Payton Perry is an alumna from Enola, PA, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology. She interned over the summer at Parliament in London.
When Payton Perry began her internship at Parliament in London, she wasn’t sure what to expect, but it probably wasn’t a summer of global political upheaval or that she would help bring a Ukrainian refugee family to safety.
“I wanted to go abroad for my internship. I thought it was important to get outside of my small town so I could expand my outlook and experience new things.” Her opportunity came with a position in the office of Luke Pollard, a British politician who serves as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport constituency.
"I kept thinking how incredible it was to be working in another country’s government. I was just pinching myself every time I walked out of the underground tube station to go to work.”
Perry loved working in the city surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, and she loved the energy inside Westminster Palace when she was there. “There is a central lobby that is like an intersection to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Seeing how busy that area was crazy. There are journalists, news outlets, assistants running around like crazy, and MPs everywhere. It was exciting. And everyone was always very intrigued by the American intern, wondering what I was doing here.”
Most of Perry’s work was for social media. She learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro so she could edit speeches and debates into short clips for various platforms. She wrote website posts to keep Pollard’s constituency and the people of the United Kingdom up to date with his work. She was able to do some research into both prison and gun reform and see how politics plays into law-making, policies, and bills that impact the criminal justice system.
In broader terms, she learned how to effectively work in a professional environment along with how to network and interact with managers, co-workers, and the community. Communication and writing skills came from her work with social media “All of those things will be beneficial to me in whatever career I choose. Moreover, knowing that I have the capability of working in a professional environment and that I can tackle whatever task I’m handed has given me a lot of confidence in myself.”
One of Perry’s biggest projects was an unexpectedly emotional one.
Through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, residents in the UK can apply to sponsor individuals or families fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Several times a week, Perry went to the Home Office in Westminster and on behalf of Pollard, took on some of the casework for potential sponsors and asylum seekers. She went through applications checking on their progress and, acting as a middleman, reported back to a constituency team who would then report to the sponsor and applicants on where things stood or any problems with passports or visas.
Perry worked on about 10 cases throughout her internship with two that were particularly memorable.
One 19-year-old had been given guardianship of her younger sister and was trying to get them both into the UK. At the time, however, there were no policies in place for minors, so their visas would not be approved for entry.
“That was really, really hard to hear and have to report back. It just broke my heart,” Perry recalls.
Another case was that of a mother and son who had filled out and sent their applications about a month before Perry began her internship. In checking on the pair, Perry discovered their applications weren’t in the UK system although they were showing up on the Ukraine side. For weeks, Perry chased down information and tried to locate the imperative paperwork. She says she was starting to lose hope, and the mother and son were about to give up when the applications were located. While the son’s application went through immediately, there was a delay with the mother’s, their futures once again uncertain.
On the last day of her internship, Perry was informed that everything had been processed and that both would be allowed entry into the country.
Perry says doing Pollard’s social media work and learning the ins and out of Parliament was a great experience but being able to assist others to obtain asylum was incredible.
“It was one of the most influential things I’ve ever done. They don't know who I am, they have no idea that I fought and advocated for them, but I made an impact on their lives. Even though it was just two people, I helped them get to safety. It was the icing on the cake of my internship.”
Perry says it was beyond anything she ever thought she’d be a part of, and it is not something she will ever forget.
While the situation in Ukraine raged on during the summer, it was also a volatile time within Parliament itself.
Perry had a front row seat to the bruhaha around Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s prime minister. She recalls sitting in on one of the weekly Prime Minister Question sessions and seeing firsthand Johnson field media questions, a unique experience for her. Shortly after that occasion, a no-confidence vote was triggered after a series of controversies and scandals prompted enough ministers from Johnson’s own party to turn on him.
“Parliament was hectic, and you could see that people were a little panicked, just waiting for news of what was going to happen. It was a pretty heated time and a crazy thing to witness.”
Johnson resigned from his position shortly after Perry returned to the States.
Amid that British political upheaval, across the pond, the U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade on June 24, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists.
Perry says the issue was a big topic of conversation in Parliament, and it seemed that Americans looked a bit silly to them noting that men and women from both political parties expressed dismay and shock at the decision. “Everyone was asking me, the American woman, how I was and how they could help. It was nice having that support while I was there.”
Perry graduated in August and will be working at a ski resort near her hometown until April. This will give her a chance to save up money and give some thought to her next career steps. Long-term plans could include graduate or law school, but more immediate plans are to return to London for summer 2023, possibly with just a one-way ticket.
“There’s definitely a piece of my heart there, so I want to go back. I’m open to anything, maybe even working in Parliament again someday. I left there feeling so much more confident in myself, my skills, and my ability to step outside of my comfort zone.”
Perry encourages all students to consider doing an internship outside of the U.S. to develop their own sense of self and empowerment and to build a skill set for future employment.
“Every morning I was just like, ‘what? who am I? what am I doing?’ It was almost like an out-of-body experience. It was incredible.”