Internship Final Review: The Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives

Katie Lynch

At the start of this semester (January 2017), I was feeling anxious, excited, and driven to take on a new challenge and experience unlike any other opportunity I have had during my time at George Mason University. I felt anxious because I wanted to succeed and prove to my colleagues and supervisors that I can take on any challenge, however, not having the proper experience with extensive research and archival work still proved as intimidating. As the work weeks started to commence, I felt more and more comfortable and at home at the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (Blinken OSA) at Central European University (CEU). I understood right away that the environment was intellectually stimulating, and everyone around me came into work with a curious mindset, eager to read, process, and utilize the hundreds of thousands of archival materials to further understand the various human rights atrocities and overall history of many decades of war, violence, and conflict throughout the world. A desire to learn and question was what seemed as critical skills that one must have to remain a part of the community of researchers and scholars alike at OSA. In other words, I felt I fit right in.

I quickly began to learn about the close relationship between the Archives and CEU, Blinken OSA’s parent institute, as I was able and truly encouraged to attend lectures, public events, and talks given by keynote speakers when I saw fit. The combination of independent research and learning about the refugee crisis and gathering primary information and sources at my internship, generated my ability to apply it to the multitude of events at CEU. This intellectual liberty served as the dynamic learning and professional experience I was looking for. Continuing, Blinken OSA encouraged all types of scholars and students to push themselves outside of their comfort zone by presenting their findings and various research projects no matter the amount of academic or professional experience they have. Its encouraged because it not only gives students a chance to engage with those with higher levels of experience, but to also be given advice and positive criticism on their work to further develop their research skills. With this being said, one of the final challenges that my internship entails is presenting my work regarding the compilation of films, archival collections, relevant literature, and outside projects working on the refugee crisis through an archival perspective. I remain passionate about this task, however felt nervous because the work that individuals conduct at the institute are inspiring to me and push me to be a better lover of education and critical thinking. On the other hand, I am also eager to share my own knowledge of migration issues with others and to gain detrimental public speaking skills needed for my professional life outside of this internship experience.  This challenge will only push me to become the researcher I want to be, and give me the practice and persistence to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone even if I feel slightly fearful. If I could take away anything from my time being at the Blinken OSA though, is that there is a consistent environment of positive encouragement and support, and although I might feel nervous to engage with the staff in a professional way, which I have not had the opportunity to do thus far in my professional time at the Archives, I know that everyone is there to foster my own growth and give their support in my passion for human rights and refugee issues.

I am privileged to receive an intimate experience of personal narratives, expeditions, and overall hardships of the millions of refugees displaced around the world behind the perspective of a film lens. I even had access to accounts of past Hungarian refugees fleeing after the 1956 revolution, the pain and suffering endured by those refugees forcibly moved and tortured during the holocaust, and recently touching and heartbreaking news of refugees stuck in limbo throughout “Fortress Europe” caught in an overall migrant policy crisis, which conventions dedicated to the liberation of human rights suffering does little to efficiently guide these people. This unique understanding and learning experience allowed me to feel an emotional connection to the severity of the conflict by listening to their words and pains directly. I got to see refugee camps in the worst of conditions, children separated by their parents trying to illegally navigate Europe on their own with little help from member states who simply look to push off the problem of migration and lead these desperate individuals to a labyrinth of bureaucratic politics and what seems like an endless waiting game. Having this unique perspective was effective in understanding not only the millions of refugees who are attempting to cross into the haven of Europe itself, but the millions of other individuals across the world who continue to remain exposed to war, conflict, and persecution outside of Europe as well.  This internship experience allowed me to understand the scope, severity, and geographical diversity of refugee and migration issues across the world. It taught me that these issues will never cease to end or become resolved. New refugee waves and movements will always press on throughout our history, especially like what the past eight decades have shown us alone. Helping these refugees now and working with them in a first-hand experience would have been a detrimental experience as well, however researching the capacity of these issues through the incredibly unique perspective of archives, primary sources, and film documentaries, I still gained an insight I never thought I was going to receive in my time here at George Mason University. The unique work and dedication towards helping others suffering around the world through the continuous understanding and contributions to human rights atrocities at Blinken OSA brought me one step closer towards actively engaging with these matters and make a difference in people’s lives.

Katie Lynch 

George Mason University- 2018
Honors College
B.A.- Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Zeta Tau Alpha- Vice President; Programming