2006-07 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Port Orange, FL
School: Atlantic High School
Sponsor: Daytona Beach West Rotary Club
Host: Częstochowa Rotary Club
District 2230, Poland
My name is Kristen, and I hail from Daytona Beach, Florida, home of the tenth most famous beach in the world, and the sun-burned tourists who come to enjoy it. I have lived here with my mother, father, and sister my whole life. It seems like it is a great city, but probably only to visit because it gets pretty boring around here. We have a little mall and some theaters, but other than that, you can find most people hanging out at the beach or someone else’s house. As you can see, there’s not much to do, but we people of Daytona make our own fun. J
As far as hobbies go, I like to go to the mall and hang out with my friends just like any other teenage girl would. I am also very interested in the arts, especially writing, drawing, painting, and singing. Most who know me say that they can tell when I’m truly comfortable because if I am, I am almost always singing. I consider this hobby practically subconscious because most of the time I’ll just randomly break out into song without even noticing. It’s usually my friends who have to tell me to just give it a rest, because I really won’t stop (and my voice isn’t all that great!). Even my parents say that I was always singing because when I was little I would sing anytime, anywhere, no matter how long or loud. I have also been drawing and painting for quite some time, and that’s another thing that I’ve been doing since I was really little. I know that I will enjoy journaling a lot next year, so hopefully I will be keeping up with my writing, although I still haven’t decided whether writing in English would really be the best thing to improve my Polish…J
My future plans and ambitions as of now, are definitely getting into a good college, and earning a degree in either writing or journalism. I would love to write for a magazine as an adult, or even a novel one day. I have also thought about looking into a job as a foreign correspondent, so that I can travel and continue to act as a journalist. I’m not really sure about either of these, because I still have yet to truly discover who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life. Hopefully my year abroad will change a little of that because I hope to do a little soul-searching while I’m away so I can come back with a little more knowledge about myself than I had before.
I’m a sophomore at Atlantic High School, and I am fifteen years old. I know that I am probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest of the outbounds this year, but that doesn’t bother me one bit! I know that I would not have been given this wonderful opportunity if I wasn’t qualified for it, and I will not let my age affect my maturity. I am very excited to be going to Poland next year, and I hope that this proves to be one of the best experiences that I will take with me through life. Thank you Rotary for giving me this chance of a lifetime!
November 5 Journal
Okay, so I'm a procrastinator--nothing new there. I've been in Poland for a little over 2 months now, and I'm just now writing my first journal entry. Because of this, I have a lot of catching up to do, haha. I think I already had a book's worth of story-telling after the first week, and now I have to sum up 2 months? Maybe now I'll keep up with the entries a little more frequently :D But here it goes:
When I stepped off the plane, I tried to calm my nerves and slap my face a few times so that I'd wake up a bit. It was around 6:00 in the morning, and I couldn't be more tired. Some people feel jet lag later, but I was definitely one of those people who faced it the second they got to their destination. Still, I trudged in to baggage, and then through customs, and then to the cute sign that said, "Welcome At Home Kristen!" When I met my host mom and host brother then, I wanted to say something in Polish, but it seemed like every word I had learned just flew out of my brain, and I just stood there, haha. Still their welcoming smiles reassured me that everything was going to be okay, and I was soon more at ease.
From where my plane landed in Warsaw (Warszawa), it was a three hour drive home. I got more acquainted with my host mother, Beata, and my host brother, Kacper, and so began my new life.
First of all, the drivers here are absolutely insane. It's perfectly normal for a person to drive at 100-160 km an hour anywhere, anytime, and if there's a slow person in front of you, it's no big deal because you can just rush into oncoming traffic (yeah, there's only one road going and one coming) to pass them. Seriously, I was fearing for my life on that ride home, but now I've gotten somewhat used to it. Besides, they seem pretty good at this type of driving. Thank God the driving age here is 18 though because if people my age were driving like that, we'd all be dead, haha.
