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So this weekend marks my fifth week in Poland. Many times, this past month, I have tried to sit down and write this journal entry so many times. However, so many things have happened in such a short amount of time, that there’s no possible way I could fit them all into even 100 journals, and that is why I still haven’t done it. Now that I’ve realized that its almost the end of September, I’m not going to leave my room until I have written this.
Living in such a small town in Florida, where everyone knows each other, and there is only one high school and so little for people my age to do, I was feeling kind of suffocated. That is why I decided to go on exchange. I needed a change of scenery, and a new adventure. Now, Poland wasn’t my first choice. In fact, the only reason Poland was in my top five was because of my mother, who really wanted me to go to Poland. Probably due to the fact that she knows so many Polish people who are always telling her how beautiful this country is. When I was told Poland was going to be my home for the next year, I was both disappointed and a little angry. But sitting in my room in my flat on the outskirts of Olsztyn (my city in Poland) that overlooks the forest where the leaves are slowly changing color, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.
When most people think of Poland, the image that probably comes to mind is very gray and industrial, post WWII place, with shabby towns and villages and not very beautiful cities. Even though I tried really hard not to see this country that way, before I arrived, that was the picture in the back of my mind. Once I got here, that image changed immediately. Especially living in a city that is surrounded by over 10 lakes and a forest, every place I’ve visited has been picturesque and like something out of a fairy tale. Even the places that my polish friends tell me aren’t very pretty, are so lovely to me.
I don’t believe exchange is really about the country you live in anymore. I feel know that it’s really about the people you meet and the relationships you make. I had some problems with my visa, and arrived to Poland a week later than planned. This meant that I went straight to the language camp the day after I arrived. While the polish classes themselves were a little boring, the camp itself was so much fun!! Being surrounded by people your age who have the same dreams and same ideas and know exactly how you feel is the best thing ever! It’s so easy to become so close in such a short time, that it was so hard to leave them after only a week, and the 2 and a half weeks until I saw them again felt like years. The language camp really helped me to improve my Polish, and we had so many amazing memories doing such simple things, such as trips to the convenience store where we all bought so much chocolate and junk because the hotel food wasn’t the best. I think th e polish people in the store thought we were crazy, and I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life. We also had a couple of epic soccer games, and nightly dance parties that caused the hotel staff to really hate us. When my host dad picked me up to take me to Olsztyn, my heart hurt so bad at the thought of leaving these people, but at the same time, I was excited to truly start my adventure.
The first day of school was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Because I come from a small town, when I started high school, it was very easy, as I already knew half the people in all my classes. I was not prepared for the anxiety I had as I walked into school surrounded by 300 other teenagers. Luckily the first day was only 2 hours long, and my host mom stayed with me the whole time. When I walked into the assembly, a girl in my class smiled at me, and it’s amazing how something as simple as a smile can make you feel so much calmer.
I’m also the only exchange student in my city, so it was difficult to not have someone there in the beginning whom I could relate to and rely on. But now, after my third week of school, I’m actually glad that there aren’t other students here, as it has allowed me to make close Polish friends, and really practice my Polish. I’m surprised that after only five weeks in Poland how much my language skills have improved. Maybe not speaking as much, but I can definitely understand almost everything people are talking to me about (as long as it’s not too fast!).
I really wish I could put in every little detail about my five weeks here so far, as I feel this journal entry is very vague. I remember when I was reading journals of exchange students last year, how annoyed I was at how little everyone posted. I promised myself I wouldn’t be that way, but I have done exactly that, and I’m very sorry for it. I know this is long, and if you made it all the way to the end, thank you for reading. Also, if you are thinking of becoming an exchange student, my one piece of advice right now, is to not choose countries that are popular and well known, pick countries that you would probably never travel to otherwise. Trust me, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, are countries that you will always be able to visit, but if I weren’t in Poland, I might not have ever come here in my life. And this country has such an amazing history, and the people here are some of the friendliest and most hospitable that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting . So please, take a chance and try something new, you may just love it.
Posted on Mon, October 17, 2016
by Terri Wescott