Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 33: That'll Do, Poland. That'll Do.

I've been putting off this blog post for a while. Tomorrow, I fly home to America and leave beautiful Poland. For those of you who know me, this is tough- my goodbyes are normally filled with more waterworks than Water Country USA. And it's not like elegant, adorable tears that fall perfectly, reflecting the somber emotion of beauty that pull at everyone's heart strings. It's the full fledged sobs, complete with gross nose wiping and a distorted crying face that makes Ron Burgundy's glass case of emotion look like a pleasant experience.

In order to put off this break down of emotion even further, I'll just talk about my last week in Poland and further utilize my procrastination skills acquired in college.

* Early in the week, my mom sent a package to my host family containing gifts for everyone (yay mom! Thank you so much for that! You're the best!). It was adorable watching Maciuś and Marcin (my host nephews) playing with the hacky-sacks, although after a while of attempting to play the game, they gave up and just started throwing them at each other. That works too. 
* One day at lunch, Marcin held out his fist to me and said in Polish, "Open Pepsi." I reached over, lifted his thumb up so that he was making a thumbs up, and he goes, "You are sexy." Marysia, Natalka, Olah and I could not stop laughing for a good five minutes. At four years old, he's already a ladies' man.
* Aneta and I started meeting and having our conversations at the local cafe/bar. This is the place where I tried Polish coffee for the first time (so much stronger than American coffee- good thing I had the cuban coffee at Mango Manny's to help prepare me for that amount of espresso in one drink) and where the bartender attempted to communicate with me by using this Polish-English dictionary that Aneta had given me. The only phrases he looked up however were things like "Call me later" and "Beautiful." Great guy, made me promise to send him a post card from America, despite the fact that a post card from Richmond would be like a picture of a fake polar bear and a homeless man in the park (Richmond peeps, AM I RIGHT? HOLLA! *cue cheesy high-five*). 
* I almost learned how to count to ten in Polish thanks to my aerobics class. We would each take turns counting to ten while doing crunches until the end of time. Underneath my newly acquired belly fat (I call it my pierogi pudge) are abs of steel that would impress even Taylor Lautner.
* I taught my teen class American slang- the vocab consisted of "killin' it", "hangin' out", "dope", "sup", and "brewskies." According to Cabell, these are no longer good examples of American slang. I'm like that lame dad trying to relate to his hormonal teenage son by saying things like "Your ride is bitchin' homie!" (I probably have actually said this exact sentence at one point...)
* My host family dressed me up in traditional Ukrainian clothing and had a photo shoot in the backyard. The dress was over 100 years old, and the entire time I was terrified of pulling a typical Julie move and ruining it somehow (it's a real fear, I manage to somehow stain, rip, and shrink almost everything I own- my wardrobe makes me look like a pilot-episode extra on Lost, post-plane crash). The pictures came out beautifully, and my host family even gave me a traditional Ukrainian necklace that was made my host sister, Natalka, to keep. I was so overwhelmed by the gift, I of course started crying, but you should see this thing, it's stunning. 

Okay, no more procrastination. "Towers" by Bon Iver just popped up on my playlist, and I need to get all my sappiness out before the song ends and something fantastically cliche like "Time of Your Life" by Green Day comes on, and I loose all control of of my emotions.

When I first arrived in Poland, I was a wreck. I had never been abroad before for this long, especially by myself, and I had never taught anyone anything in my life. But the family and friends I have met in this wonderful country made it impossible to fail. They welcomed me, cared for me, helped me, and laughed with me throughout the five weeks. 

To my students: Thank you for your patience and enthusiasm as I stumbled through my lesson plans these past few weeks. Thank you for welcoming me into your lives, for laughing at my dumb American jokes, for singing songs to me, for the hugs at the end of each lesson, for the gifts and music and books and ridiculous amounts of chocolate, but most importantly, thank you for embracing me not only as your teacher, but as your friend. You taught me more than you know.

To my fellow LE volunteers: Thank you so much for the kick ass times! I had no idea when I got to Poland that I was about to embark the most amazing month of my life. From the Mad Dogs, to the late night McDonalds and zapiekanke, to the various bars and karaoke, I couldn't have asked for a more amazing group of people to share this experience with. You are all so amazing and smart and kind and full of adventure. There's not many college kids who would be able to do this program, and I have so much respect and love for each of you. 

