September 11, 2012
It has been one month since I arrived in the beautiful city of Warsaw, Poland. Putting into words everything that Poland has brought to my life, in just one month, is almost impossible! This month has been the most stressful, crazy, tiring, exciting, and definitely the most amazing month of my life! Okay, it is best to start from the beginning.
Before I came to Poland I was really nervous about the plane ride here. I had never been out of the country before and I was so nervous that my bags would get lost or that I would get lost! Because of this fear, I was going to make it a priority to fly to Poland with one of my closest friends Leslie Gibson (she is also an outbound from FL in Poland). We met up in the Orlando airport and we both said goodbye to our families (and of course cried a little). We were so lucky because the flight attendant let us both take an extra bag without paying any extra money and she made sure we were seated next to each other on both of our flights! Our flight to Frankfurt was easy (and on time) and after only an hour layover, we flew quickly and safely to the Warsaw airport. We were both greeted by our families and before I knew it I was in a taxi on my way to my new home. My fears of the flight were gone and now I could focus on Poland!
We arrived in Warsaw about 3:00 pm and from that moment until 12:00 am I was on the go! I was so excited to finally be in Poland that I forgot I was even tired. My host mom and host sister spent the next day and a half showing me the city they love. The most amazing thing about Warsaw is the way they show their history. The people know the struggles they have been through in past times and they make sure to show just how far they have come. Walking down an average street, you can expect to pass shrines and memorials of WWII. Everything means something and I was in 'information overload' my first few days here with facts on everything we passed. Every building, bench, and statue had a different story that meant so much to my family; it was amazing!
My third day in Poland, I was on my way to Krakow for a two week language camp with all (or almost all) of the inbounds in Poland. These two weeks were very interesting haha. They were awesome but stressful all at once (sounds like the exchange life haha). The inbounds in Poland are so amazing and we all had a lot of fun on our trips around Krakow. We visited churches, malls, and salt mines during our camp. The stressful part came during the polish lessons! Polish is a VERY difficult language especially if you are like me and have never learned another language (except American Sign Language which, although I love, doesn't help very much with learning Polish). We had 4 hours of lessons a day and once again, I was in overload!
I'm not going to lie; I was very excited to go back to Warsaw. I am officially in LOVE with this city! There hasn't been one moment that I wished I was in another city. My host family is AMAZING and the people in Warsaw are awesome! I was told by a lot of people that the people in Poland, Warsaw especially, were going to be much colder than those in the South. I was happily surprised to find out this was not the case! Everyone is so friendly and I can't help but smile everywhere I go! I live with just my host mom because my sister, Milena, went to the US on exchange. I miss her terribly but I know she is having an awesome time just like I am! My host mom and I get along almost too perfectly! She is so caring and always takes care of me (and makes sure to feed me a LOT). I love her so much and I don't want to leave her!
This past Monday I started school here in Poland and it is quite different to that in the US. Despite the difference, I am already having a great time at school! I have English class a few days a week and it makes me laugh when I get questions wrong (which actually happens more than it probably should seeing that English is my first language haha). I don't understand much of anything in school ,but I try and listen to everything and pick out the words that I do understand. I have Polish lessons every day in school and I hope to get a tutor soon because I am VERY determined to learn Polish! It is difficult because all of the teenagers, at my school especially, speak English very well.
Poland hasn't just been a walk in the park like I have made it seem; a few things have been difficult to get use to haha. To begin with, I still haven't fully figured out my shower here. You hang it up yourself on the wall and it always manages to fall off and get water all over EVERYTHING! Also, people in Poland drink 'gazowana' water (carbonated water). Anytime you order water in a restaurant, you get gazowana. I think the hardest thing to get use to, however, is the fact that they drink mainly tea so I am drinking a lot less water than I am used to back home! The idea of drinking just water seems foreign to them here! Also, I have never used public transportation before in my life so getting use to using a subway, train, tram, and bus (all in one day) can get very confusing! Finally, the public bathrooms here cost money! In most malls you can go for free but around the city it costs you money! The first time I went in one of these I got ye lled at, in Polish of course, for not paying the money at the door haha. All of these differences only make me love Poland more! EVERYONE READING THIS GO TO POLAND IT IS AMAZING!
I am already having the best time of my life and if you are reading this and are interested in being an exchange student DO IT! It won't be easy, but it will 100% be worth it!
January 21, 2013
I have officially been in Poland for 100 days now! Even as I am writing it down, it doesn't feel real! Looking back at my last journal entry makes me realize just how far I have come living in Poland. I've finally began to adjust to the Polish lifestyle and I am beginning to feel at home! My host mom and I are now at the point where we know enough about each other to live together like a real family. My room and my bed finally bring me comfort after a long day, and I have gotten used to the showers here (or almost) haha.
