Leslie Gibson 
2012-13 Outbound to Poland
Hometown: Tampa, FL
School: Robinson High School
Sponsor: District 6890, FL
Host: District 2230, Poland
The Rotary Club of Lodz 4 Kultury

August 27th, 2012
I officially arrived in Poland 17 days ago! It's hard to believe that two and half weeks of my exchange have already happened! I was at language camp in Piekary (a village near Krakow) for two weeks with all the exchange students in Poland. The first full day in Łódź I had a traditional Polish BBQ with my family (parents, two sisters, and grandparents) and my sisters' boyfriends. It was so fun and I was forced to try meat! I have eaten meat every meal with my family so far. That was probably the biggest challenge coming to Poland. After ten years of not eating meat, I now eat kielbasa, sausage, ham, pork, beef, and chicken... I love my host family. My 19 year-old sister Angelika does not go to my school but she speaks English and did an exchange in Venezuela. My parents are so kind and they have been so welcoming and accepting. I spent all of today with moja babcia (my grandmother) going to the manufaktura (a huge shopping center with restaurants and a cine ma) and the center of the city. Later, she taught me how to make decorations for Christmas and Easter. It was a fun day and I was forced to speak only Polish because my parents and my grandmother do not speak English. Polish is SO difficult because of the grammar but I love the way it sounds and I am learning quickly. I can already have basic conversations and I can understand a lot more than I can speak. I've discovered that the grammar rules have so many exceptions that the rule basically seems pointless haha. The hardest difference between English and Polish is that 'no' actually means 'yes'. It's so confusing and I feel like I do things wrong until I realize that!

There are almost 40 exchange students in Poland from the United States (18), Brasil (9), Mexico, Taiwan (2), Argentina (1), and Canada (1). Everyone is so great and I love seeing how the cultures interact. Language camp did not feel like living in Poland because we spoke English and went to Krakow as a huge tourist group. It was so much fun but I'm glad to begin my language immersion! For Language Camp (Kurs Języka Polskiego), we had 4 hours of classes, study time, afternoon activities or trips, and evening activities. Our trips included one to a monastery, Wieliczka Salt Mines, Krakow (Wawel and Kazimierz), the mall, and a festival in Piekary. The salt mines were incredible! The passages were carved from salt so we all licked the walls. There is an underground cathedral which is beautiful. There are chandeliers, statues, and murals all carved from salt. The tour took three hours because we descended over 100 km beneath the surface! In Krakow, Wawel is a huge castle and we got to see the Cathedral. The history is so interesting and I learned so much about Krakow from our tour guide. Kazimierz is the Jewish Ghetto and where Schindler's List was filmed. We didn't get to spend much time there but we saw an old synagogue. During our free time some of us went to a pierogi festival. I had 10 pierogi... so delicious.

I love Poland and the people so much. Everyone has been kind and welcoming thus far and I cannot wait to start school. Do widzenia!


September 26th, 2012
I'm still loving Poland! Life here is exactly what it's supposed to be-life. I go to school, sleep, spend time with my family, and everything that I would do at home. It just so happens I'm speaking Polish and not in the United States. I speak more and more Polish every day and I'm very proud of my level of proficiency two months in. Polish is such a hard language and so easy to give up on but I keep pushing myself. I'm so grateful that I only speak Polish with my family except for when my sister and I are having girly conversations.

Since life in Poland is life, there are days that have ups and downs. One of these downs was last Monday during public transportation. I was waiting 45 minutes at my bus stop for my next bus and was so mad because I had to stand the entire time. When I got on the bus I forgot to scan my ticket and ten minutes into my ride, the bus police get on... yes, they exist. She started speaking Polish really fast and I only understood a little and tried to explain that I wasn't familiar with the bus system and so on. She grabbed my arm that was holding the wallet and told me to pay. So I lost the equivalent of 20 USD on a stupid mistake of mine but I guess it takes mistakes to learn.

