Well so much has happened in the past two weeks, and I have no idea how to shorten it down into just a few paragraphs. However, considering I know that most of you are not interested in reading a novel, I will do my best to make this blog as concise as possible.
I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t really have any issues while traveling. All my planes were on time, and I didn’t lose any luggage on the way. Other having to walk across the entire Chicago airport only to realize I was going the wrong way, and having to make a one mile trek back to my correct gate, everything went according to planned.
I arrived in Warsaw at about 5:10pm on August 13th and was warmly greeted by my host sister, mother, and brother. After having a brief meal of leftover cutlet, which I think is basically fried pork, I was invited to go on a bike ride with my host brother (Adam) to explore some of Warsaw. Despite having gone about 36 hours with no sleep and having an overwhelming desire to lay my head on the nearest cushioned object; I reluctantly accepted.
Somehow, both tires on my bike went flat several miles from my house and we were forced to take the bus back. I was left alone at the bus stop for about ten minutes while Adam went to go buy bus tickets. I just sat there, scared out of my mind, just praying that none of these terrifying Polish people around me would try to start up a conversation in a language I was hardly familiar with. We were fortunately able to make it home before I had to test out my minimal Polish linguistic abilities.
The next day I met up with the other exchange students in Warsaw and we took a train ride to down to Krakow for a two week language camp. Although the classes there were unbearably long, intensive, and strenuous, they helped improve my polish vocabulary and grammar significantly.
Probably the most important phrase I learned throughout the entire camp was “water niegazowana,” which basically means un-carbonated water; because apparently if you don’t ask for it specifically, you will get “gas water.” And apparently everybody here refuses to drink tap water, even though it is perfectly clean….I think. Well at least I hope it is because I’ve been drinking it every day for the past two weeks.
It has also been insanely hot for the past week, reaching over 90 degrees almost every day! C’mon Poland, I thought you were supposed to be my escape from the Florida heat. What makes it worse is that nobody here has air-conditioning because, well… you know…. it’s Poland, and Poland is supposed to be COLD.
Milk here is also in boxes, and almost always kept unrefrigerated. I haven’t really gotten used a warm bowl of cereal in the morning yet; nor do I understand how warm milk doesn’t go sour…. do they milk some kind of magic cow here or something? This is a matter I will have to investigate sometime in the near future.
We were also given the opportunity to explore all the “touristy” areas of Krakow while at the language camp. We spent several days site seeing at downtown Krakow, Ojkow National Park, Wieliczka Salt Mine, and several old castles and monasteries whose names are a complete mystery to me. I’ll be sure to post a few of my several hundred pictures, although I have no idea how I will decide which ones.
Boarding the train from Krakow was also a memorable experience. The people there were insane! As soon as the train pulled into the station people were sprinting top speed to the doors, and starting nudging each other to get inside. I even saw a person or two diving in through open windows to ensure a seat on the train. It was a madhouse! I was fortunate enough to get a seat and didn’t have to stand for the four hour train ride back to Warsaw.
After arriving back in Warsaw, I immediately went to my host grandparents’ house for a semi-formal obiad, which translates to lunch in English. It is generally the biggest meal of the day, and consists of several courses. While eating, I found it hilarious that, rather than classical or mellow music playing in the background, I heard mostly American pop music and polish hip-hop. Apparently this sort of music is popular with the elderly folks here.
There are a bazillion and a half other things I could write; but, out of fear of boring my vast audience of readers, I will abruptly end this blog post…………………….NOW.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Well I can’t believe I’ve been in Poland for over 2 months already, time has really been flying! The past two months have definitely had their ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.
My once daunting surroundings no longer intimidate me. The frightening and unfamiliar faces at my school are beginning to portray friendship and comfort. Most importantly, people don’t laugh at me every single time I try to order food in Polish (just most of the time).
Okay, so where to start? Well it’s definitely starting to get a bit colder here. A few weeks ago I bought what I thought was a winter coat, but I’m already freezing when I wear it, and it’s not even November! Looks like I made a slight miscalculation there. I only wish I had enough money to buy a real winter coat……hint hint, I need more money! And yes, I know you’re reading this mom and dad.
