Interning with the Wilson Center – Heejae Park’s Impressions

This summer I interned at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank which fosters research, study, and discussion concerned with policy in national and world affairs. Specifically, I worked at the North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP), which is a part of the History and the Public Policy Program (HAPP) at the Wilson Center.

HAPP has several projects, including NKIDP, the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP). In order to inform policy makers, analysts, and scholars, HAPP facilitates and sponsors academic research in non-US archives about history by translating and publishing primary sources from non-US archives.

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Before I started my internship in earnest, I had a chance to go to the National Archives at College Park on a field trip with all the staff and other interns at HAPP. The National Archives at College Park has more documents, particularly more foreign service documents, than the National Archives in DC. Before heading to the National Archives, I found an interesting document called Russian-Language Publications and Records in Pyongyang and Other Locations in Korea, 10/1956-1/1958 while looking at the National Archives catalog page. Since it takes more than an hour to receive requested documents in the archives, it is always better to print the form of the document you are interested in (see first picture below) and submit it as soon as you arrive. I received several big stacks of documents on this subject, and the second picture below shows some examples of them.

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As an intern at the Wilson Center, my main job was to look at Russian documents written in the Soviet Embassy in North Korea during the Cold War era. For example, in July, I read Russian documents which were written in 1969.

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The documents include the records of conversations that occurred between the Soviet Ambassador and many Korean officials, such as Pak Seung-cheol, Kim Yong-nam or Kim Il Sung. There are also long and detailed reports by Soviet diplomats on topics such as North Korea’s domestic political or economic situation and relations with other communist allies, the Soviet Union and China. I read through these Russian documents, created a basic catalog, and posted them on the Wilson Center catalog website.

This job was fascinating because it is always hard to get reliable information about North Korea. Though we do have access to North Korean official publications, they do not always reveal the full truth. However, these Soviet Union documents and the diplomatic records, known to be reliable sources on North Korea, allow us to get a better understanding of both what was happening inside North Korea and with its international relationships, particularly with the Soviet Union and China throughout the Cold War.

In addition to creating a catalog and posting it on the website, I have had several opportunities to work with scholars directly. For example, Dr. Yafeng Xia, a professor of history at Long Island University, was working on his book on the Sino-North Korean relationship during 1949 to 1975 at the Wilson Center. Since the Russian documents that I read and made a catalog of included material on the Sino-North Korean relationship on that period, Dr. Yafeng Xia asked me to gather some information from the documents that he could include in his book. I discussed with him what might be useful for his book and felt great that I was able to be helpful.

Aside from my work, I learned a lot and met interesting people at the Wilson Center by attending various conferences and events which took place right in the building. For example, there was a film screening event, at which I watched a film called “Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine” by Mark Jonathan Harris, which described the Ukrainian crisis. Not only did the movie provide me with a deeper understanding on the Ukrainian crisis, but I was also able to listen to Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s talk after the movie. During my internship this summer, I attended a number of interesting events on Russian and North Korean affairs.

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Lastly, another exciting part of interning at the Wilson Center was that, since many scholars and important figures come to the Wilson Center and work for a year to finish their books or do a project, there are amazing people here that I can meet with and talk to. A very good example of this was the former Foreign Minister of Russia, Andrei Kozyrev, who served under President Yeltsin from 1991 to 1996. Having lunch with him was very interesting because I could hear some fun anecdotes from his time as a foreign minister. He will be finishing his memoir at the Wilson Center and the book will be published while he is working there for a year.

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I have enjoyed my summer here at the Wilson Center. I am very pleased that, thanks to my job, I could narrow down my academic interest and could learn a lot by going on field trips, attending events, and having opportunities to meet interesting figures. I think the Wilson Center is one of the best places to learn at as an intern.

A (Mid)summer in Sweden by Valentino Grbavac

Stockholm

When I found out back in February that I had been selected as one of three Wallenberg Fellows from Georgetown University, I jumped up and down for joy. Ever since I had heard about this amazing fellowship, I had dreamed of becoming a fellow. After the first few moments of complete euphoria and sheer happiness, I started wondering and asking questions. What will the summer be like? Where will I intern and what will I do there? What places will I visit during those three months? What will my first Midsummer celebration look like? I had so many questions, and later on as I packed my suitcase and left DC for Stockholm, so much planning and so many expectations.

Now, after more than half of my summer in Stockholm is over, I have to say that this experience has surpassed even my wildest expectations. It has been full of fun, adventure and above all, learning. I could have not imagined a better experience, and I am eternally grateful to the Wallenberg family, and everyone else involved, for this unique opportunity.