I live in this city called Częstochowa... It's about 3 hours from Kraków by train, I think, and they call it "the religious capital" of Poland. This is because on a hill in the city sits the beautiful Jasna Góra monastery which holds the famous painting of "The Black Madonna." If you want to know more about the history behind it, wikipedia is a good source. Otherwise I'd be here typing forever, and I really don't want to get my facts wrong. But it's basically what my city is known for.
Then there's school. I go to L.O. II, otherwise known as Traugutt. It's supposedly the best school in Częstochowa, and students actually come from smaller cities and live in hostels just to go to it. I have seven lessons, but they're all different depending on the day. And I start at different times too. Tuesdays and Thursdays I start at 8:55 instead of 7:55. It took some getting used to, and to be honest, I still haven't memorized my entire schedule, but it's okay because I can just follow my class around and I'm fine, haha. Oh yeah, and there are different classes in each grade. There are 3 grades, or "years", and of them, I am first year. This is basically like being a freshman, haha. But high school is from 16-19, and I'm 16, so yeah. The classes are in letters A, B, C, D, E, and F. So, when someone asks me what class I am, I say 1F. The classes are divided according to what the student is most interested in. One is more focused on science and math, while the next focuses on art, and so forth. Mine, I believe is language and business, but my friends tell me that first years don't really have serious classifications because they have to take the basic lessons first before they can move into the specific courses. Confused yet? Ha, trust me, it took me a while to get everything down.
My class is really nice...They were all shy at first, but now we talk, and I even have two good friends. My really good friend though is the other exchange student in my city. I don't see her a lot, but it's always nice to talk to her when I had a rough day. Her name is Lauren, and she's from New Jersey. Together, we went to Lublin for language camp in September. There, I made two other friends, Adrina from Canada, and Jerry from Mexico. And from there we made a speech at a school, were on a radio show, learned a lot of language, and visited a lot of interesting places. Of these, was the concentration camp, Majdanek. This of course was one of the more depressing places that we visited, but I'm glad I went because I learned a lot. It made me realize how lucky I am to not have to go through any of that kind of suffering that the people in the camp went through. Sure I have problems, but nothing could compare to what they went through. It was a really eye-opening experience, and I won't forget it anytime soon.
After Lublin was the Inbound Orientation, put together by the Rotaract Club of Toruń. It was an 8 hour train ride to Toruń, but I was with a bunch of my friends, so it wasn't too bad. Toruń is known for a few things, like being the birth place of Nicholas Copernicus, and the type of gingerbread that is made there. While I was there, we all got to make gingerbread and walk around the beautiful old city. It was really nice, and the exchangers and I shared our experiences and had a lot of fun. There was a talent show that was quite funny, and a disco too. Oh yeah, going to discos is pretty much what everyone does in Poland. They're a lot of fun, although I still don't know how you're supposed to dance to techno, haha...Anyway, the orientation was awesome, and I can't wait until the Christmas meeting this December!
When I came back to Częstochowa, I went from there and developed a routine. I went to school during the weekdays, hung out with friends on the weekends, and pretty much lived like any other kid there. Well, except my Polish still isn't too good, but it's improving! I can now understand almost everything that is said, as long as it's said clearly, and fairly slow. Pronunciation is hard, but I did accomplish one thing already. I can say a Polish tongue twister! I must say, I am very proud of this, haha. Anyone that asks me what I know in Polish gets a, "Stół z powyłamywanymi nogami," in return. Yeah, I dare you to just try and say that, lol. It took me forever!