Probably my favorite thing I have gotten to do In Poland thus far is flying in a prop plane around downtown Warsaw. My host brother is training to become a pilot and I got to sit in on one of his flying lessons and get a bird’s eye view of the city below. (I’ll be sure to post a couple pictures).
I haven’t really had much traditional polish food yet, but I officially love the Kebabs here. And no, kebabs here are not meat on a stick. They are basically really messy sandwiches with lamb/chicken veggies and sauce, and they are absolutely delicious! I also love the really cheap pastries and snack food here.
Staying on the topic of food, people here use ketchup all the time! I’ve had ketchup in pasta, on pizza, and even on toast! It also tastes a lot sweeter than ketchup in the US. Fast food restaurants here are also a lot nicer than back in the states. I never thought I would eat a Big Mac while sitting in an armchair.
Something else I find interesting is that there are seriously like entire malls under the streets in Warsaw. In really crowded areas, instead of crosswalks, there are paths that go underground that people use to get across the street. In these walkways there is just about every kind of shop you can imagine. There are people selling phones (which are A LOT more expensive here), hot dogs, doughnuts, clothes, and of course an alcohol store or two (it is Poland after all). There is also a store near my school that sells clothes by the kilogram. Weird, right?
I’ve also had quite a few interesting experiences while riding on public transportation vehicles, mostly involving drunken people. I’ve seen drunken people singing, drunken people falling, and even a shirtless drunk man fighting at 4:00 in the afternoon. I’ve also had my own little mishaps while utilizing Warsaw’s lovely public transportation system. As a result of the sudden accelerating and decelerating of the trams here, I once accidentally elbowed a woman in the face! Words cannot describe how badly I felt, and I will never forget the completely shocked and frightened look on her face. I also have developed a strong hatred for automatic bus doors. They’ve smashed my hand, pushed me over, and have closed on my feet; thus causing me a considerable amount of pain and embarrassment.
The street performers here can also be quite entertaining, not entertaining because they are talented, but because of how miserably horrid they often are. Almost every day there one man who sits near the subway station in the center of the city and plays a chair…..that’s right, a chair! He just sits there all day and whacks the legs of a wooden chair with a leg from another chair. It is truly a sight to behold.
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Germany as a mini exchange program with my school, and it was seriously one of the best weeks of my life! I lived with a host family there in the little town of Oberursel, and they were absolutely amazing! I did not just have my own bedroom in their house, I had my own floor! And my bathroom had a sauna in it! How crazy is that!? They took me sightseeing, invited me to play in a neighborhood soccer game, and took me on a really cool tour of this old winery. They even took me to a restaurant where I tried liver and blood sausage for the first time. Both of them nearly turned my stomach into an erupting volcano, but I’m glad I at least tried them!
There were, of course, many excursions with my class as well. We went to the town of Heidelberg and got a tour of this really old castle there. The only bad part was our tour guide spoke Polish, and I couldn’t understand a thing! While there we saw the world’s largest wine barrel, and it was absolutely massive! One day we went to this cool obstacle course thing that was like fifty feet up in the trees, it was really exciting. While we were there, I even got interviewed by the local newspaper. My class also did some sightseeing in Frankfurt and went to this museum that was completely in the dark. It was supposed to simulate what it would be like to be blind or something, and was really fun.
Here are some more interesting things that I really didn’t feel like putting into paragraph form.
Polish grammar is a pain! Did you know that there are 17 ways to say 2 in polish!?
There are malls everywhere in Warsaw, I mean everywhere.
I still have not solved the milk mystery.
There is graffiti on everything.
The dubbing on TV shows and movies is soooo annoying.
Germany and Poland are not the best of friends.
Sandwiches are always for lunch, ALWAYS.
Taxi drivers will charge your literally 5x the rate that is printed on their car.
And that’s about it I guess.
January 24, 2012
Well I can’t believe I’ve been in Poland for over 5 months. In some ways it seems like time has flown by faster than I dare to think about, but when I look back at the first day I got here, it seems like a lifetime ago. I’m not about to touch on any deep topics or anything, but I will simply say that one can learn a lot on an exchange.
So where to start? Well I switched families a couple months ago, and my new family is the best! I have 3 younger host sisters, one of which is currently in France on an exchange. I’ve also gotten to go on a couple little trips with them thus far. One of which included spending a weekend at a farm in north Poland to visit some other family members. I got to try a ton of new stuff there and even got to ride a horse for the first time!
