Every year, all over Poland the new school year begins on the 1st of September. Of course, if the month begins on a weekend day, the first day of school must wait until the following Monday. Such as it was this year when we started on the 4th. The other thing to note is that the first day is only about one or two hours long and consists of an assembly followed by meeting your main teacher and classmates. Along with me, there are three other exchanges students attending my school. All of us wore are Rotary blazers covered in pins making it even more obvious that we were new there. The four of us attend the third high school in Lodz (III Liceum Ogólnoksztalcace). This building is amazing. Its construction was finished in 1891 which means that it is almost older than the country of Canada – a fact that I learned from my new Canadian friend. School in Poland is quite different to what I am used to and it took some getting used to.
Because we were not conventional students we could not choose are profiles and were put into the classes which had room. A boy from Brasil and I were both put into the same class in the „MatFys” profile while the other two were in the Humanities. I was not thrilled about this because I had never taken a physics class before and I really enjoy biology and chemistry. It does not matter so much, especially now, because I do not yet speak Polish. However, we were allowed to pick our third language class and all of us chose German. We were put with the class below us who are also new to the language. Except for in English, German, and occasionally math, I am left to do my own thing in class. The teachers didn’t know what to do with us as they had never had exchange students before.
The best part about my school is its location. It is within walking distance from Piotrkowska street, Manufactura, and Galeria Lodzka- the three best places to hang out. At the same time, having the school in the main part of the city has its drawbacks. Nearly every morning I am late or almost late because of the traffic.
I have found that everyone at school has been very kind and helpful to us. It is amazing how well nearly every student can speak English. On the last weekend of September, there was the annual Light Move Festival in Lodz. Light shows are projected on many buildings around the city mostly concentrating around Piotrkowska street. there are also temporary art installations and even projections on trees. One of my new friends from school was kind enough to be our guide around the festival.
On the first weekend after school began, half the exchange students in Poland were given the opportunity to travel to Warsaw for the annual EEMA conference. This rotary conference is a chance for representatives from over 30 participating countries to meet and focus. Not all countries involved in the rotary youth exchange are also a part of EEMA. Our responsibility at the conference was carrying the flags of the participating countries for the opening ceremony. The majority of our weekend was spent reuniting with our friends that we had made at language camp. At the conference, we were surprised with the chance to meet one of the most internationally known poles and Polish national hero, former president Lech Walesa. After hearing him speak about leadership, change, and progress I was able to snag a picture with him.
This really was an amazing experience. Afterwards, we traveled to some classic landmarks all over Warsaw. First, we went to the top of the Palac Kultury where we could see the whole city. Then we went on a bus tour which passed by all the important government buildings. Our tour stopped at Lazienki park which has the famous statue of Chopin, old town Warsaw, and the memorial of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. It was a really fun trip but that night it was tough to say goodbye to everyone.
Luckily, after two weeks we had another chance to see each other. This gathering was in Torun and was the second inbound meeting. For three days we got to be together and explore the city- an old town famous for pierniczki (gingerbread) and Mikolaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus). We got to make our own pierniczki, visit an incredible cathedral and got to ride a boat on the Wisla river. On the last night, there was an incident where the fire alarm went off at 3 in the morning blaring UWAGA! UWAGA! and we were forced to evacuate. In spite of being woken up and standing outside in the cold in shorts and no shoes, it made for a memorable story. Sadly, we had to leave the next day knowing that we wouldn’t all be together until December.
This first month has been busy and full of new experiences and new friends. Even though some days have been hard when I look back I remember an ultimately wonderful experience full of great stories and change. I would never have imagined I could grow so much in 1 month. Thank you, Poland.