Meet Lauren Allison: a Fulbright Scholar, International Peace Scholar and graduate researcher assisting Director of Research Mark Latonero at Annenberg’s CCLP.
It has been 6 years since my Washington Ireland Program (WIP) journey began. I was standing on a hockey pitch in freezing Scotland, clambering into my not-so-flattering goalkeeper gear, when Kate Hardie-Buckley (WIP ’07) came running up to me and declared that I had ‘W.I.P.’ written across my forehead. I had just arrived at St. Andrews to study for an undergraduate M.A. in International Relations and was trying out for the school team. Kate soon took me under her wing and 8 months later, I found myself sitting in Congressman James T. Walsh’s office in Washington D.C.
Little did I know then, but Kate’s conversation with me that day, and my subsequent WIP experience, would profoundly impact my plans and aspirations for the future.
Like any WIPper, my summer was filled with so many memorable and inspiring moments: attending The President’s Dinner with Congressman Walsh and his staff, meeting Hillary Rodham Clinton, watching the 4th of July fireworks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, moments spent with Host Families and our SAWIP friends. One of the strongest lessons I brought home from my experience in the U.S. was the role exchange and personal relationships play in politics and peace-building. My WIP summer whetted my appetite for international exchange, and in the academic years that followed, I was afforded the opportunity to study at L’Institut des Études Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, and at Summer School of the Centre for Comparative Conflict Studies at Singidunum University, Belgrade.
Upon graduating from St. Andrews in 2011, I was faced the common “What am I going to do now?” existential crisis that most, if not all, graduates face. I had no desire to play a part in the so-called “brain drain” in Northern Ireland. I love home, but I wanted to learn more and my head was still wandering D.C. streets in my day dreams. I had attended an information session held by the UK Fulbright Commission and I got started on my application. Conceived by Senator J William Fulbright in the aftermath of World War II, Fulbright scholarships seek to promote leadership, learning and empathy between nations through educational exchange. A few months later, I was awarded a 2012-2013 Fulbright Post Graduate Scholar Award and, with the added support of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and the British Universities North America Club (BUNAC), in I landed in Los Angeles to begin a Master of Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California in August 2012.
The USC Public Diplomacy Masters, directed by the field’s leading scholar Nicholas J. Cull, will be invaluable to my return to Northern Ireland. The course has allowed me to develop the skills I learnt during my WIP summer, and learn more about the core elements of public diplomacy: listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, international broadcasting, and of particular relevance to me as a product of both WIP and Fulbright, exchange diplomacy.
My WIP experience not only laid the foundations for my interest in Public Diplomacy and further study in the United States, it also brought me in contact with The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Before the Class of 2008 set off to D.C., we were required to interview someone we regarded as a leader in our home community. Having always admired my local representative Naomi Long MP, I took the opportunity to interview the then-Lord Mayor to learn more about her vision for Northern Ireland and my local area of East Belfast. My ’10 Question’ interview with her inspired me to ask for a summer placement in her office the following summer. My experience working in her office, and then working for fellow WIP Alumnus Chris Lyttle MLA, illustrated to me the positive and tangible impact that local politics can play when dedicated and passionate representatives work for their home community. I learnt a lot from my time in the East Belfast office, watching Naomi and Chris work to help their local constituents and striving to move politics past dated and devastating green and orange politics.
This is also true of my time spent as the research and constituency assistant to Anna Lo MLA in the year leading up to my move to Los Angeles. Anna’s passion for change in Northern Ireland was evidenced daily in her work with constituents, voluntary groups, and in the Environment Committee which she chairs. Leading the charge on the important issue of human trafficking in Northern Ireland, Anna’s dedication to this matter provided me with the background I needed for my current position as researcher at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy where I now work for Mark Latonero whose current research focuses on the role of technology in both facilitating and combatting human trafficking.
In May 2014, I will be facing the same question I faced at my last graduation in 2011: “What am I going to do now?” The experiences afforded to me by the Washington Ireland Programme, and the world it opened up to me have taught me that sustainable peace in Northern Ireland can be achieved when people dedicated to change are engaged and invested in their home communities. While not wanting to sound like a cliché Miss World contestant, blethering on about world peace, I am looking forward to moving home and working in Northern Ireland to help make it a happier and more peaceful place.
So, while my facebook may show fun adventures with celebrities in the Los Angeles sunshine, rest assured Norn Iron, I am missing Tayto Cheese and Onion, fish suppers, wee catch-ups over tea and tray bakes, and of course, the craic. In the words of this fine State’s former Governor, “I’ll be back.”
Lauren Allison is a UK Fulbright Postgraduate at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism and has most recently been awarded the International Peace Scholarship from the Philanthropic Education Organization Scholarship Fund for her Public Diplomacy study.
This blog first appeared on the Washington Ireland Program website on September 18, 2013 in “Alumni Impact”.