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It's been about 5 months since my last journal entry. As it turns out, there's a lot you can do in 5 months in a foreign country. I could probably spend a good Saturday afternoon and evening typing it all out. Unfortunately, I'm doing this on a Monday night. I don't really know where to start, so I'll just say let's start at "Official Rotary meetings" see where that goes. I think my last journal is not really very good, so I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist and maybe redescribe some things.
At the very beginning, all the exchange students met in Bydgoszcz, for a 10 day "language camp". It's a nice city to mention every once in a while, but not nice to live there, because Americans would always ask you, "Hey, how's Byqishajbsxz?" (source: the kids who live there). We stayed at this hotel/sports complex. I feel bad for the athletes there, because the food is really bad. The best and worst thing about it was that the food was basically the same every day. That's good because my favorite foods were available every day, and really, I could eat the same thing every day and be happy, but it's bad because the food was just bad. There also wasn't any normal water. It was always contaminated by 8 lemons or 5 oranges or however much dang citrus fruit they decided to throw in the pitcher that day. The weather there was nice, maybe like 70 degrees? I can't remember exactly. All but like 3 exchange students were there, so it was great to meet everyone and get to know people. We were split into 3 groups, blue, yellow, and green. There was this rotation system between the 3 teachers and other miscellaneous activities, and the groups were also used for quicker attendance taking, which, by the way, was never quick. SOMEONE was always sick and the leadership didn't know, or taking a nap, or just slow, or didn't look at the time, or looked at the time but didn't know it was THAT time, etc, etc, etc. I can never remember what group I was in, but I figure it out by remembering which groups I WASN'T in. I wasn't green because I didn't participate in their atrocious butchering of the word "zielona". We would yell out our group names in Polish to find each other, and green group apparently can't say the word for green correctly, ALSO, they were using the masculine form when it should be feminine because they were "Grupa zielona" and not just "zielony". Blue group learned this HORRIBLE clapping thing from one of the teachers and did it all the time and it was annoying and stupid. Therefore, I was yellow group, which is the more fun looking Polish word anyway (Grupa żołta). We got to look around the fine city of Bydgoszcz, and even got to meet with the major of the city, to whom we all said "Hello, my name is _______. I'm ____ years old and I'm from _____." An hour well spent for him, I'm sure. We also got to visit this very large, very historic castle in Malbork. I think language camp was everyone's favorite meeting, a feeling which is probably helped by the fact it was 3 times longer than the other two. I know I had lots of fun.
I suppose maybe I'll go in chronological order. After language camp, school started. I explained school in my last entry. Perhaps it wasn't a good explanation but it's too complicated and I don't want to explain that all again so I'll just explain the relevant parts.
Polish high school is 3 years. You enter at 16, and start your last year at 18, ending at 19. At the end of your third year, you have to take the "Matura" exam(s). (Side note: I hate this word. No one ever knows if it's "The Matura" or "Maturas" or "The Maturas" or "Matura exams", etc.) Essentially, Matura is AP crossed with the SAT. Every student is required to take the math, English, and Polish tests. Each test is a separate entity, but all under the umbrella of "Matura". There's also optional tests you can take, like French, Spanish, history, geography, etc. Depending on the university you want to go to and your desired major, you take one or some of those specific tests. Your entire 3 years are spent preparing for this test. In the first year, the pressure isn't so high. You have lots of classes, like civics, religion, economics, health, etc. In the second year, most of those extra classes are eliminated to begin focusing on more core subjects. In the third year everyone is stressed about the Matura and they study all the time. I'm in the second year. I participate in English and French. The geography teacher speaks English, and he translates science vocab into English, so that class isn't too bad. In Polish and in history, we generally don't understand anything, but the teachers are wonderful. They're very friendly, even though we don't do anything in their classes. Math is really the only negative. The teacher literally has not spoken one word to us. It took him a month and someone's complaint before he even called our names for attendance.
In my city, Łódź, there are 3 other exchange students. Ryan, who I could write an entire journal entry about, but instead I'll say he's "just a little bit shy and occasionally clueless", and you can extrapolate. He's from Taiwan. Bruna and Renato are from Brazil, and we are great friends. Adrian, from Australia, went home a few weeks ago (because Australia has backwards seasons and their Januaries are warm, so their school has "summer break" during Christmas and whatnot.) Łódź has about 700,000 people, making it the third largest in Poland. It's not exactly the nicest city, but I like it here. The pervasiveness of normally painted buildings, possibly old, fancy looking ones, being right next to brown-gray concrete cubes is quite lovely. There's a giant church on this central plaza, that's currently being repainted. It's been going on since I've got here, and they've painted about 10% of it. I suspect by the time they're done, the bits that are done NOW will need a repaint. Despite its rough, poor-looking edges, it IS a city of 700 thousand people, and thus, it does have nice areas, and lots of places to explore. Poland is nice, because it has a number of medium sized cities. It's got a good 20 cities above 200,000 people. Now, in America, you go to a town of 200,000 and say, "there's actually nothing here" but in Poland, they feel more special. You could spend a weekend, even in a smaller city, and have enough things to see and do. Poland is a generally cheap country, which makes it even nicer. Łódź is in the center of Poland, so it's also convenient in terms of time to travel. $9 and 2.5 hours is a train trip to Warsaw and back.