Another down was on Wednesday when I went to the bank after school. I had mapped two locations and one was close to one of the stops on my bus route, only a five minute walk. I had always wanted to explore Piotrkowska and thought I would get the opportunity to. Of course I forgot my a jacket on the rainiest day so far. The bank had no way of helping me and the only ATM for the bank was a 20 minute walk down the main street. After 20 minutes of freezing and wet toes, I went to the ATM and saw that the charge is over 10% to withdraw!! Ridiculous.

So Friday, September 21st was the Warsaw meeting with all the exchange students in Poland. Luccas, Luiza, and I took an early train to Warsaw so that we would have time to catch up with our friends. We went to the hostel and then took a walk around Warsaw at night to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. We went to the Planetarium of Copernicus and watched a IMAX film in the theater. It was entirely in Polish and about topics like DNA so it was a little difficult to grasp since I have trouble with that in English!

The next day we took a bus tour to see the street with embassies and past Chopin's park. It was raining BUT I had my Hunter rain boots and I was probably the most comfortable walking around. We went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum which is probably the best museum I've been to, probably because the history is so interesting to me. If anyone ever takes a trip to Warsaw, the museum is something that deserves at least half a day. Seeing tangible evidence of all that Poland had suffered during WWII made me feel overwhelming pride in this country. Poland has been trampled on so many times and has still maintained it's identity and pride. I'm reading a book about the conditions of the partitions in the 19th century among Austria, Germany, and Russia. The Polish language was suppressed and anyone who spoke it was punished severely but they still refused to abandon their nationality.

We also went to Stare Miasto (old town) and walked around (in the rain, of course). It is absolutely beautiful in Stare Miasto with old buildings and cobblestone streets. We went to the Fountain Park with a light show that only occurs in the summer. It was a great ending to the weekend to see Warsaw.

I love Warsaw! I was able to stay two days with my best friend Kendall from Florida and I saw Warsaw from a non-tourist view. We saw a memorial outside of Warsaw to a plane that crashed in 1944 (Kielpin) and it almost moved me to tears when I saw that people still put flowers at the monument. Poland has not forgotten the help that the United States gave during WWII and the memorial made me feel so proud to be an American. Kendall and I were so grateful to see it.

Kendall and I went to Stare Miasto again and bought a baquette on the street. It was great to walk around and catch up. We've officially adopted the Polish mentality on money because we now think things are expensive that we would normally pay for in the United States. We saw pasta that was 24 zloty and said the restaurant was too expensive (about 8 USD)... Kendall and I got lost a couple of times, but it was so fun to figure out the buses and see more of Warsaw.

During the day, we cooked pasta and ate so many cookies. (Guilty pleasures). We also went to Polish lessons so I was able to see her school. The kids in Warsaw are not learning as much Polish as me because EVERYONE in Warsaw speaks English. When Kendall and I got lost, a Turkish man overheard us and helped us get to the bus. I was so amazed at the diversity of people in Warsaw. I've been able to count on two hands how many people of other races I've seen in my city! It was so vibrant and urban! Kendall didn't understand why I got so excited when I heard someone speaking American or British English because I haven't seen any in my city.

Every day, I'm amazed that I'm in this wonderful country. I can't imagine being anywhere else and I'm so grateful to Rotary for this experience!


It's almost 3 months in Poland and Polish is still an ongoing struggle. I've tried every form of studying known to the world-watching TV in Polish or with subtitles, changing my Facebook and phone to Polish, reading books, listening to radio, and taking notes from a book. As much of an advantage speaking English as a first language is, it is a huge disadvantage trying to learn a foreign language. Everything has an English option and all the TV programs and songs on the radio are in English. And it's very true that everyone loves to practice English with a native speaker... This is such an interesting concept since we were always embarrassed to practice our Spanish in the four years of IB. Here, people are so enthusiastic about English. Rotary Florida had warned us that this time period was going to be a struggle, part of the "roller coaster" of emotions we would experience. I have not found myself extremely homesick or lonely, but the language is incredibly frustrating at times. Every time I learn a new rule or word, I discover a thousand exceptions. Polish is still a beautiful language, and it is considered very commendable to master it.