Next, what everyone's been asking me about, is of course, the food. The food is basically like my friend Lauren puts it. It looks like Hell, but it tastes like Heaven. And this is coming from the girl who had to try "Flaki", a traditional Polish soup made of sheep's intestines. Ha, I've tried a few odd things, but nothing can come close to that. That's the one thing I absolutely refuse to try! So far, I've liked everything except for mushrooms, which here is practically a sin. Mushrooms are a big deal here because one of the biggest pastimes is mushroom hunting. Basically you go out into the woods (or the "forest", as they like to call it), and you look for mushrooms. Really, it seems like a simple thing, but seriously, they're crazy for it. Mention it once, and you'll get a 2 hour lecture on how great it is and what the most beautiful mushroom found by that person looked like. Haha, I still have yet to understand why they're so amazed by this particular hobby, but I have all year to find out.
So skip a few weeks to October 31st, which just passed. This was Halloween. Sadly enough, I did absolutely nothing. I was in Gdańsk, visiting Jerry, the girl from Mexico, but we just ended up renting movies because there was nothing else to do. No trick-or-treating, no parties, no nothing. But that's okay, I can see why it's not such a big deal here. The big deal was of course November 1st, All Saints Day. On this day we visited the cemeteries of all their dead relatives and we lit lanterns and put flowers on their graves. It sounds sad, but it was actually a really nice day. People crowded the cemeteries from dawn until dusk. There were several masses held at each one, and you could here a choir singing in the background like in the church scenes of movies. It was interesting to take part in this tradition since Nov. 1st in my house in Florida is just like any other day. Jerry and I lit a lantern each for our own relatives, and we left them in the middle of the cemetery along with about a hundred others that didn't have graves to be placed on. I felt very good to have taken part in it in my own way.
November 2nd will stand out in my memory forever because this was the first time I saw snow. Yes, the Florida girl saw real live snow for the first time at sixteen years old. Wow, was I ever amazed. It was like I was discovering this from a child's point of view, realizing that snow is actually wet and it doesn't stay wet for too long. Oh, and I needed special shoes for it, haha. Jerry's host mom had to help me pick out boots that would last for winter because I had no idea how to even begin looking for them. Now, I own my very own winter coat, boots, gloves, scarf, and hat. I don't know why, but I'm sort of proud of that, haha.
And that about wraps it up. I'm amazed that I summarized it all this well. I thought I was going to end up going on forever like I always do :D. I'm sure I left our a lot, but like I said, I'll keep up with the entries more often. But for now, I want to give a shout-out to my mom, dad, sister, and grandma who I know are going to be reading this. I want to thank you for supporting and loving me through all this, starting from when I applied, and then to where I am now. And I also want to thank Rotary because I can't believe I'm actually living this AMAZING roller coaster called youth exchange. I know there is a lot of work involved, and I am so grateful that you take the time out of your schedules to make sure that we all have the time of our lives. THANKS!!!
March 2 Journal
Wow, okay, so again I apologize for doing this so late. I've just been so busy and time seems to be going by so fast now. It's hard to think of where it all went.
I left off right before the Eurotrip, and that was a turning point in my exchange because after having so much fun on that trip with all the exchange students that I've come to know and love, I hit a rough spot. Between the last two weeks of November and the first week of December, I felt really homesick and frustrated with the language and not understanding things like I so desperately wanted to. But, I knew that this was normal for the three month mark, and soon enough it passed.
The second week of December was the trip to Prague. I think that out of all the cities I've been to so far (i.e., Paris, Belgium, Cannes, Nice, Monaco, Venice, etc.), this was my favorite. It had gothic buildings and squares where people were lively and ready to celebrate the upcoming holidays. There was a lot of history in the city, and it was just overall beautiful and one of the most interesting places I've seen. I definitely wouldn't mind going back at all, and I hope that I can someday.