Although I haven't kept a journal, I'm very proud of myself that I've at least kept up this sort of calendar. Every day, I write down on that day the things I did. Some days are empty because I forgot, but if I remember about it, there's at least something there. I really like looking at it and remembering how I've spent my 6 months here. I can't believe that it's already been half my exchange, but when I look at the calendar, I see, I really do have half a year of things. Everything that seemed so far off at the beginning is now so close, my parents are coming in a month, and then Eurotour, I'm at my second family right now, and a little after Eurotour is my third. Two months with them, and I come back. It all seems too close.
Now I shall rely on my calendar to write this "chronological" journal. Except wonderful me didn't write anything AT ALL except "first day of school in between the meeting in Bydgoszcz and the next, so I suppose we're moving onto Toruń. The second Rotary gathering was held in Toruń, the city of Nicholas Copernicus. Unfortunately, it only lasted one short September weekend. This was our orientation, where they told us a bunch of stuff about rules and trips and so on. We stayed in a hostel, and got to visit some places in the city. It wasn't too exciting, but it was good to see all my friends again. The food in this hostel was better than the grand old Zawisza sports complex, just saying.
Onto the next segment: Post Orientation-Christmas Here's a bunch of things I have written on my calendar:
French teacher returns from two week sickness absence, pizza with Bruna's host sister, windbreaker shop with Bruna, help this one girl fix her English thing, lunch at my families countryside house, hot chocolate with Nishita, bowling, Ryan's mom makes him come over to my house, big sad cemetery family mourning day, Doctor Strange, Rotary meeting, SNOOOOW, Christening lunch/dinner, school's 100th anniversary, Warsaw trip with school, Warsaw trip alone, Rotary performance, wakeboarding Pokemon Go excursion, organ concert, rake leaves, museum, Moana, ice skating...
There's also some things on there that require explaining.
There was this thing, like geocaching or something, that our school organized, I didn't understand it. These Brazilian men came over to our house as they were stopping by in Poland on their trip from Spain to Kazakhstan on motorcycles. "Giant Nerve Pizza Dory" your guess is as good as mine. "Takell to end spadać" Spadać means fall, which also makes no sense. I might have accidentally lost someone's blazer for 15 minutes. The new, modern train station opened up.
For Christmas, Rotary organized a meeting in Wrocław. Unfortunately, just for a weekend, the one before Christmas. Of course, we visited the city, and a castle close to the Czech border. Wrocław was the European Capital of Culture 2016, so we got to attend the closing ceremony. Wrocław is a really nice city, and I liked visiting it. This was the second best meeting so far. That also makes it the second worst though.
Winter is not nice here. It got down into the negatives of Fahrenheit at least once, and for a good month, the highs were just around 30, or even lower. Up until recently, I hadn't seen the grass for a month. Right now, it's between 30-40 degrees, depending on the day. It's supposed to reach 50 this week!!! It's so warm, it's great. At 40 degrees I can go outside without being cold. It makes me so happy. I can go look at things that are outside! I don't have to run from building to building! Spring is the best season.
Christmas in Poland does have some marked differences from that in America. For one, the real celebration is on Christmas Eve. There was actually quite literally nothing on Christmas. We opened presents on Christmas Eve and saw family and ate traditional food, but nothing for Christmas. It felt sad, and wrong, to just kind of ignore Christmas. Our Christmas tree was pretty great (meaning not so great). I wasn't allowed to take a picture of it because my mom was embarrassed. It was small, dying, kind of lopsided, and such.
For New Years, I visited Lublin. I stayed with Emma, from Australia. Like Adrian, she too has returned from Poland. Lublin is a nice city, and I had fun there, but in a little way it was kind of disappointing. Our New Years Eve plans kind of fell through, so we ended up just sitting at home. Emma's sisters were home, so it wasn't so horrible, but Emma herself WAS TAKING A SHOWER WHEN THE CLOCK STRUCK MIDNIGHT AND THEN THEY RAN OUT OF THE HOUSE WHEN THEY REALIZED IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND WE WATCHED THE FIREWORKS THROUGH THE TREELINE. Her parents weren't even home, they went skiing? For like 1 hour? But I liked it, even if it was a little lackluster, and I'm glad to have seen Lublin.
I'm very glad that I choose Poland and am really enjoying my time here. I look forward to the rest of my exchange with excitement.