Haley, outbound to Poland

When I was first applying for my exchange year, I must have read hundreds of journals. I dug through all the years Rotary Florida has been sending students out, and poured over their entries like they were sacred religious texts – and I always got annoyed at the students. It seemed to me that 80-90% of the outbounds had gaps of months between their first and second entries, and many didn’t write more than one or two entries the whole year, if that.

I mention this now because I am a hypocrite. And I mention this now because I understand why they did it. It’s been almost three months since I last wrote a journal entry – and I think the reason why is because it’s so hard to start writing.

There’s so much that’s happened in the last three months that trying to put it into words would be impossible, but at the same time, what’s happening here is just life now. There’s not much interesting about my daily ride to school anymore. But if I look at my last entry, school hadn’t even started. So I’m going to try to fill in that gap now.

I go to Liceum 11, in the middle of the city of Olsztyn. I’m the only exchange student there, but a lot of the students speak English, and many have patience beyond belief for letting me practice my Polish. (Side note to anyone reading this who’s going to Poland next year – wear black pants or a black skirt, and a white shirt on the first day of school. Trust me.) My class schedule varies every day, much like a college schedule, and all students have from 8 to 15 classes – but some are only once or twice a week. The classes, for me, are pretty boring, because I don’t understand enough to fully participate, so I usually read novels or study my Polish notes. Making friends was really hard at first – but now that I can speak more, it’s gotten much easier. I think my language skills have also benefited a lot since I don’t have other Rotary students in my city to rely on.

Twice a week, I also attend a Polish course for foreigners at the university in my city, and there are a dozen or so college exchange students there, mostly from Europe with the exception of one boy from Egypt. I love that class, because it’s just so helpful. There’s only so much you can learn through Rosetta Stone.

I’ve also seen snow for the first time, gone ice skating, spent a week in Germany, traveled to Warsaw, I’ve gone to a volleyball match with my Polish friend Anna, I’ve gone to class parties, and generally gotten a lot closer to my classmates. I’ve done so much. In three days I’m traveling to Wroclaw to meet with all the other exchange students for a Christmas event, and I’m excited beyond belief. The family I’ve made here with the other exchange students is incredible – everyone is beyond kind, brave, and supportive.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in my room, wrapped in a blanket and wondering why the sun sets at 3:00 now. I’ve spent more time baking bread, I’ve spent hours in cafes by myself, reading and writing and studying. This exchange has taught me a lot about relying on myself – because I’m not going to lie, I spend a lot of my time alone. I’ve probably been lonelier here then I’d ever been before. But now I know how to fill up time productively, I know how to challenge myself, and I know how to be happy enjoying my own company. I don’t know if that particularly makes much sense, but I know the feeling is both wonderful and mildly soul-crushing.

Poland is beautiful. The people are amazing and kind and friendly and proud when you try to speak their language, the chocolate is fantastic (and it’s were all my money goes to. Mom, if you’re reading this, send money. I’m going broke).

Poland was also my 5th choice country and I cried the night I found out I was coming here. But I truly couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. If you’re an exchange student in the process of applying, I highly encourage you to put Poland on your list. If you’re an adult, make it a point to visit this country in your life. It doesn’t have the glamor of Italy, I’ll admit that, but this country has a soul. Just come to Poland. Take my word for it.

I’ll try to write again soon, but because I’m a hypocritical monster made of procrastination, no promises.

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