By Karolina Chimchenko, graduate student, Center for Slavic and East European Studies
In September 2014, I had the honor of interning at the Lech Walesa Institute, a human rights nongovernmental organization in Warsaw, Poland. The institute’s purpose is to record the life and activities of former president and leader of the Solidarity social movement, Lech Walesa, to support the development and sustainment of democracy in societies and to protect human rights as well as Poland’s national heritage.
While interning at the institute, I learned about and contributed to many of the institute’s different projects such as Gene of Freedom, which celebrates Poles’ resilience to foreign rule, and Solidarity Shorts, a contest for films that encapsulate the meaning of Solidarity in today’s world. During my two-month internship, I served as a Polish-to-English translator, social media manager and event coordinator.
Without a doubt, the highlight of my internship experience was helping to organize and attending the Lech Walesa Award ceremony in Gdansk, Poland. At the ceremony, Lech Walesa awarded the 2014 prize to Euromaidan, the Ukrainian civil movement that is calling for closer economic ties with Western Europe.
While living in Warsaw, I could not pass up any opportunity to immerse myself completely in Polish culture and to learn more about the city’s tragic past and triumphant restoration. I made sure to visit art and historical museums such as the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the National Art Museum, as well as to visit popular Polish restaurants such as Bambino that served authentic Polish cuisine.
Not only did my internship experience allow me to develop professionally and broaden my understanding of Polish history and culture, adjusting to life in Poland’s bustling capital also developed my character. Although this was not the first time I visited Poland, it was my first time in the country alone and the city was unfamiliar to me. Reflecting back on my experience, I remember more frustrating moments and novel experiences than I can count, such as trying to decipher the railway schedule (although I must give myself some credit as many natives also have this problem). I grew to accept obstacles as challenges, see failures as learning experiences and find contentment within the unforeseen future.
My internship experience solidified my previously precarious plans for the future. I enjoyed my time working at the Lech Walesa Institute so much that it has inspired me to work with nongovernmental organizations in the future, either as part of my career or through volunteer work.
During my stay, I fostered many long-lasting relationships with my coworkers and host family. I consider myself blessed to have met so many wonderful people and to have been offered an opportunity to contribute to a cause meaningful to me in a city I now consider my home away from home. I will never forget the hospitality shown by my host family that treated me as their own, and to have worked alongside many talented, passionate and inspiring people looking to make a difference in the world.
For those looking for an opportunity to learn more about yourself and about a different culture, yet simultaneously gain practical skills and knowledge in your field of study, I highly recommend interning abroad. Admittedly, interning abroad last fall was not my planned trajectory, but it turned out to be one of best decisions I have made in my life.