Monthly reports August through December

August Arrival,

My arrival and transition to Poland was smooth and easy with the help of my compassionate host family who live just five tram stops from the centre of Warsaw. The weather was raining when I arrived and continued to rain for three weeks with cloudy skies and cold weather. The result of cold fronts from Scandinavia keep Poland cold for some time, however the people here say it is unusual for the area. A few days after my arrival I traveled to a Rotary language camp in Bydgoszcz- north of Warsaw on the Wisła River. I learned a lot from the camp and we covered all main areas of the language camp including declination, vocal, sentence structure and important phrases to know. The camp was good and I learned a lot that is very applicable. I also made a few friends along the way. That’s all!
After the camp I was sent to Jeromski  High School in downtown Warszawa. At the school I took English(I have no idea why), Polish and other core classes. I couldn’t understand anything in class. I made a few friends (never experienced the „new toy” feeling tho) and I still keep in touch with them. The school as a whole was a shock to me- it reminded me of peering into a third world country in a National Geographic. The walls hadn’t been painted in 30 plus years, the teachers used chalkboards to write on, and the outside of the school could pass for a state penitentiary. I am not exaggerating. Fences, bars on every window, walls on the perimeter, and only single ply toilet paper in the bathrooms. Other than that I didnt feel out of place besides not understanding a thing that was being said to me. Warsaw is Poland’s biggest city however I do not have the same „big city feeling” when I go. It’s like there are only a few sky scrapers and the city as a whole is relitively new. I really liked eating dinner with my family and we get along great.

I have switched schools since my last post in September and I am now attending Kopernik High School in downtown Warsaw. This school is much larger and nicer than Jeromski, although it still seems ancient. I have Polish class in the morning for two hours which is completely in Polish (idk why) and I understand about every 5th word. Sooner it will be every second or third word and then I will hopefully know what is going on. after that I have gym for two hours (which I am trying to change to economics, and then I have Geography. Conversely, all the teachers in the entire school speak english besides the polish teacher. I ask the chess teacher more questions about the language than i do the polish teacher bc the chess teacher understands more of what i say than the polish teacher. I have met a few polish kids but mainly in after-school activities and not at school. I am always booked after school and I find it hard to find time to do things. I attend two Rotary meetings a week at two different Roteract clubs. They are a really fun group of people and are interested in me and mostly consist of former exchange students. I travelled to London and Paris this month on the weekend on two separate occasions so that was fun. I liked London more bc I felt safe and at home. Paris was cesspool of multiculturalism with so many immigrants I felt like I travelled to Africa or South Sudan or something, it was crazy! I really enjoyed both trips and Im really glad that I was able to go. I have learned that if I just talk to people they offer to take me places and I always say yes. Anyway, I have had a great trip so far and I will definately have a hard time readjusting to life in Michigan. Do widzenia!

A lot has happened this month so I will try to sum it up the best I can in one email- but first I have to share what happened just a few hours ago… My host dad (Michał) and I were driving through the city after shopping at the local bizarre this afternoon when I asked him about one of the Jewish monuments in Warsaw, so we decided to take a look. As we drove through the city Michał took me to a grassy mound in the center of the former Jewish ghetto and there he explained to me that this is where a hundred or so jews died as a result of fighting the Nazis during the Jewish Uprising of 1943. All that remained of the Jews and there bunker was a small hill. I learned that this event was not secular, but this happened throughout the city. Then, Michał told me something I will never forget, „The whole city is a grave”. Which is undeniably true. Every day on my way to school I pass at least a dozen markers indicating that people were executed. The devastation waged by the Nazis is also noticeable simply walking down the street because the entire city was totalled and human lives were wasted along with it. Since there was no way to haul out the rubble the city of Warsaw as we know it today was built on top of it. Built on top of graves. There remains a great deal of evidence from the Second World War as there are bullet holes in the railing on top of my flat. Everywhere you go you will see this sort of thing if you look carefully.
Anyway, enough of the sad stuff- here’s how the rest of my month went. I started taking a larger amount of classes since I was officially enrolled in the school about a month ago. Every class is in English so it is kind of hard to learn Polish. I would have to say that is my number one concern as of now. Everyone speaks English, the old, the young, I could absolutely get away with speaking my native tongue the rest of the year however it is not my course of action. Even my host family speaks English with me. It’s very difficult to speak Polish sometimes even when I insist on only speaking Polish. I will continue trying to speak more Polish. To the contrary, I was out with my Polish friends yesterday for an 18th birthday party and spoke polish most of the time. I understood very little but it was a lot of fun. I go to Roteract meetings once every two weeks and I got the other exchange students to join as well. I hang out the most with them. That is pretty much the entirety of November, Do widzenia.
December Update,

Wow, were you guys right about hitting a low during the Christmas season. I didn’t really expect it, but sure enough I missed home. Being in my polish family and watching them interact with their loved ones together really made me miss mine. Although, I know I am here for one purpose and that is to educate myself on the history, culture, language, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… But now I am feeling good again and I really look forward as what is to come. Next month we go skiing in Austria to the Alps. So this month a few things happened so I’ll divulge the information accordingly. I went to a party at the US Embassy December 6th celebrating 100 years of friendship between Poland and the US. I have a follow up meeting with the Ambassador this Saturday morning. December 15th my host family and I went to Berlin for a day where we went to the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag building, and Checkpoint Charlie. It was a great time, really cold though. Moreover, the Poles are really religious so instead of decorating and buying presents leading up to Christmas we just went to church. A Lot of church actually. I didn’t even know it was Christmas Eve until I checked my calendar. We set up all our decorations that day. We opened presents on xmas eve and did nothing on Christmas day (besides church). And that has pretty much been December up until this point. Cześć!

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