To my host family: I cannot even put into words how grateful I am for you. You were so good to me, and I am so humbled by your kindness and warmth and love. From day one, you have welcomed me into the family as if I have always been a part of it. From taking me on incredible adventures to including me in family functions, I am humbled to have been a part of your lives. I really do consider you to be family and my home away from home. 

Thank you Poland, you are stunning.

***Ps. In writing that last part, "Time of Your Life" actually did come on and I had a moment where I stopped typing, and whispered "Seriously? Is this real life?" right before the tears started. The woman working the front desk in my hostel lobby had to ask me if I was okay. Screw you, iTunes and your ironic choice of music for making me look like an American basket case (not that many who know me would argue with that description). 
***ACTUAL song of choice (eff you Green Day): "Gone Gone Gone" by Phillip Phillips

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 28: Everybody Loves An American (Kind Of...)

Last weekend, my host siblings told me to pack a small bag, put me in the car, handed me the first of many beers, and drove me to one of the coolest places I've ever experienced: a Ukrainian music festival in Poland called WATRA. 

When preparing for this weekend, I was unsure of what to expect. Do the Polish dress up in neon fur boots, frat tanks, and light-up gloves while covering themselves in buckets of glitter for music festivals? (This description totally makes Ultra look like a drag show, but if that were the case, I'd love it so much more). Or is this a Hangout Music Fest, Alabama kind of thing, sporting bathing suites, tshirts that become drenched in the smell of every fried food on the planet, and cowboy hats (surprisingly enough, there were a few ten-gallon hats at the Ukrainian fest- the southern girl in me got super stoked). I really had no clue what to expect, so following Marysia's suggestions, I packed normal tshirts, shorts, jeans, and a raincoat in hopes that I wouldn't stick out like a sore American thumb. 

I totally stuck out like an American thumb. 

When we arrived on Friday, I watched as my host siblings pitched the tents (after I tried a few times, it just seemed easier to not help at all than for them to try and teach me...#worstcampbuddyever). Then the drinking commenced. We headed down to the huge tent where all of the food and drink vendors had set up shop, and ordered a few beers to get the night going. After dancing to some Ukrainian rock band and watching a boxing match on stage (classic Ukrainian band intermission apparently), we ended up back at the tents where I was offered vodka straight from the bottle. Every American college post-grad has some kind of horrible experience with vodka that makes even the smell of it nauseating (the fact that I had a bottle of cotton candy flavored vodka in my dorm room for an entire semester was enough to make Brittany hate the drink forever). But this was Poland, and I was representing the drinking abilities of all Americans in that moment, so like a champ, I took a gulp. 

Eventually, I ended up back at the tent where I passed out for the remainder of the night, only to wake up to delicious grilled sausage and a view of a random man passed out in the woods nearby. I thought this was hysterical and snapped a quick photo, but my host siblings became very nervous that I developed a bad preception of the Polish based on this passed out man. I told them not to worry, as Americans are equally guilty of strange drunken shenanigans (tree-hugger girl at Ultra anyone?), and that there are more people passed out at an American frat party than there are red solo cups. 

***Side Note: Since I now know most of my host family (and majority of my students who are Facebook friends with me now) all read my blog, quick shout out to my fabulous host siblings, Marysia, Pawel, Marzena, and Piotr for this incredible weekend! THANKS GUYS!!! You're the best :D

The day on Saturday consisted of four things: sleep, eat, drink, repeat. However some of the afternoon napping was put on hold by a Slovakian Rastafarian drum circle. Yes, there was a Slovakian Rastafarian drum circle right next to our tents. Let's acknowledge for a moment that there are Rastafarians even IN Slovakia, but what's more incredible is they came to Ukrainian music festival in Poland and spent majority of the day tripped out with drums. The day got even weirder when one came over to talk to us, found out I was American, told the rest of the camp, and for the rest of the weekend the group yelled out "Julie! American!" anytime I was remotely near their tents. By nightfall, my host fam and I had gotten so frustrated (aided by beer) with the group, that Marysia told them I was actually a Polish girl named Ana and she was the actual American from Chicago ('cause all Polish people have family in Chicago). I think I pulled it off pretty well when one came over to ask me what was going on, and I responded, "No speak English!" then ran into the tent. 

