I never imaged I would be here.
Getting any job as a young person after the Great Recession of 2008 felt impossible, after having fought so hard to get a job, I could still remember the fear I held as I crossed the threshold as I left my supermarket for the last time as an employee and wondering if I made the right decision to drop what I thought was a safe income in order to attend a community college in a local fishing town.
Coming from a very disadvantaged background but driven to find answers to the questions I drew from the sight of inequality and limited inclusion in my environment, I was drawn to study politics. With a challenging socio-economic background, I couldn’t wait to get out of school at 16 and get into a job so that I could tackle the personal strife that was dominating my life. The failures of my schooling as well as most aspects of my state care and child poverty actively encouraged my direction to a ‘working class job for a working class kid’. But after a few years in countless blue collar jobs, I returned to study through the power of further education in a small seaside community college, I never though it would be more than catching those lost grades in hopes that I might get a better job. I had no idea what I was starting, but I never looked back.
I found myself on a waiting list for a college course in social sciences which all of a sudden opened up a place, just as I was sure I wouldn’t get a place I then found myself in my first class: politics. It was fuel to my flame. I devoured every aspect of that course, and the others covering sociology, history, literature, psychology. That content and the support of a half dozen teachers who felt I had potential utterly changed my life.
That very course brought me on my first trip abroad, where a visit to the European Parliament opened my eyes to a world I barely knew existed. I was forever shaped by the sight of the representatives of people once at war coming together and discussing in different languages ways in which we can fix the issues of our day. This was the moment I became a convinced European and global citizen, and it has shaped all that came ever since.
Returning to Scotland, I was encouraged to be the first person in my family to attend university, something I thought impossible as a care-experienced young person from a community under-represented in both politics and academia; fortunately, my amazing lecturers helped me to believe. At the same time. the politics which I studied in classroom inspired me to cut my teeth in student activism; I flourished and loved delivering change for people.
Moving to Glasgow, where I would eventually study at both Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities, this amazing city would create the person I am today. These formative years enabled me to change the lives of others and in the course of doing so, change my own also.
These were years in which I had great personal development, but they were not without challenges, as my difficult socio-economic circumstances often would find me stumbling and falling; regularly becoming homeless or finding paths closed to me. But each time I hit such a barrier, with the help of inspirational teachers, mentors, and friends, I always managed to dust myself off and reach a new height in my life.
Elected as a youth and student rep, and eventually taking my first ‘white collar’ job as an elected full-time student leader; I found myself in a short time shaping local and national policy and developing increasingly sophisticated policy and communications to win those arguments. All of a sudden I was expected to speak in all sorts of fora and with all sorts of people; from appearing on news programmes, meeting politicians and even world leaders, devising campaign strategies and leading a youth NGO of several millions of pounds.
It was effectively an apprenticeship in activism, policy, and communication; upon the conclusion of these elected roles, I was honoured to serve the country I love in our national Parliament. In those four years working as an Assistant to an MP of the governing party of Scotland, I understood politics from the other side of the campaign, and I began to increase my governance and communications experience.
Through this, I continued to pursue my passion for European politics, establishing youth empowerment NGOs concerning EU affairs, and engaging in human rights and social inclusion issues in the EU civil society. I was extremely active in politics in both Scotland and Europe; serving as a youth representative and leader on a transnational basis.
Setting up my own youth NGO in Scotland focused on empowering young people to get involved in politics by studying the decision-making processes the European Union was as rewarding as it was challenging. MEU Scotland organised three editions of highly successful conferences in which I cut my teeth in organising all aspects of the conference from sponsorship to recruitment and logistics. This experience was a new education, that enhanced my expertise considerably. Afterwards, I was delighted to serve as the leader of our European-wide network, where I again had the opportunity to contribute and perfect my skills.
Ever since I had attended my first Model European Union, I loved the educational and personal development that such events provided, and they undoubtedly helped me to understand and appreciate legislation and international relations. As a participant and then a volunteer, these activities helped me to empower other young people, and in turn I gained so much experience and met some of the most important people in my life. Through MEUs, I learned about the College of Europe and its intimate connection to the European project – I dreamed that I could too attend one day.
Finally, after pursuing further work in Higher Education and then completing a Master’s Degree at the University of Glasgow, I was ready to take my first step living abroad, and I had the honour to attend the College of Europe in Bruges as a Scottish Government Scholar. This degree has enabled me throw myself completely into my passion for European affairs, communications, and policy. The College has made an incredible impact on my life, as we look in-depth within our studies on European and global diplomacy, processes, and issues. Then, after which we discuss one-to-one with leading academics and global political leaders. The personal engagements we have with professionals in diplomacy, the challenging but rewarding workload, and the intimate connection with European politics, has inspired me to believe that I can break through to make a difference in international relations.
In all of the above, I have gained so much experience, development, and new perspective. This year at the College, and my work volunteering on campus in the high-level environment of European and global politics, has shown me that I have the potential to participate in politics at the very highest level, and to make a positive impact. I have also been inspired by the regular engagement with European leaders; such as the many student exchanges and my working regularly with Federica Mogherini in my role as a student representative; the receiving of guest lectures, education, and supervision from leading academics, Ambassadors, and global leaders; and, finally, a formative experience providing support as a communications assistant to the high-level lecture of former Prime Minister of Norway and NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg.
Meeting practitioners and experts in these fields, and hearing from them directly about your skill and potential is incredibly empowering and inspiring; all of which has added drive to my desire to apply my skills and passion to policy and communications in an international affairs career. Once again, I am reminded of the power of academia and the special role of the College of Europe – I am proud to say they have changed my life.
My time at the College – and indeed in youth representation – is soon coming to an end, but I am looking to the future and am ready to take the next step. I will always be proud of this journey and grateful to all who made it possible. Now I hope to repay the investment and responsibility that has been placed in me.