Wellington field trip gives insight into real-world politics

23 June 2011

Getting a chance to experience first-hand the inner workings of New Zealand's political powerhouse was a "phenomenal" experience for University of Canterbury honours student Sylvia Nissen.

Wellington field trip gives insight into real-world politics - Imported from Legacy News system

Trying out the seats in Parliament's Debating Chamber are UC students (back row from left) Shanti Ahluwalia, Sophie Dawson, Cameron McLeod, Andrew Ydgren, Matthew Fanselow and (front row from left) Sylvia Nissen, Regan Gibbons, Sara Hames and Stephanie Gard'Ner.

Getting a chance to experience first-hand the inner workings of New Zealand’s political powerhouse was a “phenomenal” experience for University of Canterbury honours student Sylvia Nissen.

Sylvia was one of nine UC political science honours students who recently spent two-and-a-half days on a field trip to Parliament in Wellington. The seventh annual parliamentary field trip was led by Dr Therese Arseneau and Dr Bronwyn Hayward (Social and Political Sciences), and supported by the Speaker of the House Dr Lockwood Smith.

Sylvia said the programme, which started each day at 7am and finished after 10pm, was “exhausting but wonderful”.

“It’s an amazing programme. It’s not just your average tour of Parliament but an in-depth look at how it works. It’s an incredible experience that is unique in this country. No other university offers a similar experience.”

Sylvia said the field trip began with a behind the scenes tour of Parliament led by Labour’s Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson.

This was followed by a gruelling two-day schedule that featured meetings with members of parliament from all political parties, including Prime Minister and UC alumnus John Key, as well as meetings with select committee chairs, parliamentary researchers and members of the Press Gallery. They were also given the chance to write supplementary questions to be debated in Parliament and were part of the audience during the filming of an episode of TVNZ 7’s Backbenchers.

Dr Hayward said unlike internships, the aim of parliamentary field teaching is to give honours students an intensive overview of the working of New Zealand government as a whole.

“It’s a joy to work with Dr Therese Arseneau who, along with the politicians and parliamentary staff, volunteers her time to develop a programme that really mentors new young leaders.  This kind of field teaching is also unique internationally - for example these honours students are given a master class in leadership by a Prime Minister in his office. It is a remarkable opportunity and one the students don’t take lightly. They prepare incredibly hard beforehand.”

Sylvia said one of the highlights for her was a lecture given by the Deputy Secretary of Cabinet, Michael Webster, in the Cabinet Room.

“It was special for me because not many people get to go there – many MPs have never been into the Cabinet Room – and you just get this sense that you’re in the powerhouse of New Zealand,” she said.

“Being able to ask questions of the Prime Minister and some of the MPs directly was also an amazing opportunity.”

Sylvia said while she hoped to one day work in Wellington’s political arena, the trip had opened her eyes to the huge number of possibilities available to her once she had completed her political science degree.

“While political science doesn’t provide explicitly vocational training like law or engineering, there are a huge number of opportunities out there and they’re all in places that you wouldn’t expect – and the more I study the more opportunities become apparent. But I definitely want to go back to Wellington and Parliament. It’s a very cool place to go.”


For more information please contact:
Dr Bronwyn Hayward
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Canterbury


Stacey Doornenbal
Communications Officer
University of Canterbury


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