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A Yank in Parliament

BU Abroad: A personal account of a semester in London

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Photos by Chris Berdik

BU Today reporters visited campuses across Europe this month to learn more about Boston University study abroad programs.In all, the University has 75 study abroad programs — in language,liberal arts, fine arts, engineering, and science — in more than 20countries around the world. BU Today is publishing students’ accounts of their international experiences. Click here to learn more about Gabriela Fish in Madrid. Click here to learn about Kelsey Herwig’s experience in Dresden. Click here to learn about Erika Rosendale and her participation in the Venice Studio Arts Program.Click here to find out about Tara Lee Vaughn’s work with the WHO in Geneva.

By the time he finished high school, Daniel Weber had lived in six cities and two countries. But he still managed to find his bearings.

Born in Denver, Weber (CAS’09) lived in Dallas, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Chicago. As a high school junior, he decided on a career in public service while living in Washington, D.C., and working as a page for Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). He then returned to Chicago to volunteer for Barack Obama’s 2004 senatorial campaign. Before coming to BU, Weber enlisted in the Air Force ROTC, seeing the military as a prerequisite for his dream of working in a federal law enforcement agency such as the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service. He will be called to active duty as an Air Force intelligence officer shortly after graduation.

This semester, Weber has another new city to call home — London — where he is working as a Parliamentary intern and learning the ins and outs of issues ranging from clean coal to “pubs’ rights.”

“You definitely learn how to make a cup of tea as an intern here,” jokes Weber, an international relations major, who is working for John Grogan, a Labour Party MP from Selby, a region known for coal mining, light industry, and agriculture. Most days, Weber answers phone calls and letters from Grogan’s constituents and digs into research projects on the MP’s top issues, using the House of Commons library and media sources.

England has no equivalent to America’s state governments, so the British people expect a much more direct line to their federal politicians, he says. He recently spent half a day helping one of Grogan’s constituents sort out a child custody problem with Social Services.

Weber has also discovered just how important the pub is in British culture: his MP chairs the Parliamentary Beer Group, which represents the interests of the nation’s brewers and pub owners.

“Little things always come up,” he says. “Either the MP or the office manager will hand me something with a handwritten note on it that says, ‘I want more information about this,’ and then I’ll spend half the day researching it.”

“I’m in Parliament four days a week, from 9:30 a.m. until whenever,” Weber says. “Some days it’s until 5:30 p.m. and some days it’s 10 p.m. My MP has a lot of events in the evenings — lectures, receptions, and meetings — and he really likes to have his interns along.”

Fortunately, the long days have built-in time to wander around the buildings that make up the vast Parliamentary estate. “The first day I got my Parliament pass, my MP told me to go explore the place and try to get lost,” Weber says. “There are office buildings and the houses of Parliament, all connected through a system of tunnels. There are several bars and restaurants on the premises. There’s a chapel in the basement of Westminster Hall. There are tons of small passageways and stairwells. It’s like walking around in Hogwarts.”

He has also had several opportunities to observe the nearly constant debate in the House of Commons, a scene that turns particularly lively every Wednesday, when the prime minister shows up for half an hour to answer questions.

“Can you imagine the president going to Congress every week and answering questions for half an hour on live television?” Weber says.

On the night of the American presidential election, he was invited to a party at a pub within the Parliamentary estate that had been renamed a “bar” in honor of the occasion and was serving up hot dogs, wings, and fried potatoes that the attendees made a point of calling French fries instead of chips. But just after midnight, when the polls started closing in the United States and the results started coming in, Weber says, “I remember standing there and just getting really homesick, and I came back to the dorm, because I wanted to sit in the day room here and watch the returns come in with the other American students.”

In the meantime, local British media outlets had learned about Weber — a Parliamentary intern who had once worked for Obama. At 8:30 a.m. the day after the election, he did a phone interview from his room with BBC Radio York. While that interview went pretty well, according to Weber, he wasn’t so lucky with the York Press, which interviewed him the same day. “The reporter had basically already written the story before I talked to her,” he recalls. “She completely misquoted me and made it seem like I was a some kind of campaign operative for Obama.” The article began, “He was the right-hand man to one of the world’s most influential people.”

It was a shock to Weber, whose parents both work in media — his father is the chief of correspondents for BusinessWeek, and his mother is the director of Northwestern University Press.

“I have great respect for the media, but local media in Britain is well known for exaggerating the truth,” he says. “It was a sobering lesson in not always believing what you read.”

The other lesson was just how much the rest of the world cares about what goes on in American politics and government. “I always knew that American politics and the American system were important to how the world operated,” Weber says, “but I didn’t realize it to its full extent until I got here.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on A Yank in Parliament

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2008 at 8:18 pm

    Wow, what an impressive fellow!

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