So enough about my frustration with the language. Rotary Florida had warned us that this time period was going to be a struggle, part of the "roller coaster" of emotions we would experience. I have not found myself extremely homesick or lonely, and I owe that to my incredible family. They have made me feel like a family member in every way. My sister Lika is my best friend and I can go to her with anything. My parents remind me a lot of my own, and they treat me like another daughter. I know that these relationships will stay with me forever and switching families will be one of the hardest parts of my exchange. I'm so blessed to have such an amazing family as my first that has made settling into a new lifestyle as easy as possible.

On November 1st, we had All Saints' Day (Wszystkich Swietych). Poland celebrates this holiday with a free day from all work and school as everyone visits the cemeteries to honor those who died. People purchase flowers and candles and place them on the graves of loved ones. This is one of the most beautiful traditions I have ever seen and I am so fortunate to have been a part of this holiday. At night, the cemeteries are lit with a thousand candles. After we visited the cemeteries, we had lunch at my father's parents' apartment. They are so kind and my grandmother is an incredible cook. The first thing my adorable grandfather says to me is that my cheeks are bigger... So needless to say, I now know for a fact that I've gained weight.

On that note, I'll talk about the food in Poland. It is incredible, especially for carb-lovers like me. Almost every day, we eat soups and potatoes, so I am VERY happy. I've even gotten accustomed to eating meat. I actually made my first independent meat purchase the other day with a cheeseburger! I still can't handle fish or eggs but I think it's because they just don't taste good. The meat here is always cooked well. I'm VERY embarrassed at my lack of cooking abilities. Everyone in Poland can show me up since all I know how to do is make pasta, burritos, and salad. I'm nervous for Thanksgiving and the possible expectations to cook a meal... All I ever helped with were the mashed potatoes and green beans... Because of all these carbs, I'm gaining what we Rotary students love to call the "exchange belly". It's unavoidable so I've learned to accept it, keep eating, and work out when I can.

November 1st also marked the college application due date for Early Action. It's so hard to be in the "college mindset" from thousands of miles away so I finished the essays with about 36 hours left. I'll find out most of the decisions in 2013 so all I can do now is work on my Polish and keep warm for winter. Poland had its first snow a week ago and it was magical! Now it's too warm for snow so it's just ugly since all the golden leaves vanished. I can't wait for more snow!! With Poland's temperatures I now have justification to laugh at all of my dear Florida friends who pull out their Fuggs and North Faces for 60 degree weather. Now when I see that, I think "hmm maybe I don't have to wear my leggings underneath my jeans today!".

As a premature "Thanksgiving" from Poland, I want to give thanks to all the people helping to make my year possible. First, to my parents who have supported every decision I've made and continue to support me across the ocean and another continent. The rest of my American family and my Polish family for the love they always show. To Rotary Florida for all the orientations that prepared us so well to adapt to different cultures. To Rotary Lodz for sponsoring me! To my friends back home and in Poland because I'm so fortunate to have you in my life.

Just to apologize in advance and for all my past blog entries: my English has severely depreciated since graduating from the IB program. Hopefully it all comes back when I have to start college! 


October 22nd, 2012

I just got home from a weeklong Rotary trip to some of the capitals of Central Europe. It was one of the best trips I've been on and I am so grateful to have seen so much of Europe, especially during a time with minimal tourism and great weather. Paweł, from Rotary Warsaw, coordinates our trips and he does an incredible job. I'm so lucky that he plans so many trips because students from other countries sometimes only get Euro Trip and I have at least three more trips this year.

I left for Kendall's house in Warsaw on Friday the 12th because we were leaving Warsaw at 7am and I had no desire to take a train at 5 in the morning. The bus ride was extremely uncomfortable and long because of our tiny bus that has less leg room than economy class. We had a 10 hour drive through Krakow, Slovakia, and then to Budapest. Slovakia was gorgeous! There were rolling hills and small mountains and the countryside was so green and beautiful. I was able to understand some of the signs because of my Polish. One of the most mind-blowing things is that in just a few hours, you can go to a country speaking a completely different language. In the United States, all you get is a different accent.