In May, I started working at Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products unit in Kista, a suburb of Stockholm often called “Sweden’s Silicon Valley.” Most of Ericsson’s R&D facilities are in Kista, and it has been exciting to work with the brilliant people who are developing 5G technology there. When I began my work, I had some a trouble communicating with my co-workers, to be completely honest. I have no background in engineering, and almost everyone around me has an engineering degree and speaks mostly in technical abbreviations and industry-specific lingo. Every second or third word I heard was an industry-specific acronym. During some meetings, I wondered if the person presenting was indeed speaking in English. Still, step by step, and with help from my gracious co-workers (who gave me a crash course in radios, hardware development, lean engineering and agile development) I learned so much. In what seemed like no time at all, I was able to speak the secret language of the ITC engineers. This experience made me realize the true value of MAERES courses. Through these, I have developed analytical skills and the critical thinking required to succeed in any field. After gaining these skills, with a bit of background knowledge, I am able to easily jump from analyzing Russia’s foreign policy to analyzing organizational structure and performance at a big international company. The vocabulary might be different, but the grammar is the same.

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Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products Office Building in Kista where I spent most of my days this summer.

After becoming acquainted with PDU Radio Products, I began to work on projects. My first big task was to provide outsider feedback to help the unit transition to Ericcson’s new business model which is based on lean engineering. Another project I was tasked with was to find a better way to measure the efficiency of hardware development and the overall productivity of the R&D unit. I also explored the effectiveness of different agile methods, such as cross-functional teams, Kanban boards, “war rooms” and PULSE meetings. All of these projects, together with day-to-day operations, made me realize that I really enjoy operations consulting. Thanks to this experience I may pursue a career in this field.

What I have enjoyed most about the experience, apart from it being an immense learning opportunity, is how open and accommodating the company is and how kind and interesting my co-workers are. I have not been treated like intern, but rather, as an equal. In the US, it is unlikely that an intern would end up in a meeting with senior management to discuss strategy and trajectory. This is exactly what happened to me here in Sweden. My co-workers are not only a source of information about the technical side of the job, but also great guides to Swedish culture.

When we were not talking about the UEFA European Championship, they were telling me all about their favorite museums, the must-see places in Stockholm, about Swedish cuisine and culture, and about the best places to celebrate Midsummer. I took their advice and explored much more of Stockholm than I would have simply by following guidebook recommendations. For Midsummer, I took the advice of one of my colleagues to be adventurous and see out how Danes celebrate the holiday (even though, he reassured me, Swedish Midsummer festivities are the best ones in all of Scandinavia). I spent my Midsummer in the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, somewhat sad about Croatia being kicked out of Euro Cup by Portugal, but nonetheless enjoying my first Midsummer festivities.

The historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen was not only gorgeous, but also a great place to celebrate Midsummer in a traditional Scandinavian way.
The historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen was not only gorgeous, but also a great place to celebrate Midsummer in a traditional Scandinavian way.

In July, it seems like all of Sweden migrates to the sunny beaches of Southern Europe. Most of my coworkers took a month-long vacation, so I also had some time off. I managed to visit some of my closest friends from the high school I attended in Italy. I visited Turkey, Macedonia and Romania and caught up with my friends in their home countries. It feels good to be back in Eastern Europe. It was very interesting to see architecture in each city and to experience the way that Istanbul, Skopje and Bucharest function, especially after having taken an excellent course on socialist and post-socialist cities by Professor Smith. I would recommend this class to all of my fellow MAERES students. It was also exciting (and at times scary) to be in the region during the failed coup attempt in Turkey and to receive first-hand information and insight from my Turkish friends about the subject.

Rested from this trip, I returned to (a still mostly empty) office to wrap up my projects and get ready to leave for home in the middle of August. I know that I will miss Stockholm once I am back in DC. It has truly been a fulfilling experience outside of my comfort zone of Eastern European politics and history. I hope to make the most out of the few weeks I have left here. It has been an incredible summer filled with learning, fun and both personal and professional growth. All that happiness and excitement I felt back in February has been more than justified by my experience thus far.

 A view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia taken during my summer vacation.
A view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia taken during my summer vacation.

 

Valentino Grbavac is a rising second-year MAERES student.

