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 didnít really have any issues while
traveling. All my planes were on time, and I didnít 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
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 ďwater niegazowana,Ē which basically means un-carbonated water; because
apparently if you donít ask for it specifically, you will get ďgas water.Ē
And apparently everybody here refuses to drink tap water, even though it is
perfectly cleanÖ.I think. Well at least I hope it is because Iíve 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! Címon 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, wellÖ you knowÖ. itís Poland, and Poland is
supposed to be COLD.
Milk here is also in boxes, and almost always kept unrefrigerated. I
havenít really gotten used a warm bowl of cereal in the morning yet; nor do
I understand how warm milk doesnít go sourÖ. 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 ďtouristyĒ 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. Iíll 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 didnít have to stand for the four hour train ride
back to Warsaw.
After arriving back in Warsaw, I immediately went to my host
grandparentsí 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
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Well I canít believe Iíve 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 wouldnít 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 donít laugh at me every single time I try
to order food in Polish (just most of the time).
Okay, so where to start? Well itís definitely starting to get a bit
colder here. A few weeks ago I bought what I thought was a winter coat, but
Iím already freezing when I wear it, and itís not even November! Looks like
I made a slight miscalculation there. I only wish I had enough money to buy
a real winter coatÖÖhint hint, I need more money! And yes, I know youíre
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
birdís eye view of the city below. (Iíll be sure to post a couple pictures).
I havenít 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! Iíve 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
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?
Iíve also had quite a few interesting experiences while riding on public
transportation vehicles, mostly involving drunken people. Iíve seen drunken
people singing, drunken people falling, and even a shirtless drunk man
fighting at 4:00 in the afternoon. Iíve also had my own little mishaps while
utilizing Warsawís 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. Theyíve 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 chairÖ..thatís 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 Iím 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 couldnít understand a
thing! While there we saw the worldís 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 didnít 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 thatís about it I guess.
Well I canít believe Iíve 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. Iím
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. Iíve 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 donít do much work in school. Iíve 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.
Itís 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 didnít 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
Iím going to go ahead and whine a little bit about Polish right now, so I
hope you donít mind. Itís aggravating at times being stuck with such a
grammatically complex and irregular language. Itís 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! Itís common to find 3, 4 or even 5 polish words that mean the
exact same thing in English. For example, the verbs chodzić, isć, půjść,
jeździć, jechać, pojechać all translate to ďto goĒ 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 didnít 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. Itís usually raining and the sky is almost always gray. It can
get really depressing at times, and I canít say that Iím too much of a fan
of this sort of weather. The holiday season here is also quite different
than back in the states.
Thereís 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 wasnít even close to a US
thanksgiving. There wasnít 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 didnít 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 Iím 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 canít wait!
Christmas Eve here is a lot bigger that Christmas, and all my host
familyís relatives in Warsaw came to our house for a traditional 12 dish
Christmas Eve dinner. Nobody eats meat on Christmas Eve, so itís all about
fish. Obviously, it is also essential that these dishes be washed down with
traditional polish vodka. Iím proud to say that I tried all 12 dishes, but I
donít think there is more than one or two that I would like to try again.
Herring soup, poppy seed pasta, and mushroom Perogies just arenít 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 personís tasteless snack
and wish each other a good new year in your own way. Itís 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 donít fully understand what
some is saying to you! But thatís 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 arenít 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 canít 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 itís 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
- People usually drink after meals, and have no beverages while
- There will NEVER be paper towels restrooms.
- I DONíT 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
- Donít say yes, if youíre not sure what somebody asked you. And
thatís about all I can think of right now, so see ya!
Host family on Christmas
Cemetery on All Saints Day
In a prop plane over Warsaw