After that trip and maybe two weeks later, I had to switch host families. Since they didn't have a family lined up, I went to the family of the new Australian girl who was to arrive in late January. I moved the 23rd, which means that I went the day before Wigilia, which is the word for Christmas Eve in Polish. It's similar to vigil, and this is the most important day in the season when it comes to traditions. This is the day that you spend with family from all over, and we have a twelve course meal that starts in the early afternoon and ends in the late evening because of all the breaks in between each meal. Most of my family was stuffed by the time they got to the tenth course, but I was pretty much starving because I was allergic to almost everything! They all thought this was funny though, and I got extra chocolate in my gifts afterwards =)
In this family, I have a mother, Dorota, a father, Jacek, a 16 year old brother, Paweł, and a 15 year old sister, Ania. I am the oldest, but only by a month, and I am in the same year as Ania, at the same school. We became really close really fast, and it's going to be hard going to my next family because she really is like my sister. We have all of our little inside jokes, and she introduced me to all of her friends, so we all have fun hanging out together.
Next, like I said, on the 22nd of January, Brigid from Australia came to our family. I was prepared to move, but nobody wanted me to go, including me, haha, so we all decided one more month wouldn't hurt. So Brigid, Ania, and I became friends pretty quickly, and we are known by our family and some of our friends as Charlie's Angel's because we are brunette, blonde, and redheaded, haha. Kind of stupid, but it only shows how close we really are.
I marvel at how much Brigid was like myself when I first came to Poland. All of her first experiences in this country, I remember having too, and I am always there to help her out because I know how difficult and strange it can be. It's so amazing to see how far I've come since that early stage in my exchange. Some of the funnier things I've seen Brigid experience was number 1. dealing with crazy Polish drivers in which I saved her from getting run over three times, and 2. dealing with gypsies which aren't trying to start a conversation with you, but are really asking you for your money. Oh, and then dealing with getting rammed into by the gypsy after you told her you didn't have anything, haha. But to me (the last bit aside because I always walk away from gypsies fast enough), that's all normal.
School's great, and I have some really great friends now. In my class is one girl in particular, Dominika, and I sleep over her house sometimes, and hang out with her on a regular basis. I can safely say that she will be one of the people that will be at the airport crying when I leave, and this is because she already said this, herself. And of course I will be crying too because I'm already having a hard time believing that I have to leave so many wonderful people ... Dominika has a three-year-old brother named Kuba (a very popular name here), and he is so cute. He talks to me in Polish, and I can usually get away with a one word answer in response, and he is almost always satisfied. He can't pronounce his "r's" yet, so he says my name like, "Klistine!" and it's so adorable. I love going to their house =)
Speaking of my Polish, I'm understanding so much now, and I can function quite well now. It took a lot of patience, but I'm progressing more and more each day. I can order food, shop, and pretty much hold a decent conversation with someone without having them look at me like I'm speaking gibberish. And as for my first Polish dream, it was maybe a few weeks ago, and I woke up and thought, "Wow, I said everything wrong." But it counts, right? Hahahaha...
And that's about it. February was filled with winter break, in which I spent all with friends in both Gdańsk and then Kraków. No skiing for me, but I'm okay with that. As of now, I'm getting ready for my trip to Greece, which is on Sunday. I'm so excited, and I can't wait to show pictures in the next entry! But I have to finish packing, so until next time,
April 12 Journal
First, before I say anything else, I would like to thank Rotary for this exchange, and the year of a lifetime. It has been nothing but extreme highs and extreme lows, but it has been worth every second, and I know I will keep these memories with me for a lifetime.
One of these memories, is of course my trip to Greece. I went in the beginning of March, and even though it wasn't even spring yet, it was a comfortable 20-21 degrees (Celsius of course :D), and the sun was shining non-stop. Let me tell you, after quite a few months of seeing no sun at all, you'd be surprised how even a little sunshine can make your day. Seriously, I went from Poland, feeling tired and gloomy, to Greece, where in just a few minutes, my whole mood changed to overly happy and full of energy. While I was there I saw the Parthenon, the ruins of the temple of Zeus, Agora/temple of Hephaestus, the Acropolis, and so much more. And this was just in Athens! I loved it there. Every street is colorful and lively. There's citrus trees and green plants everywhere (something I've missed about Florida), and you can see ruins from any point in the city.