Summer in Tbilisi by Sofia Bachman

View of old Tbilisi from Bethlehem Church
View of old Tbilisi from Bethlehem Church

 

I stepped off the plane and went to get my suitcase at the Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport baggage claim. The airport was crowded with newly arrived passengers, and after a few minutes, the luggage efficiently swished in on the beltway. Stepping out into the crowd of people searching for their friends and relatives amongst the masses, I met the Georgian who had come to take me to my host family. As we drove through Tbilisi, he pointed out different areas and landmarks in the city, and he took a slightly longer route to show me more sites. Modern buildings were sharply lit against the dark night and shone as if it were mid-day. However, the older areas harbored cobbled streets, pre-Soviet architecture, and dim golden lamps, as if in a Dickens’ novel. My first impression of Georgia was a delightfully incongruous medley of Soviet apartments, modern sky-high structures of glass and metal, and centuries-old churches tucked into pockets here and there. While people scurried down side streets carrying groceries and returning home at the end of the day, in the car the kindly driver talked about his family to me in a mix of Georgian and Russian. Then, we arrived at my host family’s apartment, and I stepped out of the car to greet them.

Train station marketplace, Tbilisi
Train station marketplace, Tbilisi

According to legend, in the late 400s King Vakhtang Gorgasali took a hunting party out from the current capital of Kartli, Mtskheta. They had been travelling for a few days when the king released his falcon to catch a pheasant nearby. Both birds disappeared for a while, but the hunting party did not worry. Finally, Vakhtang Gorgasali took a party with him to search for his prize falcon and subsequent pheasant dinner. They discovered both birds dead in a boiling natural sulfur spring in the area of what is now central Tbilisi. The king ordered a city built on the spot, and made it the nation’s capital. In order to commemorate such a miraculous event as finding boiling water coming out of the ground, Vakhtang Gorgasali named the new city “Tbilisi,” stemming from the Georgian adjective for “warm,” “tbili” (თბილი). When I was told this story during a language class one morning, I learned two new words essential to its telling, pheasant (khokhobi, ხოხობი) and falcon (shevardeni, შევარდენი). Nowadays, these natural hot springs are the site of the city baths, where one can go to enjoy the company of friends, steaming water, and a good scrubbing.

The round domes of the Tbilisi baths
The round domes of the Tbilisi baths

I came to Georgia to study the Georgian language and all of its particularities. Here I would like to briefly introduce you to a few interesting facts about Georgian, and a basic grammatical structure so that you have the tools to create your own basic Georgian phrases. Georgian, part of the Kartvelian language group, emerged a few thousand years ago. While the writing, word usage, and structure has changed slightly over the years, Georgian in its original form is still intelligible to modern speakers. Imagine if the English of Beowulf were still in use today! Georgian, asides from having some fascinating, and equally challenging to pronounce, ejective consonants, is also famous for its consonant clusters. For example, the word brts’q’invale (ბრწყინვალე), which means “brilliant,” involves a cluster of four consonants, the ejectives being marked by the apostrophes. Let us begin our introduction with the two basic structures “How are you?” and the answer “I am well.” “How are you?”(formal) is “rogor khart?” (როგორ ხართ?). The response “I am well” is “k’argad var” (კარგად ვარ). Notice that in both instances the subject is left out, as the corresponding verb already clearly shows its owner. One last fun fact that I will leave you with in this short language lesson is that the word for glad, “mokharuli” (მოხარული), and the word for boiled, “mokharshuli” (მოხარშული), differ in Georgian by one consonant. Now you are close to being able to create the phrase, “Here is the boiled pheasant” (აქაა მოხარშული ხოხობი)!

A quote by poet Shota Rustaveli on the route to Q’azbegi
A quote by poet Shota Rustaveli on the route to Q’azbegi

While my main objective in Georgia was language and culture study, I also investigated what it means to different people to be Georgian. The answers of the various Tbilisi locals I spoke with were unanimously positive towards their country. Of course, not everybody listed the exact same qualities or combination of qualities of innate “Georgianness.” To some, being Georgian involved a deep connection with the land itself. To others, it was having Georgian as a birth language. Some said it was growing up in Georgia. A few named a connection to Orthodoxy as being part of what makes a Georgian a Georgian. Others referenced knowing and singing Georgian folk songs. Various people said it was about being part of thousands of years of history. A couple of people of people said that a deep part of being Georgian was staying intact as a people over centuries of invasion and territorial infringement. One unifying sentiment of “Georgianness,” despite differing opinions on how to achieve this, was that Georgia and being Georgian is all about being welcoming, embracing friends, family, and bringing outsiders in. Among such variety as a market-stall lady, a taxi driver, a communist, a tour guide, an architect, a university student, and a mother, innate Georgian hospitality was always at the top of the list. I would like to add that, from an outsider’s perspective, the tales of Georgian warmth are no myth but certain reality.

Myself and peer mentor Natia’s polylingual son at Tbilisi Sea
Myself and peer mentor Natia’s polylingual son at Tbilisi Sea

Sofia Bachman is a rising second-year MAERES student. She is spending the summer studying Georgian in Tbilisi with American Councils.