I really don’t do much work in school. I’ve only taken one or two tests so far and have never done any homework. I usually just spend my class hours studying polish or playing games with the person who happens to be sitting next to me. It also takes me about an hour to get to my school via public transportation, which can be a real pain sometimes. I have to take a bus, a train, and then a tram! Oh how I miss having a car.
I do, however, have two, three hour polish lessons each week with some other exchange students in Warsaw. Unfortunately I think my polish is actually getting worse by going. Our teacher is really nice, but we continue to learn the absolute basics of the polish language and never touch on new topics. It’s really quite frustrating at times.
I probably learn the most polish at home just speaking with my family. My first day with this new family I made sure to emphasize that I didn’t want to speak ANY English at home; and thus far they have done a pretty good job of just speaking polish to me. Learning Polish is such a huge part of this exchange to me. I know if I return home without a strong understanding of the language, and being able to speak it and understand it fluently, I will feel like much of my exchange was wasted. I can do a fair job at understanding now, and can usually pick up on at least half of the words in a conversation. I can also almost always find a way, although probably not the most efficient or grammatically correct way, to say just about anything I want.
I’m going to go ahead and whine a little bit about Polish right now, so I hope you don’t mind. It’s aggravating at times being stuck with such a grammatically complex and irregular language. It’s not uncommon that I will understand every word in a sentence and still have no idea what someone is actually saying, or to know every word in a sentence but not be able to recognize any of them because they are all conjugated or declinated in such a strange way. But what drives absolutely crazy is the vast amount of vocabulary! It’s common to find 3, 4 or even 5 polish words that mean the exact same thing in English. For example, the verbs chodzić, isć, pójść, jeździć, jechać, pojechać all translate to “to go” in English, but each have slightly different meanings in polish. Pheeeew, now that I got that out of my system, I can continue with my journal.
Hmmmmm, what are some significant things that have happened in the last couple months? Well first of all it is an insanely warm year this near, and it didn’t really even start to snow in Warsaw until the middle of January! That never happens in Poland! The climate here is definitely a world away from Florida. It’s usually raining and the sky is almost always gray. It can get really depressing at times, and I can’t say that I’m too much of a fan of this sort of weather. The holiday season here is also quite different than back in the states.
There’s obviously no thanksgiving holiday in Poland, but the Warsaw exchange students from the United States, with some help from rotary and our host parents, tried to put together our own little US style thanksgiving. The venue and food was good, we rented out a little restaurant on a ranch and had a buffet of dishes people brought, but it wasn’t even close to a US thanksgiving. There wasn’t even a turkey (or so we thought). But after everyone and filled up on the buffet and fire roasted kielbasa, what was brought out on a silver platter; a turkey of course! I didn’t even have room in my stomach to taste it! Oh well, I suppose things are always going to be different on an exchange.
December 6th is a little holiday called Mikołajki, where everyone gets a little present. In the evening most families preform a lot of different fortune telling traditions to try and predict the future and the upcoming New Year. For example, in our house, each family member poured melted wax into cold water where it dries into some abstract shape. Then we cast a shadow of the dried wax on to a wall using a flashlight, and what the shadow resembles is supposed to tell you something about your future. I thought mine looked like Abe Lincoln, so it looks like I’m going meet a dead president this year or something. Definitely looking forward to that! Also, using other concrete fortune telling techniques, I now know that I am going to be a rich farmer that marries someone named Zuziana. I can’t wait!
Christmas Eve here is a lot bigger that Christmas, and all my host family’s relatives in Warsaw came to our house for a traditional 12 dish Christmas Eve dinner. Nobody eats meat on Christmas Eve, so it’s all about fish. Obviously, it is also essential that these dishes be washed down with traditional polish vodka. I’m proud to say that I tried all 12 dishes, but I don’t think there is more than one or two that I would like to try again. Herring soup, poppy seed pasta, and mushroom Perogies just aren’t my cup of tea. After dinner we all opened our presents from Mikołaj (Santa) together as a family.
