When U alum Jordan Gossett realized she had room in her senior year schedule, she decided to spend it in service to her long-held interest in the Holocaust. The 2020 history and international studies graduate had experience taking her education abroad, having participated in a Learning Abroad program in Morocco the year before, and said, “once I realized that I was ahead in my major, I emailed the [Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum] and just asked if I could volunteer.” The museum obliged and Gossett worked closely with the Hinckley Institute to set up the four-month experience as a for-credit internship.
Soon after, she was in Poland helping to expand the museum’s database of wartime documents. Gossett spent her days transcribing camp registration, work, and transfer cards and lived on-site in what was a Nazi office building in the former concentration camp. “Learning about it is one thing. But being there is a whole other experience,” she said.
Gossett surmised that she picked up an interest in “all things World War II” as a child—her father watched a lot of documentaries and “it must have rubbed off.” She tailored her studies at the U to dive deeper into her interest and was humbled by the hands-on opportunities her internship provided. “There’s still so much we don’t know and may never know,” said Gossett, noting that it’s estimated only five to ten percent of WWII wartime documents related to the Holocaust are believed to have survived to date.
When asked about the emotional toll of working at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she said “of course it’s a bit of a shocking thing at first, but over time you learn to deal with it in a positive way. You wonder if this is the only document left for this person and if it could help their family.”
In July, Gossett was honored with an “If Not for Those Ten…” award which recognizes outstanding volunteers and coordinators for their service to the museum. In her acceptance of the award, Gossett noted, “it is our collective responsibility to ensure that this history is preserved…and that something like this does not happen again.”
A DIY International Internship
Q&A with alumna Jordan Gossett
How did you approach the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum about creating a learning experience there?
Initially, I was looking into different volunteer opportunities that I could do virtually, and I really wanted to find an opportunity where I could both be helpful to the organization and, as someone whose interests are in WWII history, expand my knowledge on that topic. On the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s site, they had a section on volunteering where it discussed both ‘work at a distance’ and ‘on-site’ opportunities. So, I decided to write the volunteer coordinator an email, where I introduced myself and asked if they had anything I could help with. I ended up doing several virtual projects over the course of a few months. But when I realized I had a bit of extra room in my school schedule, I worked with the volunteer coordinator to set up an in-person, semester-long volunteer opportunity. I then went to the Hinckley Institute and discussed how I could apply the experience towards my studies, and it’s evolved now to where students at the U can apply through the Hinckley Institute to be a part of the same program. It was a really profound experience to be a part of so I’m happy that the opportunity is there for others as well.
What advice would you give to other students looking to gain hands-on international experience that aligns with their interests?
I think a great first step would be to look at the different programs that the Hinckley Institute offers because they have a lot of international opportunities for students in a variety of majors. But if you don’t see something there that you think would be a good fit for you, simply reach out to an organization that interests you — even if there’s not a formal internship or volunteer program there yet! Do some research into the organization, and write an email where you introduce yourself, describe why you’re interested in the organization, and ask if there is anything you can do to help them with their mission. Even if that specific organization doesn’t offer the sort of opportunity you’re looking for, they may be able to direct you to another organization that does. The bottom line is: don’t be afraid to ask! One simple email can lead to an amazing opportunity.
What campus resources helped support your experience?
The Hinckley Institute and the Learning Abroad office are great resources that helped me a lot throughout the process. Whether it was setting up academic credit, coordinating travel, figuring out finances, or providing resources while I was abroad, there was always someone I could reach out to if I had any questions.
What was something that surprised you about your experience in Poland? What do you most want people to know about the work you did on your internship?
Something that surprised me about my experience was the realization that there is still so much work to be done, even now, over seven decades after the Holocaust. The Museum and other similar organizations are working to find information on all those affected, which is difficult considering a very large majority of the documents from the Holocaust were destroyed towards the end of the war.
A large portion of my work in Poland involved transcribing names from the remaining documents and uploading them to the Museum’s database. The hope is that this database will help provide information to families who lost relatives during the Holocaust without ever receiving any concrete answers. It also helps further the Museum’s goal of finding the names of all those who were ever taken to the camp.
While the process is ongoing, having a small role to play in that mission was both sobering and humbling. It’s an incredibly important work, and I would encourage everyone to get involved in whatever way they can.
For more information on setting up your own Global Internship, contact the Hinckley Institute’s
The Office of Learning Abroad offers internships with international companies, organizations, and governments that have established relationships with Affiliate Program Providers. For more information, contact Learning Abroad.