After almost a decade working in East Asia, Dr Amy McNeese-Mechan gained a Masters in Social Anthropology, followed by a PhD. A city councillor and trade unionist, she tells us about her many roles and the diverse people she works with.
MSc then PhD in Social Anthropology
|Year of Graduation||1997 then 2003|
Your time at the University
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon, majoring in East Asian Studies including Chinese and Japanese art, history, and literature, and also minored in biology with a focus on botany, marine biology and genetics.
I then went to work for the Japanese Foreign Ministry at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, Illinois, and was later recruited to participate in the inaugural Monbusho Programme, working for the Japanese Ministry of Education in Osaka, Japan. I went on to work for Osaka College of Foreign Languages as a senior programme administrator, teaching English, public speaking, and US history.
After almost 10 years living in the Far East, I came to Scotland in 1996 to undertake a masters degree in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Why Edinburgh? Primarily because, having been accepted at both London’s School of Oriental Studies (SOAS) and the University of Edinburgh, but having made lots of pals from London, I decided that in the interests of studying over partying I had better come to a city where I knew absolutely no one! While living here I developed a growing interest in Scottish culture and its intersections with and divergences from what I knew as ‘British’ history. I learned, for example, that Christmas had been banned for 300 years in Scotland!
I also made some great friends from around the world, and decided to stay and complete a PhD. Through friends, I became interested in politics and became an active party member in the Scottish National Party (SNP), because it was the only political party I’d ever encountered which stated in its manifesto that it welcomes those who come to Scotland to make a contribution to the nation. At a time when politics from Europe to the US are lurching towards xenophobia, this statement of welcome struck me then and still resonates with me.
Activism, and an interest in people, led to me standing for elected office in 2017 and I was elected to a five-year term.
Your experiences since leaving the University
While doing my writing up, I started to work for the environmental protection agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). I was elected to become vice convenor of the joint trade unions, Prospect, which represents those working in the scientific fields, and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents civil servants, and in this role travelled across Scotland from north to south meeting with staff working to protect Scotland’s landscapes, flora and fauna.
After relocation of the research headquarters, I used my redundancy money and established a fair trade social enterprise, working with women’s and community groups in Africa and Central America with a focus on recycled and environmentally sustainable materials.
After many adventures, I finally went to work for the city council’s Child Protection Team. While at the council, I was elected International Relations Officer for public sector trade union Unison, focussing on domestic issues like promoting the living wage, to international issues like support for human rights and working conditions across the globe from Palestine to Columbia.
Activism, and an interest in people, led to me standing for elected office in 2017 and I was elected to a five-year term. In 2018 I became Vice Convenor of the Northeast Locality – the quadrant of the city stretching from Newhaven to Portobello and inland to Duddingston – and then Vice Convenor of Culture & Communities. This includes not only all of the city’s international festivals, but community and faith-based events, sporting events, community safety and security, community engagement and community justice.
I’m as likely to be meeting with police sergeants and counterterrorism security officers as third sector and charity organisations supporting black and minority ethnic (BME) women, refugees, pensioners, at risk young people, disabled residents and visitors to the city, with school staff, parents’ councils, foreign diplomats, art directors, sports facilities operators, landscape designers, bin men, and local protest groups – all in the course of one week!
With interests ranging from scientific research to the arts and environmental issues, I’ve ridden camels in the deserts of Rajasthan, Morocco and China, elephants in Thailand, got lost in the jungles of Sumatra, scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef, snorkelled the cenotes of the Yucatan, walked the Great Wall of China, saw the Taj Mahal by moonlight, climbed the Temple of Borobudur in Java, survived earthquakes and kidnapping attempts, circumnavigated the globe twice and climbed the pyramids of four different civilisations - but haven’t been to Egypt!
Never stop exploring the inner reaches of your mind and the outer reaches of this beautiful planet and universe.