There is also a polish tradition, involving breaking crackers, that is prevalent in all social gatherings throughout the holiday months. Everyone is handed a light wafer and the socializing begins. When you offer someone your wafer, you each break a piece off of the other person’s tasteless snack and wish each other a good new year in your own way. It’s great for getting to know strangers and helps with socializing, but it does make for a lot of forced smiles and awkward head nodding when you don’t fully understand what some is saying to you! But that’s okay; exchanges are always going to be full of awkward moments!
Switching topics, I just got back from a week skiing in the mountains of south Poland with my host dad and one sister, and it was a blast! The mountains aren’t that big, but I got to brush up on my snowboarding skills and, other than not being able to feel my legs at the end of the week, it was really fun! I also got to try liver for the second time in my life during this trip. Although I can’t say that it made me want to puke any less then the first time I tried it in Germany, but at least I can say that I gave it another shot! Probably my favorite part of this trip was riding 20km through a small mountain town and a nearby forest in a horse drawn carriage! Riding on a little path through a forest with enormous snow covered pine trees surrounding you, on a cold, dark, and cloudless night is a truly breathtaking and memorable experience.
I think it’s about time for some more little extraneous tips, observations, and etc.
I drink more tea in a day there than I did living in the US for 18 years.
People usually drink after meals, and have no beverages while eating.
There will NEVER be paper towels restrooms.
I DON’T WANT YOUR PAMPHLETS, SO PLEASE STOP GIVING THEM TO ME!
The quantity of butter must be equal or greater than the amount of the bread on a real polish sandwich.
Old ladies will plow you into the ground if you get in their way.
I miss water fountains and free public bathrooms.
I do not have a cigarette and I do not have a lighter; SO STOP ASKING!
Don’t say yes, if you’re not sure what somebody asked you. And that’s about all I can think of right now, so see ya!
July 17, 2012
Well I guess I have been slacking a bit on my blog posts lately. Future exchange students, do NOT follow my example! It’s really not too hard to write a couple paragraphs every couple of months for the organization which is giving you the opportunity to go abroad for an entire year!
With three days left abroad, I figured I could write at least write one last blog to let you all know that yes, I am still alive and in Poland.
This has definitely been the best year of my life (thus far), although definitely not the easiest. I think I got the wrong impression about exchanges by reading the blogs of other past out bounds. There is a vast difference between reading blogs while fantasizing about how completely awesome your exchange year is going to be, and actually being in another country amongst a new culture, family, language, and etc. I knew that there were going to be difficult times, and obstacles to overcome on my exchange, I just had no idea what that actually meant until I arrived here! Things become a whole lot more real when you’re lost and alone in a strange city, half way around the world, with no one to help you but yourself, or when you have someone screaming at you in a language you hardly understand and you just stand there speechless! It’s in times like these that things really get put into perspective.
I also got the false impression that my exchange year would be jam-packed full of excitement new experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I HAVE experienced things, gone places, and seen sights that I never thought I would in a hundred years! But dull, dreary, depressing days were far more prevalent throughout my exchange than the “action-packed” days I fantasized about. There have been many days spent just sulking in my room, wishing somebody, anybody, would invite me to do something, or lying in my bed, too scared to go explore the strange world outside. Days where I can’t even muster up the will power to practice my polish with my host family, or go chit-chat with friends at school. Days spent sick at home wondering why in the world I ever wanted to come on an exchange. It’s a bajillion times easier to stay in your room than go out a strike up a conversation a person at the bus stop in a language you hardly know, or adventure out into the new part o f town. But an exchange isn’t supposed to be easy! Now I know that everybody’s exchange is different, and some may have “easier” exchanges than others, but it’s during the tough, miserable, uncomfortable, and scary days that you grow the most, and in my opinion personal growth is what an exchange is all about! Learning a new language used to be all I really cared about when thinking about an exchange, but you can take away sooooo much more than that from this experience!
The kid who, 11 months ago, was terrified to go to the mall by himself and didn’t even know how to read a bus schedule, can now travel alone around the country without hesitation. The awkward kid who was too shy to strike up a conversation with a polish classmate could now hold a conversation with a tree stump.
By no means has being on an exchange made me a perfect person, but it has definitely shoved me farther down the path to becoming the person I want to be! So THANK YOU ROTARY for this wonderful year! I wouldn’t trade it for the world! And good luck to all the future outbounds, it’s going to be a crazy ride!