• Life after a studying International Relations at Lincoln

    Article By: David Royston-Jennings

    I graduated from the University of Lincoln in September 2013 with an Honours Degree in International Relations. At the time I was 10 weeks deep into a 12-week internship with my local Council’s legal team, doing research tasks for the sections Solicitors, taking notes at Court and providing various administrative assistance. Inspired by President Obama’s first Presidential Campaign in 2008, I studied International Relations in order to learn how the world worked, with the quixotic (if not naïve) assumption that by doing so I could contribute to making the world a better place. Working in local government seemed like the perfect place to begin my mission and the added bonus of being able to give back to my hometown of Cleethorpes, as an employee of North East Lincolnshire Council, was beyond my wildest dreams after the initial impending doom of entering the real world following submitting my dissertation.

    After a successful 12 weeks, I was offered a six-month temporary contract to stay with NELC’s legal services as a Legal Support Officer. The initial high of being retained by the team and increased pay was met with the realisation of increased responsibility and workload. Six months flew by as I transitioned from knowing nothing about local land charges to becoming the Council’s go-to person on the subject as the administrator and authoriser for our land charges software, managed a low-profile property caseload (leases, licences, etc.) and assisted with the team’s acquisition of a case management program.

    In April 2014 my six months were up and I was directed towards applying for the temporary position of Democratic Services Officer, whilst a member of their team went on Maternity Leave. After two weeks the training wheels were off and I facilitated various Council Committee meetings, drafting agendas, taking minutes and providing support to 42 elected members.

    During the awkward period between positions, I decided that if there was ever a time in my life to travel that this would be it. In March 2014 I emailed around 70 City Hall’s across the United States, simply summarising my skills, experience and affinity for American history, and asked one question: would a British graduate with local government experience be able to intern in your office? I was inundated with responses and soon received an offer from the Mayor’s Office of Trade and International Affairs in Houston, Texas to join their team as a volunteer in October. After making the necessary arrangements with NELC, it wasn’t long before I was whistling ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ and purchasing tickets to a Houston Dynamo game.

    I returned to the UK in early November wearing the Stetson I could not fit into my suitcase, stomping off the plane in the cowboy boots my boss had bought for me as a thank you for everything I’d done. It was, at that point, the most incredible experience of my life, as I had prepared a speech for the Mayor of Houston, assisted at high level functions and organised and supported a delegation from Moscow City Government. VIP treatment at the NASA Johnson Space Centre, guided tours through Houston’s museums and sitting in on cultural exchanges between elected officials of both Houston and Moscow were just some of the perks I was privileged to.

    It’s important that I add that throughout 2014 a mate of mine had been badgering me to travel around Australia with him. Initially apprehensive about the idea because I was happy at NELC, I ultimately decided to turn down their offer of a permanent position and we booked our flights shortly after I arrived home from the US. Buoyed by my success in the States and fuelled by the notion that if I did not travel now, I likely never would, I was resolute in my decision and the notion of obtaining government experience across three continents in less than three years was too appealing to shy away from. That being said, what ultimately made up my mind had nothing to do with my career.

    Backstory: My mum has a friend in the Northern Rivers region of NSW near the QLD border, whom she has known for 50 years, through the initial exchange of letters as school children following an arrangement my great-great uncle made as a teacher here in Australia.

    Fast forward to 2014 and I reach out to my mum’s friend’s daughter on Facebook, innocently asking for advice on my potential travels down under. It wasn’t long before I knew I had to meet this woman. I could tell you that I came here to see the other side of the world and explore and advance my career abroad but I’d be lying. The reality is, I came to Australia because I couldn’t live my life wondering ‘what could have been…’

    I landed in Brisbane on January 7th 2015, met her for the first time on January 11th and I proposed in April. By the end of June, she was officially Mrs Royston-Jennings (a surname I am incredibly sorry for imparting on her) and I became step-father to two beautiful girls, who have given my life more meaning and purpose than I ever thought possible. Just as Harry told Sally, when you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

    It wasn’t until August last year that I started my first job in Australia, after months of searching, volunteering and adjusting to the dramatic changes in my personal life. I worked at a small law firm as a clerk and paralegal in Lismore for about 8 months, with a particular focus on assisting the firm’s criminal specialists. It was an eye-opening experience which I genuinely enjoyed but the lure of local government never faded, which is why when an opportunity arose at Byron Shire Council I applied without hesitation.

    I earned the role of Corporate Governance and Strategic Planning Officer at BSC and commenced employment with them in late April this year. My role consists of Councillor support, agenda and minute distribution, committee management and monitoring Councils draft policies, corporate documents, gifts and benefits declarations and declarations of interest. I also administrate Councils InfoCouncil software, administer Citizenship ceremonies and assist in Councils Integrated Planning and Reporting documents.

    A month ago BSC sent me to the University of Technology Sydney for a short course on Local Government and I was faced with fitting in writing assignments and required reading. I use the word ‘required’ liberally, in that – just as when I was a full-time student in Lincoln – the word ‘sporadic’ would be more appropriate. Nevertheless, studying again allowed me to reflect on my time as a student at the University of Lincoln and I realised just how much I miss it.

    Not just the beer pong tournaments, movie nights and taking Heart of Midlothian FC to the Champions League Final on Football Manager (still really proud of that one), but also the late nights in the library, the thought-provoking seminar debates and even the horrible looks Simon would give you when he knew you hadn’t done your reading.

    Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. If I had any advice to give to current students at UoL, or anywhere for that matter, it would be to take as many shots as you can, whilst you can, because after University you might not get the chance. There are unique doors open to you as a student and immediate graduate which aren’t available to most. Contact the company you’d like an internship with, email the elected official you want to meet, take the time to research the organisations which work in the area you are interested in. The worst they can say is no, so what’s stopping you? Create your own opportunities and go after them.

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