel this past weekend.  Granted, it was because I had a huge group presentation and midterms to study for, but still, it was quite an event.  Sadly, studying took up most of the weekend, and there was a lot of studying required, because, truth be told, I have not been great at keeping up with school work here. With it being 96 degrees every day, so many places to visit, and so many delicious types of food to discover, it sort of feels like I am on summer vacation.  It’s just so difficult to concentrate with so many fun things to do.  So to have midterms now is like having exams in the middle of summer vacation… which is not easy.

Nonetheless, I spent Saturday at an event for my internship. I am interning part-time with Step Ahead, a fantastic NGO headquartered here in Bangkok.  Step Ahead was founded by John and Kim Quinley, whose daughter, Carter Quinley, graduated from Richmond this past May.  Step Ahead is a community development organization that works all over Thailand with various populations.  One of their projects is a “Purse Project” that works with women in Pattaya, Thailand.  One in four people living in Pattaya are involved in the sex industry, so this purse project aims at prevention: to prevent poor women from being sexually exploited by giving them an alternative way to make a stable living by making these leather purses.  The products are beautiful — the link to the website is

As part of this internship, my roommate and I went to the International School of Bangkok for a Food Fair event to sell these Itsera bags; the event revolved around a huge room filled with large stands representing the nationalities of  students at ISB, each serving their own traditional food.  So, for example, at the “Israel” stand they were serving falafel, and at the “American” stand, there were delicious brownies, cookies, and apple pie.  Next to this large room was a smaller room where we were selling our bags along with other vendors.

All in all, this was quite a different side of Thailand.  Addie and I live in a very local Thai neighborhood, so we don’t see foreigners on our side of the river often.  ISB, however, is located in a planned community (there is literally a sign at the entrance gates that say “Planned Community”).  It’s like magic; as soon as you pass the guards and drive through the gates you are literally in what looks like an American suburb. There are clusters of gorgeous houses that all surround their own pools; there is a country club, a shopping center, and – get this – golf carts.  The residents get around the enclosed neighborhood (which includes the international school) in golf carts.  Literally, the outside of the school is lined with golf carts belonging to residents. I attended an international school when I lived in Holland when I was younger so this was a bit nostalgic, remembering a similar event we held at my school, overflowing with nationalities from around the world.  But, my goodness, this was also reminiscent of the Stepford Wives.  Nonetheless, I am extremely grateful to be able to experience so many different sides of life in this wonderful city.

The Start of an Incredible Adventure

January 4, 2012

I can’t believe that I am beginning another blog, and with that, another adventure abroad.  My name is Samantha and I have been back at home in Concord, Massachusetts, for about two weeks since returning from a semester abroad in Kenya.  I am a junior international business major, and could not help but take full advantage of the opportunity to go abroad, by choosing to go abroad for two semesters in two different locations.  My semester in Kenya actually had nothing to do with my business major; rather it was an SIT (School of International Training) program focused on community health and development, which are both passions of mine.  It was an incredible four months, involving living in two different homestays, experiencing life with no running water and no electricity, navigating daily life in a dangerous city, and learning an incredible amount by living as much a typical Kenyan life as possible.  I have a feeling Bangkok won’t be quite the same experience….

In Bangkok I will be studying at Thammasat University, through the university’s international business exchange program.   As part of the exchange program I will be there with students from all around the world, which I am incredibly excited about.  I will also be there with one of my best friends from Richmond, Addie.  We are planning to live in an apartment together, and from what I have  heard these apartments are are a far cry from the village living I experienced in Kenya: most that I have come across resemble apartments in the US, fully equipped with a gym and a pool.  In addition to school, I am planning to do an internship with the non-profit organization called Step Ahead, which is a fantastic NGO that was founded by two Richmond alumni.  To be honest I don’t know exactly why I chose Thailand; I went back and forth for months about whether to study abroad for two semesters or not, and then it just all fell in to place.  I have always heard so many incredible things about Thailand, and hoped to one day travel there.  When an internship in Bangkok as well as the opportunity to study business fell into my lap, I couldn’t say no, especially because I know that this is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.

I don’t think it has quite hit me that I am leaving to live on the other side of the world for the next five months.  But then again it didn’t really sink in that I had been in Kenya until a few days after I got back to the US.  I am incredibly excited though– I can’t wait to live a completely different lifestyle than I did in Kenya.  I am so excited to meet a dynamic group of people, to explore a completely new culture, and to see a new part of the world.  I am also intrigued to be involved in the development world in Bangkok through my internship; it will be fascinating to not only compare the different issues that exist in Bangkok versus Nairobi, but also to get a feel of how those issues are addressed differently in each city.  I am eager to start my life in Bangkok, but I also have a lot to do in the week that I have left at home.  As I learned from my trip to Kenya, it is best not to worry, not to consume myself with “what-ifs” and to just go with it.  That is the best and only way to travel!

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