That night was basically a repeat of the night before with a little less vodka and little more zapiekanke ('cause I'm the girl who prefers late night drunk food over the actual process of getting drunk). The next morning, we packed, loaded up the car, and headed to a nearby ski resort to take a gondola up to the top for some incredible views. Seeing the resort awakened a long dormant need for snowboarding (Miami palm trees have a way of dismissing any thoughts of weather below 70 degrees), and in that moment I decided that if I'm ever able to afford a return trip to Poland, it'll be to shred down that beautiful mountain in the snow.

Speaking of return trips, this happens to be my last week in Poland, so it's hard to not think about planning one. I'm having really conflicting feelings when it comes to my departure. On one hand, the thought of returning to friends, family, Chipotle, Netflix, and full cell phone capabilities is super exciting. But I'm just starting to find my place in Komancza and with my students, and leaving them will not be easy. I feel like I've been welcomed into their lives only to say goodbye so soon. 

But now is not the time for sad posts. I still have four more days in Komancza, and I don't plan on wasting any time being sad!

Until next time,

***Other WATRA events that occurred and didn't know how to incorporate them in earlier:
* Marysia and I had a slew of Ukrainian friends that kept following us around for about an hour, insisting on speaking to me in Ukrainian despite my multiple attempts to tell them I had no idea what they were saying. Respect for the persistence on international diplomacy though, bro.
* The bathroom attendant at the festival knew me by name by the end of the weekend. I'm pretty sure I was the only American at the festival, and I provided loads of entertainment for her the entire time. 

***Quote of the weekend from host sibling: "You are not a typical American, you can keep up with our drinking!" ---> aka. Win like no other win in the history of wins. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day 24: The Calm Before the Storm

This past week has been very quiet in preparation for the weekend to come (it seems like that's the norm of my experience in Poland- quiet weekdays and ridiculous weekends). After MPB (aka. Mid-Point Break- yes, Cameron, I am making that a thing now, I expect all of LE to start using this super cool LE slang), I was more than happy to catch up on my rest and lesson planning. 

However it hasn't all been quiet. 
Some events that occurred this past week:

* I learned to salsa dance from some incredibly sassy tan Polish man (sassy and tan are hard to come by in my part of Poland). Four years in Miami, and not once did I ever learn how to salsa from any of my fabulous hispanic friends (I blame greek life where culture gets taken over by Vinyard Vine frockets, PBR, and the white bro grind, and mixers are never salsa themed despite my desperate attempts). Now that I can salsa properly, I expect all of my Miami friends to go salsa dancing with me next time I'm down there (I'm looking at you Tambor, 'cause you're the only person I know who actually has told me they can salsa, even though you're a jewish bro from New Jersey- kudos brotha, kudos). 

* In my youngest two classes, I taught them clothing and had them identify the different clothes of my wardrobe. They then decided to try them all on themselves, which was probably the most adorable fashion show on the face of the planet. One kid even put on my JCrew turquoise dress and posed with his backwards baseball cap and Metal rock tshirt underneath. #punkgoesprep?

* A fight broke out in my 11-13 year old an actual physical fight. Coming from a suburban preppy school in Virginia, my experience with school fights is at the same level of my experience with deactivating bombs. Since I'm not a member of the Bomb Squad (I couldn't even handle a game of operation, let alone a deadly device...maybe I should cross Secret Agent off of my potential list of career options...), I did my best to handle the situation, but it was an experience all the same.

* After my oldest teen class, a few of us were walking back from school and stumbled across a woman in the middle of the street. She had fallen, and her face was covered in blood. A crowd began to form, and my students were helping her and asking her questions in frantic polish. Eventually the police came and drove her off. I later found out she had been drinking and fell and broke her nose. It sparked a conversation amongst my students about the drinking issues in Poland. Granted, everywhere has its own batch of issues, including America, but this was a new experience I hadn't expected to stumble across during my stay here. 

* I decided to make peanut butter MnM cookies for my host family as a thank you for all they have done for me. After buying the ingredients and looking up the recipe online, I managed to somehow still uphold my title as "Worst Baker in the History of the Planet." Not only did I add too much egg, causing them to boil in the oven, I also burnt them. My host family was so kind and ate them, smiling and saying "interesting!" Needless to say, this experience has taught me that I really need to learn how to fucking cook for goodness sakes. This incident is right up there with the Chocolate Chip Cookie Pancake Disaster of '09. 