Since this is only a journal entry, and not a book, I will focus on just a few of the amazing things I have experienced while in Poland. To begin with, I had the opportunity to go with my class from school on an overnight trip to Krakow. I was the only exchange student who went and I am so glad I did! My classmates are so amazing. They tried to translate as much of the tours as they could and they always included me in everything they did. This was the first time I actually felt like I was making Polish friends which, to me, was definitely one of the highlights of my first 100 days in Poland. I honestly believe I have the BEST class in the world! They always invite me to go to girls nights at their homes and to hang out with all of their friends after school. I never feel excluded from the group and I feel like I can be myself in class without having to impress everyone. I think this is really important and I love them all so much.
In addition to my school life, my personal life here has been pretty interesting! In October half of the exchange students in Poland (around 20 people) went on a trip around Central Europe! This trip was so perfect and I couldn't have had more fun anywhere else. We went to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. We had about a day in each city and I honestly could have spent one month in each city and still have new things to see. Everything was SO unbelievably beautiful and I wanted to stay forever. My all-time favorite city was Prague because of how beautiful the city looks from a hill. All of the buildings are magnificent; by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
The next thing that has been, well, AMAZING, is all of the AMERICAN holidays here in Poland. Yes, I did say American holidays. In Poland they don't really celebrate Halloween instead they celebrate the day after to honor those that have passed away in their families. Going trick-or-treating is not a common pastime here in Poland by any means. However, my amazing friends made Halloween possible in Poland. A few exchange students met up at my friend's house from school all decked out in our Halloween costumes and ready to go cukiernik-albo-przyku. We went from apartment to apartment knocking on the doors and hoping for candy. Some families had us come in and take photos with them and others just gave us any kind of 'treats' they could find. One lady even gave us money and told us to go buy some candy that we like! Our bags were so heavy by the end of the night we didn't even know how we would finish eating everything (but of co urse we did). Another holiday they don't celebrate here in Poland is Thanksgiving (big shocker huh?). I knew that this time of year would be hard for me, especially this holiday, because my family back in the US always has a really big Thanksgiving with our entire family. My friends here knew this and they were determined to make my Thanksgiving the best yet and, somehow, they did just that. It really was the worst and best Thanksgiving of my life! It was the worst if you look at it from a normal Thanksgiving mindset. I didn't spend time with my family, I didn't eat turkey with tons of dessert, and I didn't spend the day with fellow Americans. But if you look at it from my new viewpoint; today was the best Thanksgiving ever. I spent time with my NEW exchange family (they really are family to me now). I ate KFC (not exactly turkey but it did its job) with people who love me and I realized how thankful I am for this exchange and everything it h as given me. AND I spent the day with people from all over the world who were willing to celebrate a day that is important to me. I never have felt that thankful in my life and it really was the best day ever! The funny part is that out of the 15 people celebrating Thanksgiving at that KFC, only 2 of us were from the US.
Finally, the Polish holidays here have also been amazing. As I mentioned earlier, November 1st is a big holiday here in Poland. It is tradition to spend the entire day at the cemetery with your family lighting candles on the graves of the deceased. It is said that no grave is to be left unlit so the entire cemetery is covered in different colored candles! The cemeteries in Poland aren't like those in the US they are much more magnificent. They are very old and every grave has a candle on it, especially on this holiday. I spent the entire day with my host mom looking at how beautiful the cemeteries were. Spending the day with my mom and being able to participate in something that was so important to her really was really great. November 11th is the Polish Independence Day and this is also a huge holiday in Poland. My Rotary Counselor organized an Independence Day Run that all of the exchange students went to. We ran (or should I say walked) the 3.2 km path and finished in last place. We might not have been the fastest people but we had a lot of fun participating!
I could go on and on of all of the amazing things I have done and seen in Poland but honestly, there is no real way to put into words just how incredible these past 100 days have been. One year ago I would have never been able to guess that I would have family, friends, and a life here in the beautiful country of Poland, but now I do. This exchange has helped me grow as a person already and I know in the months to come I will grow and learn even more! I know I've said it before but COME TO POLAND it is amazing! I can't wait for my next 100 days here when I will be skiing in Italian Alps, vacationing in Budapest, Hungary and travel around Europe for a month sightseeing in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Monaco, and Italy.
The first day of spring just passed and believe me, you would never imagine spring if you were living here! It has been five months of snow in this beautiful country of Poland. Everyone here keeps saying how they haven't seen a winter like this in 80 years, but to me it's the only winter I have known. Before coming to Poland, I way I wanted to live or attend college where it snowed because I HATED the heat in Florida. I conjured the thought of winter as images of snow as a white wonderland as described in a book; perfect. However, I didn't take into account some of the things you might lose such as sunlight. I haven't seen the sun in over 5 months. Actually, I take that back. There was one week of sunshine before the second round of winter hit. I actually find myself wishing for a little Florida heat and sunshine. Despite the weather, I have never been happier.
