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Raniz Bordoloi’s Experiences on the SPI Program

Can you tell us about your work?

Raniz Bordoloi is a third year economics student at the University of California, Berkeley.  This past spring, Raniz embarked on his study abroad program with the UCEAP Scottish Political Internship, hosted in Edinburgh, Scotland.  For the span of his four-month long program, Raniz has been serving as an intern to Ben McPherson, an MSP within the Scottish Parliament.

Raniz told me when our interview began that Scotland’s 2014 Independence referendum was one of the key reasons that he chose to come to Scotland.  Having grown up in Assam, India, he resonates with the feeling of disenfranchisement and sentiments of underrepresentation that he felt was at the basis of the movement.  Within just a few months of his stay in Scotland and amongst the political clamour of the implementation of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon has announced her support of holding a second independence referendum in the near future.  Working closely with Mr McPherson in his parliamentary office, Raniz has relished the opportunity to explore party politics from the front lines and relayed his experiences during his internship to me.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

Having grown up in a “very politicised environment” with an Indian politician for a father, Raniz began interacting with constituents and aiding in his father’s political campaigns long before his decision to move to Scotland.  This exposure to politics on the ground level has instilled in him a love of politics, which translated into his passion to pursue studies in Edinburgh.  Raniz states that he felt that the referendum “closely linked to [his] identity” having grown up in India.

Following his freshman year at Berkeley, Raniz returned to India for a summer to work for the international congress which he says gave him a strong impression of politics behind the scenes.  Since beginning university, Raniz has been researching political representation in India with a political science professor at UC Berkeley.  He says that he had been intrigued by the SPI program since his freshman year and felt it appealed to him because it would provide the opportunity to view a devolved parliament in action.

In the aftermath of Brexit, Raniz felt that this spring “would be a good time to observe and see everything first hand. Initially [he] had no idea what the party structure was here, nor what the party ideologies were”.

Please tell us about your experience interning in Scotland?

He has been overjoyed that Mr McPherson has served as “a mentor like figure to” him and says that he feels very fortunate to have served as his first intern.  In order to give Raniz a good sense of the parliamentary practices, Mr McPherson sent Raniz to observe committees and debates which encouraged him to ask Mr McPherson if he could gain more experience in his constituency office “to understand the nature of the casework”.

Raniz observed after a few weeks of serving in the constituency office that most of the constituents “are dealing with issues regarding health or education” which proved an interesting comparison to his observation of his father’s constituents in India. Raniz’s day to day tasks include making databases with information about the constituency which gave him a strong impression of the issues that they faced and once he was done with the project he “knew every constituents name by heart [as well as what] kind of problems they were facing so when they came to the constituency office [he] knew them”.  As a result of this, he was able to contextualize his observations of how their issues were handled.  He says that initially his work was overwhelming but nevertheless incredibly rewarding and he takes pride in his accomplishment of it.

After his stay in the constituency office, Raniz returned to the parliament and began helping Mr McPherson draft his speeches, briefings and debates.  After a few months in this office, Raniz says that he can feel his political opinions have consistently shifted in regard to the vote for independence.  He has come to believe that “it may not be pragmatic to compare [his] situation in India” to the issues being faced here as he feels that those he has observed at home are more grievous.

Raniz looked on from the chamber during the second day of the debates concerning the possibility of a second Scottish Independence Referendum.  He later observed that “it was fascinating to see how leaders were responding to each other back and forth and [he] especially appreciated Ruth Davidson’s contributions because she is such a strong woman, particularly knowing that she will always have a rolling opposition but she remains so passionate”.  He says that watching her speak was incredibly educational.  All and all Raniz says that observing the debates was “very interesting, very lively, and very engaging” but he wishes the arguments were a bit more substantial.

In summation of his experiences as his internship nears its end, Raniz says that the SPI program has given him “the best of both worlds”.

How has the Berkeley program helped you?

“I am working as well as getting classes and it is a very wholesome experience because initially when you start working in the parliament, the learning aspect is missing.  When I started out I thought that it would take some time before I understood everything about Scotland’s political history but the fact that the UCEAP classes complement our internship is fantastic.  I feel that I can relate back to them and appreciate the fact that we are given such practical assignments for example our presentation next week (which entailed a proposal of a fictitious NGO, its budgetary requirements and aims of the project).  So these are skills that will not only help with my academics but at the same time for my professional development because they will all work together. In terms of how the internship is set up I think it’s really great, working in Parliament Monday to Thursday 9 am to 5pm followed by our classes on Friday.

“I am very happy with my experiences here and how everything has played out and also the fact that I am getting some time to travel to Europe so I am very satisfied with the program. It is exactly what I expected and the support system has been great as well. Everyone here is really nice and I am really happy and personally I am really enjoying this experience”.

When asked about the social side of his program which takes place outside of the context of a traditional immersion program at a University with local students, Raniz felt that his experience of moving to the US from India for university prepared him how to be flexible and appreciate his education.  He feels that in order to succeed on this program, “the key is to have an open mind and really learn as much as you can and see the value in everything”.  This viewpoint has allowed him to “always be learning and turning this into a larger improvement experience”.  He is incredibly grateful to Mr McPherson MSP along with Dr Ashley Cole the UK and Ireland program Manager and SPI Co-ordinator and lecturer, because Raniz feels she is “very generous with her feedback and that is the kind of learning environment that [he has] sometimes missed out on at Berkeley because it is so huge and you don’t get as much feedback; you don’t have the same kind of intimate academic experience”.  In summation, Raniz says that he “would encourage anyone to study abroad”.

Future plans?

Following graduation, Raniz plans to pursue an MBA or an MPP and eventually return to India. I want to thank Raniz for sitting down with me and shedding some light on his experiences so far with the SPI program.  The Edinburgh Study Centre has been running this program for the past six years and is looking forward to welcoming future classes of students for years to come.