Multi Story Edinburgh

Episode 60: Back to the Future - Laura, MA Modern European Languages and EU Studies

April 09, 2022 The University of Edinburgh Season 3 Episode 3
Multi Story Edinburgh
Episode 60: Back to the Future - Laura, MA Modern European Languages and EU Studies
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we meet late 2000s Modern European Languages and EU Studies graduate Laura Westring and talk about becoming local, leaving footprints and seeking out family and familiarity. 

Each episode is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. In season 3 we talk to graduates about going back. But is it back to the beginning or back to the future? 

Laura Westring is a writer, speech writing instructor and senior strategic communications and culture manager at Amiqus, a tech for good company. 

Whether it is returning home after graduation, returning to Edinburgh after adventures elsewhere, or just returning to a place that felt like the past but turned out to be the future, season 3 of Multi Story Edinburgh explores how going back is never life in reverse. 

All opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Edinburgh. 

Multi Story Edinburgh has been created and produced by the Alumni Relations team at the University of Edinburgh. If you are interested in telling your story, please get in touch and let's talk.

Music: Since When by Mise Darling from 
Artwork: Vector created by vectorjuice / Freepik

Voiceover 00:10 This is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak peek inside the minds of our graduates. This is season three, back to the beginning or back to the future. 

Laura 00:23 This morning, I'm in my wee cottage, somewhere amongst the fields of Stirling.  

Voiceover 00:30  Laura Westring. Late 2000s Modern European languages and EU studies graduate. 

Laura 00:37 It's a rather beautiful sunny day. I'm surrounded by daffodils. And it's the kind of place that seems on the face of it incredibly idyllic. Now occasionally, I have to pinch myself that I've become a person in her cottage surrounded by daffodils, because that's not something I ever could have visualised growing up. I think, when you grow up, there's always this vision you have of what your life might turn out like according to how your family's lives have turned out, or how your society tells you life should turn out in a way.  

And if you had asked me, I guess 10 years ago, that I'd end up in a cottage in Stirling surrounded by daffodils, I genuinely wouldn't have known what to say, I couldn't, I wouldn't have been able to fathom how I would have ended up here. But this is my home now. I share it with my husband, and my beautiful son.  

 I spent the majority of my career until recently in the capital of Europe, I was an accidental civil servant, one of those archetypal graduates of 2009, graduated straight into the aftermath of the Great Recession. And it was at my graduation ceremony at McEwan Hall, a fellow student who was far smarter than I was suggested that in the event that I wouldn't be able to find work in Scotland with a humanities degree, he suggested that I might be interested in seeking out an internship in Brussels. And I did, I did exactly that. And without having a plan ended up in Europe, because that's where the work was.  

It was-- at the time, was this incredibly energetic, charged place, I imagine it still is, full of international young people who arrive there, because I guess they're talented, they speak many languages, but also, the thing that they tend to share in their hearts is this idea that they want to work for something greater, a project that brings peace and prosperity. And it was all very romantic.  

In the beginning, I decided, well, I might go take a secretarial exam, just to find out how this all works so that I might one day prepare myself. And I accidentally passed. And I kept passing each part of the secretarial-- secretarial course, and ended up at the European Parliament for a few years. And it's the kind of work I described as incredibly high pressure, and incredibly dull. But I was there for the lifestyle. I was there to embrace this community of young people that was willing to work together to be advocates for things like the rights of young women before #MeToo, or the rights of interns to be paid a living wage.  


Through a series of convoluted events. I ended up for a very brief period of time moving from the European Parliament to the European Commission, and eventually becoming their youngest political speech writer. And I spent two years in that role before I ultimately made the decision to come home. I realised that if you can pay rent and buy bread, you can live anywhere in the world, and so I was able to find community in Brussels. And I don't know if I ever would have described Brussels as home. But I would have described myself for a time among a certain community as a local and then when you realise that you can become local anywhere in the world, that is extremely empowering. So I think if whenever you're in the position, whether you are local or whether you're-- are at home, I think you have to look to see how can I leave this place in better shape than I found it? Can I, you know, leave footprints here that I'll be proud of when I look back. 