We arrived to Budapest around 8pm and got to see the city by night. I was amazed at how beautiful and grand Budapest was. We parked on the river side and saw some of the huge buildings lit up at night. I was always trying to listen for Hungarian because I've heard it is one of the only languages harder than Polish for English speakers to learn. We had pizza for dinner (classic, and of course, inferior to American pizza) and went to bed. The next morning we drove to Gellert Hill and saw a beautiful panoramic view of Budapest. After, we went to the Heroes' Square which reminds me of the memorials in Washington DC. We walked to to Museum of Hungarian Agriculture (not for the agriculture, of course). The museum is inside of a castle that is exactly what Hogwarts should look like. We also saw St. Stephen's Basilica, a huge church that can be seen from all parts of the city because of its height. I love seeing the cathedrals, citadels, basilicas, etc. but after a whi le, all of the stained glass windows and intricate paintings blend together! We had free time, but being cheap exchange students, we couldn't do much except walk around. Unless we had wanted to buy Subway since it was the only restaurant in our price range. The most frustrating thing about traveling around Europe is that you spend all your money on water!! After our free time we saw Fisherman's Bastion, an impressively huge castle that can be seen from the river. It's so hard to describe all the places so I'll link my facebook album so you can see pictures.

After a long day in Budapest, we went to bed late and were off to Vienna in the morning! Our first stop was Schönbrunn Palace (click because it has a really interesting history). We hiked up a hill and got a view of Vienna in perfect weather. The gardens of the palace and the palace itself look like a less extravagant version of Versailles. We were able to do a walking tour through the apartments and had audio devices to hear the history of the palace. We stayed in a hostel-hotel in walking distance (far, but walking distance) to the center of the city. We walked to the center around 6pm so we saw the city by sunset. The center was probably the ritziest place I've seen to shop in a very long time. The stores were overpriced and designer like Gucci and Svarowski. Pawel knows exactly how to plan trips for teenagers by giving enough free time and sightseeing. In Vienna, Prague, and Berlin, he let us stay out until 9pm. The catch was that we had to find our way back to the hotel on our own. VERY challenging, especially if you don't really know where you are haha. In Vienna, we started walking back from the center because it started to rain. We got in the vicinity of the hotel but ended up walking down random streets because the map didn't show many street names and people didn't give helpful directions. We tried to hail a cab, but apparently things are different than in NYC and they don't stop when you flag them down... After an hour of wandering around Vienna, we finally found our hotel, only 4 minutes past our 9pm curfew!

Another early morning and then to Prague! I had visited the Czech Republic with my family for my aunt's wedding when I was nine but I was still impressed by the city. It is one of the most beautiful places I've been to. For some reason, there were still so many tourists! I have no idea how people find the time to visit Prague on a Tuesday in the middle of October? We toured around the castle area, including the Golden Lane. We crossed the Vltava River to Old Town and had traditional Czech cuisine. We then had free time in Old Town where we got souvenirs and explored. I can definitely say that Prague has the most attractive guys in one place than any other city!! We didn't have a problem getting to our hotel from Old Town because it was one tram line.

The next morning we started for Berlin. We stopped in Dresden and spent about two hours touring the Old City. The part of the city that wasn't bombed has beautiful buildings and I wish we could have spent more time there. Since it is on the way to Berlin, it was more of a pitstop for us than a destination, unfortunately. Of course when we got to Germany, we all joked about how the trams were so new and sleek, compared some in Poland, especially Łódź that sound like they might fall apart at any moment!