Today I prepare for my Ukrainian music festival journey with my host siblings. Since I probably won't have wifi, don't be alarmed if I don't log on or post anything for a couple days (Mom, that means you...). When I get back, I'll have less than a week in Komancza left....unreal....

Until then, PEACE!!!

***A few random facts about Poland:

* Everyone has family in Chicago. When they find out I'm American (if it isn't already obvious from my loudness and overly eager smile), normally it's the first thing they mention. This rocks, because the next time I'm in Chicago, it basically means I have a zillion extended family members to visit and say "Hey! I'm that crazy American girl that stayed near your family in Poland!" and they'll gladly welcome me while simultaneously stuffing potatoes down my throat, because the Polish rock that way.
* Jesus shrines are as common as chickens. You'll past at least hundreds on a bus ride to Krakow, on the side of the road, in corn fields, next to a house, you name it.
* Weather is almost as unpredictable as Miami, which as all my Miami peeps know, is saying A LOT.
* Everyone rides motorcycles or some form of motor bike at speeds that make me believe that the Polish are all decedents of Evel Knievel. I had the "pleasure" of riding on one of these motorcycles- it was terrifying.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 20: Mid Point Break- Putting it Lightly.

They should change the name of Mid-Point Break to Mid-Point Release of American Debauchery.

Friday morning was an insane race to the bus station that took me to Lesko where I met up with two other volunteers from the area, Alec and Nicole. Our embrace was straight out of that show that welcomes home soldiers to their families; tearful, heartwarming, loud, obnoxious, American, and I'm pretty sure we terrified the other bus passengers. Once on the bus, we simply had to ride out the six hours until Krakow. 

***Side story: (In order to preserve this young man's dignity, we are replacing his name with Talec). Four hours into the bus ride, Talec turns to us and says, "I'm getting off at the next stop to use the bathroom, I can't wait any longer, please don't let the bus driver leave without me." The bus driver however refused to let Talec off, leaving him alone and scared in a world without justice, with only Nicole and I to distract him. Being the awesome ESL teachers we were, we decided to play "I Spy" in order to get Talec's mind off of his predicament. He was not pleased. Left with no other alternative, Talec made the grueling decision to pee in not one, but two bottles while on the bus. Of course Nicole and I were extremely supportive, never once laughed or told anyone about the incident. #LEfriendsforever.

Here's the rest of the weekend summed up:
* We still play Kings in Poland. It's still effective.
* Vegetarian zapiekanke isn't nearly as satisfying, but it's still zapiekanke and is therefore God.
* Poland is the place to teach the British how to twerk. 
* Everyone loves a good Mad Dog.
* Where there's a will to stuff as much food in your stomach as possible along with alcohol, there is a way.

Okay, cheeseball moment: I honestly haven't had that amazing of a time in a long time, and I owe it all to my LE peeps. It was truly heartbreaking to say goodbye to so many of you when we left Sunday morning, but I know we'll always have our LE bond, and I definitely plan on visiting most of you in college in order to relive my glory days and to continue filling the role of the "awkwardly old" person at every college party we attend.

Until next time,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 16: I promise, I teach too...

Remember when I said I was the Ms. Trunchbull of English teachers in Poland? I think I'm actually more like Cameron Diaz's character in Bad Teacher. Granted, I've never seen this movie, but earlier this week I was throwing back a few brewskies with my host siblings when a group of teens from my class showed up. I attempted to play it off casually, but there's only so much one can do when caught red-handed with one of Poland's finest apple ales. 

So since my blog is starting to sound like one giant drunken Euro-trip, I should probably touch on the actual teaching part of LE. After adjusting the first week, I made a few edits to my teaching schedule. I now have four classes every day with one conversation "class" (in quotes because it's really just me and this one woman Annetta discussing differences in American and Polish culture- more on her later).

My first class is the youngest, ages 6-9, and absolutely adorable. The most successful lessons/games so far have been Hatchi Patchi (although there's a group of three girls who have figured out a way to always be "it"- adorable, brilliant, but I'm pretty sure the other students are starting to catch on and may start a Hatchi Patchi rebellion), Peel Banana (which I stole from my Camp Kesem experience and made into a game- also at first the kids thought I was saying "peevo banana" which means "beer banana" in Polish, so case and point for the Bad Teacher reference...), Simon Says, and Duck Duck Goose. They also drew pictures of their family on the day we learned about family vocabulary, an exercise I loved in hopes of them bringing the drawings home to their families, in which they would respond, "What an amazingly thoughtful American teacher my son/daughter has!" **Brush that dirt off my shoulder....*

My second class includes students ages 11-13, and vary from being energetic to quiet as hell. Today particularly rocked with them though, we played Jeopardy and made paper planes to throw at things around the classroom in order to review classroom objects.