There was a network of young woman that I created together with my peers. That was a project that ran for eight years, very successfully. And I was very proud of the fact that - this is kind of a bit of an aside - but I was very proud of the fact that for International Women's Day in Brussels, I was invited to take part in a special edition of Elle Magazine. And I believe it was, also they told me at the time, I was the first expat, expat, you know, ever to be featured in Elle, Elle Belgique magazine. And I, I see that as kind of testimony to the attitude where I came to Brussels without a plan. But the plan is always to leave those footprints that are, whenever possible, of service to others. I don't think you have to be at home to do that.  

I wouldn't change anything, a single moment of my time in Brussels. Towards the end. I had a lot of guilt, actually, that despite all this privilege, despite having become a speechwriter for the European Commission, a role that most people, you know, would chew off a finger for, I was actually deeply unhappy. I didn't feel I had the right to be unhappy, having gone from being an intern to speech writer in six years, but to an extent, a lot of the decision was made for me. 

The year I left was 2016, in March. I was in Berlin with my sister. I had been desperate to show Berlin, one my favourite cities, to my to my younger sister. But I left the hotel very early to go pick up cash for my sister because we were due to fly home, she to Edinburgh and me to Brussels. I came back through the revolving doors of the hotel lobby, and across the screens, and there were about five of them. It was this surreal scene. Everyone was going about their business, just as they would do in a hotel lobby in the business district in Berlin. The news was-- was showing on these TV screens and there was just two words underneath some quite shocking pictures: 'Brussels bombing'.  

And it was then I realised that there was nowhere to fly to as Zaventem airport had been hit. And my local metro station, which my husband would have walked past every day to go to work, had been hit as well. And everything had changed overnight. And Brussels had been prepared for this since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Over the years that I was there, there was a great change. And we went from being the seat of the largest political peace project in the world to a place where it was normal to see military vehicles outside of democratic institutions. And I actually have this photograph outside a pub, Kitty O'Shea's, it's just across from the European Commission. It was my last day and people gathered there to wish me well. And then it was a very kind and accommodating member of the Belgian military who took the photo for us and you can actually see his rifle peeking into shot. And I remember thinking that's really quite an incredible metaphor for one of the reasons I chose to come home. And it became one of those years in human history in the Western world. Anyway, it just got more and more bizarre. I realised that for the European Union anyway, where I was, it was a period of disintegration. 

It wouldn't last forever. But my ability to be useful and to engage in meaningful work as a Brit, especially someone who, did--, no longer had a mandate. I felt, to be writing speeches for European citizens in that way, I decided I'll come home to take part in a process of integration, of construction, of what's coming next, and I ended up coming home to Edinburgh for several reasons, because I was very, very keen to change careers and embrace the incredible Business for Good movement that was emerging here. And I wanted to be part of that economic transformation, part of that construction of something new, but much more instinctive, and much simpler than all that I really wanted to have a child. And it felt like the most natural thing in the world to seek out family and familiarity. And the fact that I've always believed that Scotland's a particularly beautiful place to live and to grow up for all those reasons we came back from being local, to coming home. 

Voiceover 10:52 We also ask our guests to tell us about a place - somewhere local, somewhere that kind of captures something important, something worth sharing. 

Laura 11:09 

Having spent a great deal of my life in Edinburgh, I'm often asked - Edinburgh as a city people want to visit they want to come to - and as a result, if you're local, you're often asked, well, where should we go? And I often get a bit of, you know, the eyebrows raised when I answer that question, my answer has always been the first place you should go in Edinburgh, is Greyfriars Kirkyard. Not only does it have one of the most incredible hidden views of the Edinburgh skyline, but there are some remarkable graves where you find all the light and the darkness of local history. You find the leading lights of the Enlightenment. You find the merchants who made their money and built incredible Georgian architecture on the backs of Scotland's role in colonialism and slavery.  

You find a lesson in human history, we are always on this path of advancement. It's three steps forward, one step back. But as you know, as a human civilization, we're always advancing and I find Greyfriars. Kirkyard a particularly beautiful and particularly profound place to spend half an hour meeting with the souls of all those who came previous. And it, I think, always reminds me that if until we realise that it's only through our unity, that our peace and prosperity will be established, our security also, we will only as a human family make our lives more difficult. So I find, and always have found, that Greyfriars. Kirkyard is a place where the past the present, the future, this life, the next life, they all come together. And it's a place for me of contemplation, and of sanctuary, and of all the things that mean home to me. 

Voiceover 13:34 

Thank you for listening. Join us next time for another graduate and another story