The first thing we saw in Berlin was the Berlin Wall. Most of it has graffiti or wall art but it still had such a powerful message. After, we saw Checkpoint Charlie. I had another moment of American pride as I saw the flag and icon of the American soldier at the monument. That night we had Mexican food! Nothing can compare to my favorite restaurant in Tampa but having salsa and guacamole made me so happy. Of course they didn't even speak Spanish in the restaurant but it was food, nonetheless! The next day we literally walked miles from Charlottenburg (where our hotel was) to the center. We were all exhausted and hungry by the time we got to the Reichstag. That building was one of the most impressive I have ever seen in my life. It is a huge structure with German flags waving everywhere that was created to intimidate and impress. It definitely succeeded! We then went to Bradenburg Gate that used to separate West and East Berlin. I loved seeing the US Embassy right next to the gate and took a classic picture with my own American flag. We went to the German History Museum and watched a film but almost everyone fell asleep because of how much we had walked that day. Listening to the film and reading the English subtitles, I realize how similar German and English are and again, how hard Polish is! We had free time after the film and I was so tempted to stay by myself and go through the museum because of how interested I am in history but the other exchange students left and I figured I would have more chances to visit Berlin. We went back to the Bradenburg Gate and met up with one of my Mexican friend's cousin who is on exchange in Germany. We went to a traditional German restaurant and then to the Mexican restaurant (again). We were so lucky to have her cousin because of how complicated the metro system is in Berlin!

The next day we had to start our long drive back to Warsaw and I slept the entire time. I think I was awake for the last twenty minutes of the drive. Kendall and I went back to her apartment and had a relaxing evening to catch up on sleep. The next day we went to the Kopernik Planeterium to watch a film organized by Rotary. The film was about black holes and I'm honestly a little scared after hearing about them! We went to Zlote Tarasy, the shopping mall near centrum, to the Multikino to watch a movie. We saw Paranormal Activity 4 in English with Polish subtitles. It was really embarrassing/funny when only Kendall, Samantha, and I would laugh at some of the jokes that were not translated into Polish. We then went to centrum to meet up with the Brazilians and Barbara from Argentina because it was her last week in Poland (since she came in January). Kendall and I went home at 11 and then the next day I rode the train home!

After a week of Warsaw and huge cities, Łódź was a nice place to return to. The autumn here is incredible here (hence the name Golden Autumn) and I always want to whip out my camera and take pictures of all the leaves (probably because Florida doesn't have seasons). It's supposed to get cold this week and to be honest, I'm a little scared. I downloaded an app called Sunrise Sunset and I calculated that on December 12, the darkest day of the year, the sun will set a 3:31 pm! I'm terrified! I am excited for the fire heating up the house and wearing my snow clothes, though!

My Polish is still improving but I am at a slow point because all my energy is going into college essays... for the second time. Today I somehow understood so much more than normal and I was so proud of myself! Now, I don't really need my sister to explain too much in English because I understand my family's conversations.

Warning to future exchange students: you will gain weight. Accept it and keep eating!!! I've gained a lot of weight but I don't think I look much bigger (thank God!).


January 4, 2013

1. Don't go in with expectations (bad or good). If you go in with an open mind, you'll be able to adapt so much faster to situations.
2. Don't compare your exchange with other exchange students. We are ALL having completely different exchanges and so will you. For example, there is the Warsaw experience and Poland experience! Even though we're in the same country, we are doing completely different things!
3. You can't have everything from an exchange so don't be disappointed if something isn't perfect!
4. Join a gym. Seriously.
5. Go on EVERY trip! Most of them through Rotary are pretty affordable but even if they are expensive, when else will you be able to have this experience?
6. Push yourself to learn the language. Even if you never think you will use *insert language here*, you will gain so much from speaking your host language. The relationships you make with your family and friends will be more personal and you won't feel scared to order food in a restaurant!
7. Be the ambassador to your country. I know Rotary always says this but once you go abroad, you'll see how your pride in your country grows and you will WANT to break the stereotypes and represent!
8. Make smart decisions. This is self explanatory but it can never be stressed too much.
9. Nothing is "weird" or "strange", it's just different.
10. When things are getting tough, always reach out to past or current exchange students. EVERYONE on exchange experiences similar things like language frustration or missing home and talking to someone will comfort you.
11. Try new foods but don't be afraid to tell your family if you don't like something. In the beginning, eat everything on your plate, but when you're more comfortable, just say you prefer such-and-such instead of...