My third class includes the teenagers and "young adults" as society dubs them. I was originally really nervous of this class (they're really cool, if you had to teach them, you'd be nervous too), but they've become my favorite class I think! Every day I get more people coming in to play the games and practice their English, it's awesome. My favorite day with them was the day we went over music genres and I had them split into groups and write their own songs. The song titles included, "Cheese" by Cheese, "Washing", "Sunny Day" and "Vodka" by Hangover Duck (that last one was inspired by a hungover Daffy Duck drawing that one student drew- great song btw, I'll try and see if iTunes will add it to their "Top 100 Best Polish Drinking Didlies").

So I'm running out of computer power since I accidentally left my charger at the school (whoops...typical Julie move), so until next time!



****SIDE STORY: Last week, I witnessed chicken rape.

This is the second time in my life I've witnessed bird sexual harassment. The first time was in Miami on campus where these terrifying looking ducks run wild at all hours of the day (seriously, they look like they've been genetically engineered for Mordor's army). I was walking back from class and two ducks were waddling on the sidewalk in front of me. Suddenly, the boy duck bit the neck of the girl duck and began to "deflower her innocence" while the girl duck sat there squawking. It was so horrific that at one point, I even turned around to the people walking behind me and asked, "Should we do something?" Needless to say, I've been scarred by the experience ever since.

As for the chicken, I happened to witness this horrific display of bird sexuality over supper. When it's nice outside, my host family always eats their meals out on the porch, which happens to be across from the barn. As I'm reaching for more of my host mom's fabulous cooking (because you don't say "no" to her cooking, trust me, it's worth the extra love handles), I see in the distance a rooster jump on a nearby hen and watched in horror as the baby-making process began. No one else at the table seemed remotely phased by this, so I sat there acting as cavalier as possible. As I continued eating, I looked down at my meal with a sudden realization that the hard boiled eggs within my potato/vegetable dinner had probably come from this same rooster, perhaps even this exact hen.

Se la vie, 'cause it's waaaaaaay too good.

Monday, July 8, 2013



Yes, I know I often type in all caps and it's weird and makes people think I'm yelling for no reason (which I often do in real life, so texting life should match that anyways), but this statement deserved an all-caps moment. My second week in Komancza is now starting, and after the AMAZING weekend I had, I honestly look at the next few weeks and wonder how I'm going to leave this place.

Before the weekend started, I was still nervous and scared and feeling verrrrrry foreign in my village. The students still hadn't completely warmed up to me, I was bombing my adult classes, and I was feeling incredibly nervous around my host family. However, once Saturday came along, my host family appeared to have an idea of how to solve this issue.

Beer. Lots of beer.

After an incredible jog up the mountain behind my host family's house and helping out with the family chores during the day, Marisya, Peter, Paul, his fiancee Marga, and myself hopped in the stick shift car (the Polish only drive stick shift, which by American standards, is like the coolest thing you can do in a car aside from transforming it into a super hero robot) and headed to a Ukranian folk music festival a few towns over. This is the night that they decided that I needed to be "trained" in order to survive the Ukranian/Polish folk music festival coming up in a couple of weekends; a three day event that's the equivalent to Bonnaroo, complete with tents, beer, and lots of music. According to Marisya, my training over the course of the next few weeks includes: beer, beer, beer, oh and more beer (I'll try to make you proud, America). The Ukranian folk band was more like a Polish version of Reel Big Fish, but with a sick accordian player that reminded me of Ed from Sean of the Dead.

***American boys, take note: The Polish don't grind. They do this adorable dance, spinning the girl on multiple occasions, even dipping her a few times if they feel sober enough. I've never felt like such a lady.***

Sunday, I woke up to find that even MORE family had arrived from Greece, which brought in more cousins who apparently all live around Komancza (this family is huge, I've given up on trying to connect all the dots, and I've just started assuming that everyone in Komancza is related to my host family somehow). I was then invited to the bar for some afternoon "training" with Paul, Marga, and their cousin Mark. Along the way, we kept running into people and it became quite the outing. At one point, I'm pretty sure I agreed to letting Mark stow away in my bag to America posing as my pet was either that, or I agreed to a marriage proposal, hard to make out in Polish...

