In March to May this year, in addition to an Erasmus at ELTE, I also completed an internship at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Budapest. Although I worked at the political and economic section, I was also involved in tasks pertaining to history: the Embassy website had to be updated to include the history of the building, and I was involved in the organization of the first debate on the history of Czech-Hungarian relations, which we organized for the centenary of the purchase of the building by Czechoslovakia. After several online internships, this internship was packed with personal encounters, events and experiences that I would like to share in the following thematic sections.
Sitting in my office with the Czech flag flying outside my window, I can't help feeling that I am in a historical novel. I am working in a palace built at the end of the nineteenth century by Count Jenő Zichy to house his extensive ethnographic collections. Exactly one hundred years ago, in June 1922, after a long selection process, it was purchased as the first seat of the Czechoslovak embassy in Hungary by Hugo Vavrečka, the first ambassador, grandfather of Václav Havel and later director of the Baťa factories. On my desk, I have books by Czech historians to help me find out what happened in March 1938, when the palace changed hands and brave diplomats suddenly became, in the eyes of others, not representatives of Czechoslovakia but just private individuals who stayed behind to hand over the house. While experienced and known military diplomats often returned to their homeland only to fall into the hands of the Gestapo, the greatest heroes remained working at the embassy unnoticed.
I started my internship a few weeks before the Hungarian parliamentary elections, so I had the opportunity to meet Czech observers in the OSCE, and learn from them what it is like to be part of an international observer mission, how the Hungarian electoral system works, and how one can become an observer.
There are few diplomats at the embassy, but as employees of the MFA they have colleagues all over the world, who are experts in their regions. Therefore, they can call other embassies at any time with a specific question, and they also receive internal reports from them, which I was able to contribute to. In our reports from Budapest to Prague and to other embassies, we reported on political developments and analysed them. We had to explain, for example, the outcome of the elections. In order to have something to write about, I went to conferences for diplomats and international journalists, online and in-person debates, and tried to report mainly on nuances that might not be clear from the international press.
Thanks to the fact that I have been learning Hungarian for three years now and I have been able to look into Hungarian literature, culture and history in my courses at UCL, it has been very interesting for me to get to know the personalities of Hungarian-Czech relations. I met, for example, the Czech-speaking Hungarian historian Daniel Miklós, who has published works on the Czechs who fled through Hungary in 1939-1941, and the interpreter and translator László Kovács. I also participated in the ambassador's meeting with Czech students of Hungarian studies, and thus discovered that the field in which I was almost the only student at UCL is important from a Czech perspective: Hungary is almost a neighbouring country, a country of similar size and Central European mentality, but isolated and therefore unknown to us, even exotic. This sad fact is due to the language barrier, unresolved historical issues, and also its own politics. For the first time in several years, no one wondered why I was learning Hungarian :), but it was a useful skill and working at the embassy was a motivation for me to develop it.
I am grateful that, thanks to the support of The Kellner Family Foundation, I can do unpaid but very interesting internships abroad, and I would like to encourage all of you who have read this far to contact embassies wherever you are. At both of the embassies where I have interned so far (London and Budapest), the hours were flexible and the part-time internship was therefore manageable while studying. Don't be put off by the fact that the internship offer is not advertised, contact the embassy well in advance and I am sure you will enjoy the internship.
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