March 18, 2013

For anyone who wants to read more, go to my leslieinpoland.blogspot.com because I post there pretty frequently (:

Wow! I decided the love of my life is the city of Berlin. I spent the first two weeks of March with the family of my German brother in Florida. Joanna (his mom) is Polish so I kept up with and even improved my Polish. First of all, the family is simply incredible. They were so welcoming and treated me like a daughter so I felt at home within the first few days. Joanna is a lot like my mom and we got along great! Mike is also so fun and talkative and the daughter Julia is 9 years old and active!

First: the food. I was so happy to have some tastes from home when we went out to Mexican, Thai, Italian, and more restaurants. I had root beer and onion rings along with spicy Indian food. Berlin has a plethora of spectacular dining and I'm not as food-sick as I was before in Poland eating sandwiches and potatoes all the time! To those who think that food isn't such a big deal, you haven't experienced the lack of variety for the past 7 months! Haha, but really. I like Polish food but like anything, it can get a little boring.

I arrived on a Friday and saw a little of Berlin by night, including the sunset near the Bradenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. Saturday was sunny and we got to see a panorama in Gendarmenmarkt Square . Most of the sightseeing is in the city center so we were able to walk around Kurf�rstendamm (a shopping street), Checkpoint Charlie, and a piece of the Berlin Wall where the Gestapo also had their headquarters.

Sunday was spent in Potsdam, known for the Potsdam Conference. We saw Cecilendorf, the manor where Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met. It was surreal to be in the same conference room where three of the most influential people in WWII were. There was even the same furniture and round table from the pictures I had seen. Also in Potsdam is Sanssouci Palace, a mini-Versailles that is probably beautiful in spring and summer because of the vast expanse of gardens and terraces.

Mike and Joanna work during the week so I spent the weekdays seeing various parts of Berlin, mostly museums. I really enjoyed the freedom of staying in museums for however long I needed and seeing what I wanted. There is something liberating about traveling alone! Berlin has an impressive public transport system so I was able to go wherever I wanted with relative ease. When I wasn't in museums, I was walking around the center (granted, only on the two days of 40 degree weather and sunshine). Something distinct is the Holocaust Memorial near Bradenburg Gate. I encourage you to read the link
because the design and significance is interesting. One Saturday night I went to the Philharmony with a Rotarian and we listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Wow. Such talent!

I gave a presentation at the Rotary Club sponsoring Philipp in Florida. Ironically, it is a Polish-German club so I was able to speak in Polish to them!!

My museum count for the trip: 10 (11 if you count the Berlin Wall Gallery)
Pretty impressive, right? I know a lot of you are thinking 'ugh, how boring!' but I really enjoyed myself. Unfortunately, I have a sort of museum-OCD, meaning that I can't leave a museum without looking at EVERY SINGLE thing. That is kind of frustrating sometimes but it also means I fully absorbed everything?

1. Berlin has a museum island with five museums. They all have very Romanesque architecture and it is a beautiful place to be! I went to the Egyptian Museum, Pergamon, and Neues Museum. There was a special exhibition showing the famous bust of Nefertiti. The Pergamon was very impressive because there was a restored temple, Roman arch, and the gate of Babylon inside.
Overall, anyone going to Berlin should plan on a day or two on the Museum Island!

2. German History Museum. I had been here on my capital trip with other exchange students but a bunch of hungry teenagers are not the best museum companions so I didn't get to see much. The museum is huge and a little overwhelming with the hundreds of years of history but I loved it!

3. German Technical Museum: also great (as all of the museums I saw are). My favorite part were the scaled models of ships dating from Vikings to modern yachts. They also had a remodeled railway shed that showed the evolution of the railway system in Germany.

4. Jewish Museum: So interesting! I loved learning about a religion I didn't know much about. The architecture is incredible but something you have to see in person to grasp. Being there is really sobering because of the evidence of the Holocaust and various persecutions and crusades against Judaism.

5. Gemaldegalerie. My favorite art museums are those with old paintings rather than modern art and the museum has an incredible collection. I spent hours looking at rooms and analyzing the significance of such and such. Very IB of me... Nonetheless, I felt like a very sophisticated 18 year old examining old paintings!