Starting tomorrow I will begin the last two months of my exchange and I have plans for every single day, most of which include my favorite thing -- traveling. I leave tomorrow for my trip around Europe. We will be traveling to 7 different countries for 17 days with 30 exchange students living in Poland. When we return home, I will spend a few days in Krakow, Gdansk, and the mountains of Poland vacationing with my second and third host families. In June, I will have yet another weekend with ALL of the Polish exchange students at the beach. I will conclude the Polish exchange with attending a two-day concert festival before heading back home to Florida. All of this sounds so exciting, but, it is also a little sad. I want to enjoy every second before I have to leave but as I make my plans I can't help noticing the calendar days and how quickly I'm running out of time! I wish I could spend so much more time here in Poland with all of my friends. The thought of leaving this amazing country and the wonderful people makes me so sad. Of course I miss my home, family, friends but I also know how much I will miss my new home, my new families, and my new friends. The difference is this -- when I left Florida in August I knew that I would be returning in just one year, but, when I leave Poland in June I won't know how long it will be before I return.
Instead of focusing on the things I have yet to do, I'll tell you what I have already experienced in Poland since the New Year. Shortly after Christmas I switched to my second host family. This family was more amazing than I can describe. I had a mom, dad, and little 7-yr-old sister living at my house and sometimes my two older brothers would visit. They had been my best friend's first host family so I knew them really well before even moving in with them. Since my first host family consisted of only a host mom, it felt like I was part of the family again and I loved it! I actually enjoyed staying in with them and even going grocery shopping was fun with them. During my stay with them another Brazilian exchange student moved in and became my sister. Every day after eating dinner, we would sit with our mom and talk for hours. I was truly happy. When Easter came, it was time to switch to our third host families. Leaving was difficult since I had grown so at tached to this family. I cried. I could not imagine being so close with another family. I have been with my third family for a week and a half and I am happy to say they are as amazing as the family before! I didn't think it was possible to be as happy as I was, but I honestly am. I live with my mom, dad, 14-yr-old sister, and 10-yr-old brother. I also have an older brother who studies abroad and visits on holidays. I have been so blessed to have some amazing families that opened up their lives and homes to me. I will treasure them always.
Since I have lived in Florida almost my entire life, I had never seen snow before. This being said, it was obvious that I had never been skiing before either. To me this concept seemed impossible and terrifying but I would soon learn otherwise. I took a trip to Italy with another Rotary club along with 10 other exchange students. I also went with Przemek Gorbat who was on exchange to Florida (my city actually) last year from Poland. Having the opportunity to see him in Poland was so amazing for me. We stayed in Livigno, Italy for one week and it was perfect. I was also lucky enough to see my close friend from Florida, Kaylin Burgess, who is on exchange in Switzerland. The trip as a whole was just amazing as I learned some key concepts of skiing and also just got to spend time with people I love in an amazing city. Shortly after arriving to Poland, I had another opportunity to go skiing in Zakopane with my second host family. Along with my best friend Monique, we all went for one week to ski. I was given a ski instructor and by the second day I was going down the big slopes. I had so much fun being with family and friends in the snow and I couldn't imagine it any other way. Both of these trips were so amazing and I will remember them forever.
In Florida, before I had my own car, my parents would chauffeur me around. I remember always thinking how nice it would be when I got to Poland. I knew that public transportation would soon become my life but I never fully grasped what this meant. When I first arrived in Poland I was a little intimidated, but I quickly became proficient and comfortable using public transportation for everything from attending school (there are no school buses here), shopping, sightseeing and traveling. I loved that I could get so far with very little effort. I was reading 2 or 3 books a week while traveling on public transportation. Once the snow starting falling, it wasn't so appealing. My second host family lived 1 hour and 30 minutes from my school. Unfortunately the bus only came every 30 minutes so if you didn't plan your trip EXACTLY, you could miss the bus and have to wait 30 minutes in the cold wet snow. With my third family, I use the metro and a bus to make the h our trip to school. Luckily, I have had my fellow exchange students living with me or near me so I rarely have to make these trips alone. I have learned that a 2 hour trip is nothing; it could just be you going to school. The 2 hour driving trips to Orlando from my house don't seem so long now.
Overall, my exchange has been just what I had hoped it would be. My time in Poland has been perfect. I lived by the advise Rotary gave us "Don't make expectations," "Keep an open mind," and "Your exchange is what you make it." I didn't have preconceived ideas or expectations to meet and live up to. Of course it has had its ups and downs. It wouldn't be real if it wasn't and I appreciate the ups even more. My exchange has been AMAZING, MIRACULOUS, INCREDIBLE, ASTOUNDING, and MARVELOUS. I am grateful every single day to Rotary for allowing me to have this astonishing opportunity that will help me in the future. I've learned so much about Polish people, their lifestyle and culture. I've learned about adaptation, accommodation and compromise. Most of all I have learned about myself. I am even eating vegetables now and enjoying it. I cannot wait to see what my last two months have in store for me. I just pray the time goes by VERY SLOWLY!