Then, I went to Santorini by ferry. If you've ever seen "Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants," then this is where Lena goes to visit her family in the movie. The ride was 8 hours, but with the other exchangers, it wasn't bad. And the view from the ship was amazing, so some good pictures came out of it, even though in half of them with me in it were just of all of my hair in my face because of the wind. But oh well. When we got there though, I couldn't believe what I saw. It was like my version of paradise. There were high mountains and our hostel was at the top. Every building was bleach-white with bright colored roofs of blue or salmon, and pretty much every other color too, but those were the most common. Our hostel was actually a monastery because our Rotary chaperone knew a man there who would only charge us 5 Euro to stay, and it was really nice. You could go on top of the roof, and see the whole island, including the volcano across from us. Watching the sunset from that roof was probably one of the most beautiful things I've seen in my whole life, and I don't think I'll ever forget it.
And once that was over, I was kind of sad to go home. I wanted to vacation in Greece a bit longer, haha, but I had to come home. So, sure enough, I came home on a Thursday, and the two days later, I landed myself in the hospital with a 102.3 fever and bilateral pneumonia. Yeah, that's not even a joke. And you know, it came so fast. Friday I only had a slight cough, nothing big, but the next day, I woke up and couldn't breathe whatsoever. I went to the doctor and she just gave me some antibiotics, but since I have bad asthma, we wanted a second opinion. I went to the emergency room, and they admitted me that night. I was in there for a week, where I caught a nasty stomach virus, and was pretty much miserable. But hey, I was a trooper and got out alive. Now let's just hope I never have to go back!
The next week I moved to my next family. They're pretty cool, and they live a lot closer to the city than my last one did. In this family, I have a mom (Ela), a dad (Jarek), a host brother who studies in Warsaw (Janek), another brother (Staszek) who is a few months younger than me, and finally a sister (Marysia) who is 14. Another big family, but I'm not complaining because I actually like having a lot of siblings. The only thing I have a problem with is not getting enough hot water for my shower, haha.
Toward the end of this month I went up north to Toruń to see some friends and enjoy the city, because I liked it so much the first time I went. I saw Nicholas Copernicus's house, and enjoyed the architecture, which is pretty unique compared to a lot of other Polish cities. Of course there are a lot of churches, but these are different because the architecture is more gothic. Toruń is also famous for these cookies called pierniki, and it's very similar to gingerbread. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to them, so I can't eat them, haha. Toruń is also home to Poland's own "leaning tower" (think Pisa), except it's more like a leaning bar, haha. Literally, I have no idea how it is still standing. I promise I'll show pictures as soon as I have time!
Easter was an experience and a half...First of all, the Thursday of that week is "great Thursday", and that's when the official holiday time starts. Basically, family comes then, and they just keep coming and leaving until Monday. I'm not even going to lie, I was so bored, haha. I didn't leave my house for 4 days, and all I did was eat and hang out with my host sister. We had maybe 4 different types of cake at all times, and about 5 meals a day! And then the Monday after...Oh God. The Monday after Easter is "wet Monday," and this basically means that all day, you're entitled to throw water on anybody and everybody, all day. I knew about this, but I thought the game was going to be fair. So here I am, sleeping away, and all of a sudden, I feel drops on my face. I open my eyes, and SPLASH! A whole liter of water is dumped on me. It was, hands down, the worst way to wake up in the morning. It took all the willpower I had not to scream every obscenity I know (I am NOT a morning person). What's more is that they turned off all the water in the house so that I couldn't even get revenge! Yes, wet Monday was a sad Monday...But they declared it over by the afternoon.
And that's all for now. I'm actually getting ready for another trip, which starts with a Rotary meeting in Kraków, where I'll be seeing the concentration camp, Auschwitz, and then I'll be going to Budapest and Vienna from the 17th-22nd. Should be a lot of fun, and of course I'm excited :D
So look forward to hearing about that later on! Oh, and to the future outbounds, LEARN YOUR LANGUAGES! And no, I'm not just saying that for fun.