Later on, Marisya, Paul, Marga and I took a casual trip to Slovakia (yes, they do that here, day trips to another country are as casual as Casual Fridays in America) where we visited the birthplace of Andy Warhol and the museum of his art work. It satisfied my trendy, artsy side that over the years has been suffocated by the sorority girl within me, and I'm now on an Andy Warhol binge (meaning I will be Googling his art, bringing him up in casual conversation to make myself seem more trendy, and wearing a beret at all hours of the day).

After the museum, we drove to a Slovakian mountain lake. I get to say I've swam, frolicked, and laughed under the shadow of a Slovakian mountain in one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen (this is also where I learned to change into a bathing suite in broad daylight without showing any lady bits; great skill to have). Finally, as we sang Ellie Golding at the top of our lungs, we took one last road trip back to Solina, Poland and saw the most incredible dam lit up in the night. Aside from the McDonald's cheeseburger I ate later that night on our drive back, it may have been the most beautiful man-made thing I've seen in Poland so far.

More on teaching and what not later, but as of now, I stick to my original statement: I love Poland.

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 8: Let the brainwashing begin...

So it turns out I'm like Mrs. Trunchbull when it comes to teaching Polish children English...

Today was my first day of classes, and my first class EVER was a group of fifteen 6-9 year olds. During my first attempt to teach them the introduction phrases of "What is your name?" and "My name is...", I made a small child cry. Yes, I'm that girl. I should teach them to call me by my American name, Bitchy McGee. 

But, as I switched to the game Hachi Patchi, they LOVED it. It's incredible, kids at that age love games and running around more than I love chocolate. And I love chocolate...(I'm a member of the Godiva fan club, don't test me). The next group of kids also rocked (ages 11-13), and I basically taught them the same game as the younger kids. This group includes my host sister, Natalka, and another member of my host family Mikole (I think Natalka is technically Mikole's aunt, but they're the same age...I don't know, my host family is like five times the size of the Brady Bunch). 

It wasn't until the 14-16 year olds arrived that I felt like a total American dweeb in front of the classroom. Nothing makes you revert back to the awkwardness of early high school than attempting to explain a skit dating game to the coolest kids in the village. Seriously, these were sk8r boyz (all the rage back in the day- Avril Lavigne even sang about them back when being punk was acceptable of hormonal teenagers and didn't mean you were a forty year old working at a Hot Topic). Despite the enormous amount of eye rolling that would make Regina George look sincere, I persevered, and managed to get through my first awkward class of the month. 

Later on in the day, I had my class of 17-19 year olds, including my host sister and translating goddess, Marisha. This class started off kind of awkward and rocky since there's only three other guys in the class, but it quickly became fun once I broke out Catch Phrase. Marisha and another boy actually rock in English, and the other two just happen to be good sports. I feel like as long as I can portray the laid back, "whadduppppp brothaaaaaas" buddy vibe and not come across like the lamest lame lama, then I should be okay (although I did just use the phrase "lamest lame lama" which probably means I'm doomed). 

Then finally was my adult class. This one I was actually the most nervous about considering I'm this teacher-wanna-be and they're all employed functional people. But once I got them going with Catch Phrase, a word race, and transcribing "Hey Jude" by the Beatles, they had a good time and my nerves settled. After class, one woman came up to me and admitted she actually speaks fluent English but she just didn't want to stick out in class. Considering majority of the adults are beginners, this gave me an idea for my mandatory service project. After the adult class around 7pm, I'm going to start hosting 30 minute conversations with the most advanced students who just need practice conversing. We'll see how it goes tomorrow, and maybe we'll move it to a coffee shop or something just to keep it causal and unstructured. 

My host family is still awesome sauce and feeds me every hour to the point where I'm pretty sure I'm on my way to walking like an Oompa Loompa. I feel bad though because I'm not spending as much time with them as before I started teaching, now that I have to lesson plan for five freakin' classes everyday. Mikole and Natalka wanted me to play soccer with them again today and I had to say no :( It broke my heart, considering 1. I love soccer, 2. Natalka, Mikole and I actually rock as a team, and 3. lesson planning is like the burnt part of the crust when it comes to teaching. 