6. Allied Museum. The museum is located in an old American military outpost and exhibits the history of the Allied forces in the Cold War period in West Berlin. This history is still so personal because it was less than 30 years ago so I enjoyed seeing how life was in West Berlin. Since I have been a little American-sick, the specific focus on American troops brought a little bit of home to me. There was an exhibition featuring sport for the Allies and there was footage from a football game in Berlin!

7. The Story of Berlin was really interactive and had themes in each area covering a part of Berlin's 800 year history. The best part was the tour to the atomic beneath the museum. Most of the bunker is now a parking garage but we were able to see some of the underground area for 3,600 people. I am so grateful it was never used because the conditions would have been deplorable! There was no free space, only lines of bunk beds inches away from each other and no way of bathing and limited water supply. It was very eery going down into the dark, creepy bunker but a great way to imagine the reactions to the atomic threats in the Cold War.

8. Last, but certainly not least is one of my favorite parts of the trip. The East Side Gallery is a mile-long stretch of the wall with graffiti art. Parts of the wall include inspirational quotes and the famous kiss of Breshnev and Eric Honecker. Unfortunately, as some of you have probably read, the Gallery is in danger of demolition to make way for condos. Even with many protesting, I'm so grateful to see this part of history before it is dismantled!

SOOOO
That sums up my trip to Berlin. One of my favorite trips-ever. I'm in love with Berlin and I've already started learning German and researching ways to study here!

****

Now I'm back in Łódź waiting for my parents to arrive in 2 weeks! I can't believe it will be almost 8 months since I last saw them. I am so excited to spend two and a half weeks touring Poland!!!!

OKAY. So this will be my grumbling about the weather and hating on all the Florida residents!! It is almost April and still 0 degrees celsius (32 degrees) and SNOW. I am not a fan of this unusually long and dark summer. Fortunately, we've had a few days of sun. It's amazing how much the sunshine can give you energy and lift you out of a slump. But hey, I guess it takes surviving winter to appreciate the summer?

On my Polish progress: I feel really great about my speaking ability. I am now comfortably having conversations with anyone. I think I'm at the "conversationally fluent" level. I still have many grammatical errors and I have to ask what some words mean but I understand 95% of the conversations going on around me. Watching the news or reading the newspaper is a different story because of the completely different vocabulary. I'm at the point where I prefer to speak Polish than English with someone from Poland. I almost feel self conscious speaking English with non-native speakers now! And by the way, I'm forgetting how to speak English. I told someone "I have 18 years". No bueno. Everyone I meet is really impressed with my Polish which only encourages me to learn more and speak! 

Pa!



May 5 2013

Everything is so beautiful now!!!! The grass is green, flowers are blooming and the sun in shining!!!! I even appreciate the dandelion weeds that people hate because they make Polish spring even more alive.

I woke up this morning to a full sun and clear skies and stepped out of the house to the revelation that I didn't need a jacket! My happiness and energy level was at about 100% despite the five hours of sleep I got last night! My day consisted of working out at the gym and then laying in the garden for four hours. I fell asleep and woke up with the slightest indication of a suntan!!!!

This weekend I had Luiza's 18th birthday celebration (osiemnastka). Friday was a "surprise party" that she, of course, knew about. She acted surprised to give her credit! We had the party at her first host family's house and then went to the second house to spend the night. There were 5 other Brazilians in town for the weekend. The next day we went to a Rotary picnic that raises money for a retreat for children and adults with Down's syndrome. They had organized a few performances for us. One of them was fencing that serves as a form of therapy. Later, we went to the zoo! I actually had so much fun because we got to feed animals grass from the fields nearby. Compared to zoos in the US, there was little to no supervision! (Not entirely a good thing). We held baby goats, fed camels, and petted miniature ponies and donkeys! That evening we went to our favorite place-Casablanca. At 12, I took Luiza to the bathroom and when we came out we sang Happy Birthd ay in three different languages to her! (Portuguese, Polish, and English).

