A few days ago I officially hit my one month anniversary for being in Poland. So much has happened in such a short amount of time and I’m thankful for every passing second. Part of me feels like this month has just flown by, while the other part feels like I’ve been here for so much longer. I don’t think I would be able to describe all these emotion right now as I don’t quite understand them myself. In order to make this easier, I will try to split the month up into four weeks, forgive me if the events are all over the place. Before I even begin describing this past month I’m going to tell you that there is a lot of information here so I will try my hardest to make it clear!
Very quickly, I also want to introduce my first host family so that you can easily keep up with the names. My host father and mother are Dariusz and Jola (I just call them tata and mama). Dariusz is a veterinarian surgeon and Jola is a stay-at-home wife. I have three siblings Hania (17), Alexsandra/Ola (13), and Przemek (9). Unfortunately, Hanna is in New York as an exchange student so I didn’t really get to see her for long.
I began this year-long adventure on August 14th and after some last minute packing, and a quick breakfast with some of my closest friends, I was off. It took two long days of flying, going through security four times, and three delayed planes for me to finally begin my new life. On August 16th at around 6 PM I landed in Wrocław (Vroh-suave), Poland. My new host family greeted me with open arms and a ton of sweets! However, the happiness was short lived when we realized that my luggage had been left in Warsaw, and I didn’t have any clothes. Darek and Jola (my host parents) were kind enough to purchase me the necessities before beginning our four-hour drive to Gorzów Wielkopolski.
I spent the first few days getting adjusted to the time difference, my amazing new family, and the language! Thankfully Darek and Hania both spoke fantastic English so translations were easy. My host parents are very hospitable and this meant that I was thrown a massive welcome party with many guests. Many of these people were members of my hosting Rotary Club and some were people from Gorzów Wielkopolski that had been on exchange in the U.S. Needless to say, it was an amazing night and I met so many amazing people while eating a ton of delicious food! Unfortunately I do not have any pictures from that night so it will only be kept in my memory.
Within the remainder of the week, I didn’t really do anything to be honest. I was still trying to figure out how to function in a place that I couldn’t read a single sign along the roads. I was overwhelmed to be honest and cherished the moments when I was alone in my room at night to gather my thoughts. However, despite the powerful emotions I was facing, I never once thought about coming home. I had amazing people to help me through the first week and I was fortunate enough to be placed in a very patient and helpful household.
Just before getting ready to leave for my language camp, I met my YEO (Youth Exchange Officer)/Club President/Counselor/Polish tutor 🙂 Krystyna is so much fun and its been a blast having her help me figure out my classes, the language, and the best places to get ice cream!
Side note: I’ve had more ice cream in Poland than my entire life. I’m not joking around, there is ice cream vendors on every block.
The week finally came to an end and I was preparing to head off to camp! Thankfully, my luggage came the day before we left.
The week quickly started off with my family running around the house trying to help get everything ready for Hania’s departure (we were sending her off the day I left for camp). When we were all settled, the six of us piled into the SUV and began the two hour drive to Poznan. With a meal or two being at McDonalds (my host dads favorites), it felt like forever that we were finally watching Hania depart nervously through the security checkpoint and heading away for her new life. As we watched her plane leave the ground I became very upset because even though I only knew her for a week, Hania was probably the most helpful out of everyone and didn’t hesitate to help me out with the simplest of tasks such as working the shower or figuring out how to open windows (it’s harder than you think). If you’re reading this, I MISS YOU HANIA!
Anyways, back into the car we went for another two hours before we finally reached Bydgoszcz! I don’t even want to take the time to explain everything, because I cannot put into words how amazing the camp was. I met the 55 other Poland inbounders (54 now. RIP Charles) and over the course of a week it felt more like 55 other family members. We spent our days at the hotel and connecting stadium where we played sports (I played soccer for the first time and the other team let me score two goals out of pity, but I’m counting them), learned Polish dances, sang polish songs, and of course learned Polish. We were also able to take a tour of Bydgoszcz, visiting the Olde Town and even the more modern parts.
