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I've been in Poland for almost a month now, and it is fantastic. My awesome host family consists of a dad, who is retired, but also still does some business things? (I don't really understand it), a mom, who owns a clothes store, and a 14 year old brother. They also have a daughter, 16, but she's an exchange student in Brazil this year. Their house is amazing. It's either 2 or 4 stories, depending on how you want to count it. It's got two full floors, a really large basement, and a really large attic/loft thing that's furnished and carpeted and such. I have my own (very large) room, and my own bathroom. I'm so thankful to be able to live in this house. It's a few hundred feet down a suburban road, which branches off one the major roads of Łódź (my city). The center of the city, and my school is just a 20 minute tram ride down the road (with a little bit of walking).
As my parents were driving me from Warsaw (where my flight landed) to Łódź (about an hour or an hour and a half away), they told me that we weren't going home, that we were actually going to a birthday party! With 20 family members! I don't remember anyone's name, or what their relation was to my parents, and I don't even remember who's birthday it was. My words during the party were basically just "hello", and a few shorts responses to questions people asked me in English. English among the older generations isn't common, but some people are certainly able to speak it. After 2 hours or so, and a dinner, we drove home.
The next day, I found out I was going to meet even more family! Most of those people spoke French, as do my host parents, not that it mattered. I probably wouldn't have understood much more if they spoke in Polish. The day after that, I spent the day with the French family, going around the city. They do have a daughter whose English quite good, so I was able to talk to her those two days, and not be completely isolated from the conversations.
About a week after I arrived, I was off to a 10 day long language camp, in Bydgoszcz, about 3 hours away from Łódź. There, I met all the other inbounds in Poland, about 60 in total. It was a great time, and I made a lot of friends, from all over the world. Unfortunately, none of my best friends from language camp live close to me, but the people who are in my city are still cool. Among them is an Australian guy, who showed me around the city when I first arrived. Australians start their exchanges in January, so he's been here for 8 or so months.
A few days after I returned from language camp, I began going to school. School here is quite different, but can be kind of explained as like Harry Potter. Each day, school can start or end at different times, and the subjects you have will differ. You can also have two of the same class back to back. The classes that I take are English, French, Geography, History, Math, Polish, P.E., and some philosophy/religion class. I understand English class, of course. The geography teacher teaches half in English, so I mostly understand that class as well. Having partially learned a Romance language (Spanish), and being able to communicate with the French teacher in Spanish (as she also teaches Spanish), I also mostly understand French. I feel very close to understanding math, but it's entirely in Polish, and they write some things differently, so I don't actually know what's going on, but it looks very familiar. In Polish class, of course, I have no clue. History is marginally better, because I can sometimes see stuff in the book that I know, and I can normally recognize the dates that the teacher writes on the board. Polish people don't really have the ability to choose their classes, but they do have options. In my school, you can choose either German, Spanish, or French, and there's an option for a schedule with some advanced sciences, or Polish and history, or math, and such. In school, you stick with the same people the whole day, every day. It's quite easy, if you're approached by your classmates, to make friends. You're with the same people all the time, so names are easier, and if you like one of them, you can stick with them all the time. Only a few people directly came and said hello to the exchange students (four of us are in one class, and the Australian is in another), but by now I've talked to mostly everyone in the class. Whatever stereotype that says Poles are unfriendly or cold doesn't seem to be true, i n school at least. The school day is 4.5-6.5 hours, depending on the day.
I'm quite an oddity in that Poland was not only on my list, which is already uncommon, but was also my first choice. Despite being among the largest countries and fastest growing economies of Europe, Poland is quite unknown, which is unfortunate. Poland has a very unique and interesting history, with a culture as rich as any other country of Europe. History was a motivator for Poland, but more important was Polish. Apologies to Spanish, but it and its native countries are an arm's length away in Florida. The only place to learn Polish is Poland itself. It is undoubtedly a hard language, but I think it is manageable. For sure, my acquisition will not be as fast as those in Brazil, or Spain, or Sweden, but I have confidence that I can do it.
I've already had many great times in Poland (really almost everything I do is a great time), including wakeboarding and multiple castles, and I look forward to many more in the coming months. I know that I'm going to have some bad days, but I also have many more fantastic days to expect. Thank you Rotary!