I arrived in this beautiful country on the 13th of August. Initially I could not believe that I was here and that this was happening. Some days I still cannot believe it. The first week I spent with my extended family on my father’s side. My two month mark is approaching slowly and I am pleased to say that everything has been amazing so far. From the minute i stepped off the plane and met my host family there has not been a dull moment.
Arriving in Szczecin on August 18th at what might have been the smallest airport I’ve ever seen was the official beginning of my exchange. My host parents, older host brother, and a past exchange student were waiting for me. At once, I saw my host mom standing across from baggage claim with the biggest smile on her face. For some reason this was my reassurance that I had made the right decision and that everything was going to be okay. They each greeted me with a hug and kiss, as the Europeans do. I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a hand made welcome sign that read „Witamy Misia!” – Welcome Misia in English. We had a two hour drive before we reached Kołobrzeg, the city where I would be spending my year. Later in the evening I arrived at their home, my home, in the rural outskirts of Kołobrzeg.
Grzegorz and Helena are my first host parents and my host siblings are Miłosz (19), Julia (17), and Igor (8). They also have a Bernese Mountain Dog named Aza. Julia is spending her year abroad with Rotary in Mexico. My host family is very active and always enjoys time spent together. This creates a great bond and sense of family. It has really helped me with homesickness. We ride bikes through forest trails by the sea, jog, cook together, and eat as a family among many other activities. Host siblings keep me from feeling bored. I have also met their extended family. Parents of both Helena and Grzegorz live in the neighborhood. They welcomed me with open arms and warm hearts and I am grateful to be placed in this family. I always feel like I have someone to talk to or support me if I need.
Towards the end of August I spent around eleven days with exchange students from around the world. I had some contact with a few over social media, but had only met two of them in person before. Together with 53 other exchange students we learned basic polish, completed team building exercises, sang, and played sports. We also had free time to get to know the others personally. We toured the beautiful city of Bydgoszcz. I made great friends who I now talk to frequently. I hope that these friendships will last long after exchange is over. The last two days we traveled to Warsaw, Poland’s capital. There we had a Rotary orientation and a tour of the old town. It was a long but beautiful day. We spent thirteen hours out and about taking pictures and exploring the city before saying goodbye the next day. I am so glad I connected with them. I cannot wait until our next meeting in Wroclaw.
My first day of school was nothing like I had expected. It was completely different from the first day in the United States. Everyone dressed their best and in traditional black and white. Girls wore heels and boys in suits. I went in my blazer as they were introducing us to the school this day. There was a ceremony held and they sang their national anthem. The director and administration said a few words. This had not gone on longer than two hours. Week one was very interesting. I was placed in the first grade of high school but I was glad because it was easier and partially taught in English. This would be very helpful for me in the beginning. All of my classmates were very excited to have me in their class. The schooling system is quite different from the one i am used to. Adapting was really hard.
I have made quite a few friends. For the most part they all communicate in Polish with me. They are very interested in my choice as an exchange student and how different my life is back home. Questions arise about the stereotypical American life they see in movies. I am also very surprised to say I have not received many questions about politics in the United States. We go out for Pierogis after school and see movies on the weekends if something good is showing. One day we even went for bubble waffles. You can imagine it as ice cream served in a inverted waffle. The waffle is warm and you have to race to eat the ice cream before it melts.
So far I have eaten delicious food and gone amazing places. One weekend we went to Szczecin to attend my older host brother’s college inauguration. It was a beautiful day. I got to observe all the students in this ceremony and it was very fun to see them all in uniform. We spent the rest of the time exploring the city. Times like these with my family are fun because I get to learn, experience, and travel with them. They enjoy showing me the beautiful sights Poland has to offer, whether it be a cityscape or the breathtaking sea side.
Overall I have been very happy and although I have only been here for two months there is no place I would rather be. People are very kind, the weather is perfect, and sights are beyond imaginable. I feel like I am home. I am so glad I took this opportunity with Rotary Youth Exchange and cannot wait to see what the upcoming months have in store for me.