One of our days was centered around all the exchange students getting to visit the president of Bydgoszcz where we introduced ourselves in Polish to him! All the exchange students took many pictures and made many memories together. We also spent a load of money on candy at the convince store every night, but we don’t need to talk about that. At the end of the camp we had to take a quiz on everything we learned and I somehow managed to score an 89% on it tying me in fifth out of all the 55 kids that took the test. This came as an obvious shock to me as I was struggling with grammar the entire week and constantly turning my head to the other students asking for help. With that massive stressor out of the way, language camp was officially over. Before we knew it, we were packing up our bags again and driving three hours to Polands capital: Warsaw! This was for two days where the students would learn about the main rules, what trips we were offered, and who to contact in case of an emergency.
We were fortunate enough to be able to tour Warsaw, both on foot and by bus. We were able to see the Olde Town, the White House, a lot of the inner city, and the Palace of Culture and Science. In this particular building, we went up to the top floor that gave you a crazy 360 view of all of Warsaw and it honestly took my breath away. To close up on our final night there all the exchange students went to this fun little place where we all got to play darts, bowl, and eat pizza 2x the size of normal pizza. All in all, it was an amazing night.
The week finished up with the sad departure of all the exchange students (we won’t see each other until December so there were a lot of tears) as we all went our separate ways, except the few that were lucky enough to be in a city with others.
This week was mainly centered around school and my first week there. First off, I’m just gonna start by saying how weird it is that I have to attend school on Fridays after not doing so for the past 10 years. However, my schedule makes up for it by only giving me a few classes everyday so I’m officially out before 13:00. I’m considered a 2nd year here which would technically be a junior back home, but they only have three years of high school here so I’m like a combination of a junior and a sophomore. I have a general class, but rarely have any classes with them due to my unique schedule. My main classes are French, PE, and English. However, I am also in Biology and Math even though they do not give me the work. School has been different but in a good way. None of the students knew I was coming so you can imagine the shock when I had to introduce myself to them. Overall, the people are very friendly, speak very good English, and are always inviting me to do stuff! The first week flew by quickly and before I knew it, school was out and it was the weekend.
My host father is very adamant about taking me to do stuff whenever he can. Friday night, we drove about a half hour to Strzelce Krajenskie. This town had a gorgeous lake where we were originally going to rent paddle boats out to the middle, but got there too late. However, my host dad, host mom, Kuba (former exchange student to New York), and I all had a blast swimming and sun bathing. That Sunday, my family of five packed up the car and headed North to Dziwnow where we spent the day at the beach. My host dad knew a guy that owned a restaurant right next to it so we spent the day in the sun eating amazing seafood. This was probably one of my favorite moments of this month because it was my first time getting to swim in the ocean. I had a blast swimming with Przemek and we even got to see some jellyfish! My host mother and I enjoyed our time in the sun and before we knew it, we had spent the entire day there. During the night, we walked around the town a bit and had some amazing desserts! I hope to go there again before I leave.
Ah finally, this past week has also been kind of slow so not much to report. I have gotten used to my class schedules and am quite happy with getting out so early in the day. I’ve used this time to explore my city a bit and spend time with the family. In order to do this, I’ve had to get used to using public transport and walking quite a bit, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy taking the bus. School has become a place of comfort and I find myself looking forward to attending and seeing the faces of my friends. This week has definitely been the turning point for me as this is the time when I feel the most normal and feel as if I’ve lived in Poland for years.
To end the week, my family and I went „camping” if you would say. We drove to Międzychód where we stayed for the next two days. While here, we stayed in little cabin-like rooms connected to others, there were a lot of other people there as well. We spent the days fishing and going on horseback riding tours. One of the guides had let us ride the horses as they were running, it was my first time and it was probably one of the funnest things I have ever done. The people there provided amazing meals for us and at night we were able to roast Kiełbasa at a campfire. This place was absolutely breathtaking and it felt so nice to be out of the city for a while.
On Sunday night we took a detour to Silesia to visit our babcia (grandmother) and dziadek (grandfather) as well as an aunt and cousin for a late birthday. After some amazing dinner and cake, my family took me to see the Olde Town and a massive cathedral. This was probably one of the most breathtaking places I had been and the church was absolutely amazing. We finished the night, the week, and this report off with yet another trip to an ice cream shop before heading back home to start the next month.