June 28 Journal
So this is the end...
I leave first thing tomorrow morning to Warsaw, and at 12:05 I'll be on my first flight home...
It seems like every time I say that my heart hurts a little bit more.
I said goodbye to a lot of people today, and I didn't think I could cry so much for people that I've only known for what now seems like such a little amount of time, but when I finally realized that this may be the last time I see them again for a while, I just couldn't bear it at all. And to have people tell me that they can't imagine life without me? That was just too much...I mean, I went to my favorite cafe today for the last time, and the waitress that I always talk to almost every day actually cried and said she would miss me! And you know what, I cried too.
I never thought that saying goodbye would be this hard.
So, to quickly describe my last three months in Poland without getting into all the trips and things I missed out on talking about because of my busy schedule, here's a journal entry of mine from May 24th:
My room smells like lavender...I picked it yesterday and put it in glasses all over my room. It's times like these that make me realize how much I'll truly miss Poland, even after all the ups and downs and difficult situations that I went through over the course of this year.
Time goes so fast...
Now that summer is almost here, I keep getting hit (more like smacked in the face) with waves of nostalgia. I see the pubs finally opening the beer gardens up again, and I see flowers everywhere, and happy people already making plans for vacation, and I'm instantly reminded of my first weeks here. Back when I knew no Polish, and found or learned something new every day. I met many people that I would never talk to again, and I met many that would become my closest friends. I would get lost all the time, and I never wanted to take the bus by myself, solely because I wasn't confident that I could find my stop, let alone press the button at the right time to get the door open (retarded, I know). And now that summer's coming around again, I feel like I've come so far, and even though the season is familiar, I'm experiencing it in a completely different way because, now, this is my home. This is where I live. I can be anywhere in the city, and know how to get home, or to the nearest pub/club/or friend's house. I can buy bus tickets and KFC twisters, and pretty much do whatever I could do in Florida, besides drive, of course (which is okay because now I can say that I've taken every form of alternative transportation out there, besides hovercraft). I can appreciate how I get the opportunity to walk everywhere, something I used to complain about profusely, and I can go for a bike ride and see the beauty in the country around me without complaining about not being an outdoors kind of girl, or having to deal with my allergies. The bums and gypsies don't phase me anymore (meaning they used to scare the crap out of me), and I feel comfortable with my knowledge of Polish culture and language. I know what to say and not to say, and I finally understand how important a, "Dzien dobry," is to an elder, or a kiss on the cheek is to a friend or a classmate. I say "no" like it means "yes," and I use phrases that not many of my American friends would understand and words that I can't explain in English because they just don't exist. And after all the hard work I did to get to this point, I finally feel like I belong.
And now, after nearly 9 months here, and finally establishing that this country is my home, a big part of me doesn't want to leave. But sure enough, in 1 month and 14 days, I'll be on the plane back to Daytona Beach--the place where I was born, and raised, and will live until the next chapter in my life...
But all three of my host families have told me in some way or another that I always have a home here, and with some luck my friends will visit, and I will come back again one day. I guess all I'm trying to say is, I may leave Poland, but it will never leave me.
So. Thank you Rotary for preparing me for, and allowing me to have what was the best year of my life so far. Thanks for experiences that I'll never forget and for letting me see the world at such a young age...But most importantly, thank you for letting me meet some of the most amazing people that I have ever met. The ones that I've cried for so many times, and the ones that I already have plans to see again. Honestly, I don't know what I'll do without them now, but I guess that means my exchange was a success, right?
Oh, and before I end this journal, I just have to say that today I was walking with my friend Lauren, and we were talking about sad things, seeing as how it's my last day, and we see a man walking a cow down the main road in front of the cemetery. And it's not like I live in the country, so it pretty much made my day to see that, and I thought, "Only in Poland," haha...
(Barbie, Barbara, Mini-Keśu, Krysia, Krystyna, Barbrusia, etc.)
It's amazing how many nicknames I have, really...