Last Monday, we did our Rotary presentation for a group of 13-14 year olds from Oscar's school. Oscar is Luccas/Luiza's host brother and reminds me of my cousin Alex so much. I love him to death! Thursday and Friday were national holidays so my sisters and I had a BBQ with some of their friends. The weather was not ideal but we still had fun grilling pierogi and kiełbasa. Luiza, Luccas, Oliwia (host sister of Luccas and Luiza), and Carolina from Brazil all slept in my room. We had several debates over who got the blankets!

On May 3rd, time woke me up and slapped me in the face with the fact that there are only two months remaining on my exchange. Wow. Tempus fugit. I feel somewhat cheated by Poland's abnormally long winter since we only had warm, nice weather August, half of September, and now in May. Now that it's warm, there is SO much to do and I'm freaking out that I can't do it all in the next two months. I made a list of things to see in Łódź.

My mental state has improved as the sun has emerged from its hibernation. I'm considerably happier and more energetic with the nice weather, which goes to prove I'm a summer girl. Of course everyone here is more cheerful but I literally feel like dancing to celebrate the weather. If any exchange student from Florida reads this: WINTER IS HARD AND COLD AND DARK AND IT SUCKS UNLESS YOU SKI. I'm also not going to school anymore and feel so much more productive. I'm learning German and Portuguese basics and listening to lectures about Political Science as well as exercising.

Something exciting I discovered is that there is a boy from Łódź who will be in Florida next year!!!!! I pray he's in my city so I can stalk him and harass him to speak Polish with me because I know I will desperately miss speaking.

Speaking of...speaking. At the Rotary picnic there was a group sent from Rotary of Hawaii on a Poland trip. Oh gosh, speaking American English was the weirdest experience ever. No one who hasn't been so heavily immersed in a language will understand the effects of deprivation of your language. Speaking with my friends on exchange from the US and my family is different and fine but when I meet people, WOAH. I literally forget how to speak. I have something wired in my brain after this year that signals me that anyone I meet speaks English as a foreign language. I've met probably less than 10 people from the US this year and every time I tried to speak Polish. I also spoke really slowly and simply... Even talking to them this weekend seemed like English was MY second language. I found myself feeling more comfortable speaking Polish than English. I guess I can view that as an accomplishment but it is also an extremely uncomfortable and disorienting feeling. I was on th e phone with my university the other day and spoke a whole sentence in Polish... It will definitely take some getting used to when I return to the US and can talk to anyone without having to keep my hears pricked for different word usage, syntax, and speaking speed.

Something very hard to grasp for me is that, for each language you speak, you have a different personality. Not polar opposites but there are some characteristics I express in English but not Polish and vice versa. I'm a huge mystery now! Kim jestem?!

As hard and infuriating as Polish is, I have fallen head over heels for this language. I can now dream, sleep talk, and unconsciously speak in Polish. I even think it's so fun that Luiza, Luccas, and I speak Polish-Portuguese-Spanish-English together. People are awed by our conversations because they can never predict what language it will be!

I am so happy with my language and think that it has been and will be the biggest accomplishment of my exchange. It shows me that I do have a talent for languages, that speaking another language can never again be embarrassing, and that Rotary at orientation was completely right. If you speak to a man in a language he knows, it goes to his head but if you speak to him in his language, it goes to his heart. I have had the unique opportunity to befriend people not just through a language they learn but have no emotion for. I have made my life in Poland with Polish and it has become a part of who I am. There are so many times I am wrong and forget words but I feel so comfortable with this beautiful language.

To the exchange students going to Poland: Poland will be full of surprises and it will by no means be easy. It will be hard and things will suck but learning Polish is worth the headaches and hours of studying nonsensical grammatical rules.

So enough of the rambling. In summary: I love Polish spring. I love Polish. I will miss speaking Polish. I only have two months left. AH.

My plans for the next two months include going to the embassy in Warsaw, Beyonce (ironically, Diva is playing on my shuffle now), Warsaw, England, Berlin (hopefully!)