When he received his master’s degree in government from the College of William and Mary 25 years ago, David Melding ’85 says he knew he wanted to give something back.
“The College was incredibly generous to me in many ways,” he said.
So when the Welsh National Assembly reformed in 1999 with Melding as one of its assembly members, he began using his connections with the College to hand-pick his interns. Facilitated on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean by Director of the Charles Center Joel Schwartz and Government Professor Ron Rapoport, the program has sent a William & Mary student to the British nation each semester for the past several years. It is also the reason this winter break will find government major Lauren Campbell ’12 filling out visa applications, searching for an apartment overseas, and brushing up on her Welsh.
The junior is the latest to be selected for an intern position in the still relatively new Welsh Assembly, an opportunity which, thanks to its combined pulls on her interest in judicial law and her Celtic heritage, seemed like the perfect fit for a semester abroad. “It just kinda fell into my lap” she said.
Campbell will be relieving Nicky Bell ’12, who has been acting in the same position in the Welsh capital city of Cardiff since late last summer. Bell, also a government major said that he came to the College eager for the opportunity to study abroad, and that when the opportunity to combine his inclinations toward legislation and international relations came along in the form of this internship, he couldn’t pass it up.
“Although I spent hours and hours researching Wales and the National Assembly before I came over, there was still a lot I wasn’t expecting once I arrived,” said Bell. According to the government major, many aspects of his day-to-day life abroad, from the adjustment to a more slowly-paced political atmosphere to the weekly adventure of figuring out which new cereal to try, provided new and unexpected experiences.
During his time abroad Bell took classes at the University of Cardiff and lessons at the National Assembly to learn Welsh. He did learn, and by the end of his time overseas he was apparently conversational enough to impress many of that tongue’s native speakers, but he said that ultimately he was grateful for the opportunity that provided to look into the culture behind the language.
Fostering the teaching and continuation of the spoken Welsh language has been one of the primary functions of the Welsh National Assembly since it came back into existence in 1999 through a process of devolution. This process, while still retaining Wales as part of the United Kingdom, has given the historically Celtic nation a degree of autonomous control it hasn’t enjoyed for six centuries, and also, according to Bell, a strong sense of identity he defines as “Welshness.”
“There is… a very strong political culture in Wales that helps Welsh politics retain its identity in spite of the influence of the Westminster government in London,” Bell observed
During his time with the still relatively new governing body, Bell said he was taken by how relaxed the pace of daily business was in comparison to a hectic Washington internship the junior completed last fall, yet he was also impressed with how much personal responsibility he found himself entrusted with.
The assembly consists of only 60 members, Melding being one of them, and he himself only had three people on his staff during Bell’s semester abroad. That meant a lot more hands-on work for the government major, including writing press releases, conducting constituent casework, analyzing polling data, and penning articles for political commentary site WalesHome.org. Then, in November, Bell was asked to do an interview for BBC Radio about the upcoming midterm elections in the United States, prompting Melding to remark later that “my political colleagues kindly said that he made a lot more sense than me!”
As Bell’s time in the U.K. draws to a close, Campbell said she is ready to take over, and is looking forward to all the new experiences that lie ahead, from figuring out the intricacies of British political relations to watching rugby, the Welsh national sport, for the very first time.
As for Melding, he says he is looking forward to the next chapter in his relationship with the College.
“Originally my motivation was to put something back into W&M. However, the superb quality of the interns means that my office gets more out of the program than the College,” the assembly member remarked.
Bell will be returning to the United States in time for the winter holidays, but he says that his time with the Assembly has already had a profound impact on him.
“I already have a sense of hiraeth,” he said, “a Welsh word meaning a longing to return to Wales.”