Since tomorrow is the fourth of July, I'll be doing an entire day of American culture and vocab. I expect to be made fun of a lot in Polish, but since I won't know what they're saying, it works out (stoopeed Amereecan). 

Wish me luck!

***Fun fact: My first day in Krakow, I immediately learned two words in Polish: "peevo proszę," aka. "beer please." Little travel tip: always learn what these two words are in whatever language you are traveling to. It's about the essentials, ya'll.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 6: Life in Komańcza

Today was my first full day with my host family, and boy do I feel Polish.

Yesterday, I said farewell to my fellow LE volunteers and five of us took a bus from Krakow to the region of Bieszczady. Not only were we on the bus for six hours, but it was small, extremely crowded, and getting any kind of decent sleep was nearly impossible considering the hills in Poland make for a very rough bus ride. Also, three of us ended up missing the stop because of a miscommunication, so basically not an ideal start to the experience.

Once I met up with my host family, I was pretty overwhelmed. They're extremely nice, but being in a foreign place and with only one member of the family speaking broken English, it was a little daunting. Skyping with my parents last night definitely helped calm my nerves about the entire experience.

Some facts about my host family:

* My host mother and father, Ana and Roman, have seven children, only four of which I have met. The youngest daughter Natalia, 12, is very shy, but appears to know some English. Marissa, 18, is my main translator. She rocks at English, sometimes stumbling here and there, but through her, I'm able to communicate some with the rest of the family. Paul, 24, is also very nice but speaks very little English. Alexandra, or Olah as they call her, has two little boys, Maciuś and Marcin, 6 and 4. Both are absolutely adorable and very energetic. I also met the oldest son's Gregory's wife Kesha and her daughter Anniella, who just happens to be the most polite and independent two year old on the planet (side note: I'm pretty sure I'm butchering majority of these spellings, and they all go by multiple things which makes it tough to keep up with the correct name). 
* They live on an ecotourism farm that is basically self-sufficient in every way. While raising chickens, cows, horses, rabbits, cats, and dogs, they grow all their own vegetables, make their own cheese, eat fresh eggs and milk, and often slaughter their own meat. I don't think I've ever eaten better.
* On that note, I'm also just now realizing just how much they eat...they have breakfast, second breakfast, supper and dinner, with snacks and coffee in between meals. It's straight out of the Shire.

Today I woke up feeling far better than yesterday. After breakfast, Marissa, Olah and I went to the market to pick up a few groceries. I was able to see some of the town, and realized it's extremely small and picturesque, like something out of Cinderella. When we got back to the farm, Maciuś, Marcin, Natalia and I played soccer. A lot. Turns out Marcius is a soccer fiend and is constantly sporting his favorite soccer jersey just in case a game ever pops up. They were surprised to find I played fairly well since women don't play as much in Europe. I also managed to bond a little with my host mom by helping her make polish donuts (when Marissa tried explaining them to me, she said "the cookies police eat in their car," which I got a kick out of). 

Eventually, I had a meeting with the school directors who informed me I would be teaching FIVE CLASSES, ALL of different levels and ages INCLUDING adults (cue mental freak out moment). But not to worry...I got this...maybe...I hope...

Despite my lack of confidence in my teaching abilities, I'm feeling far more comfortable with the idea of spending the month here than I did yesterday. It's already been an incredible experience and I haven't even started teaching yet!

Until next time, 


Sunday, June 30, 2013


Since I last posted, a ton has happened. I've left Krakow and all the other volunteers and am now in Komancza with my host family. But I wanted to take some time to reflect on my trip to Auschwitz on Saturday.

Visiting Auschwitz has been on my bucket list since I first learned about the Holocaust in school. Let me tell ya, learning about it from a book and standing within its barbed wire fences are two very, very different things.

When we first arrived, the weather matched the darkness of the camp; it was cold and overcast with mud and water on the ground from the day before. Our tour guide first took us through the base camp, the first part of Auschwitz, then later brought us to Birkenau, the second and larger of the two. The base camp is the one with the symbolic gate entrance that reads "Arbeit macht frei" which means "Work makes you free."

Our tour guide took us through the brick buildings which had once held experimentation rooms, prison cells, and barracks. Now they hold pictures, documents, and relics of the tragedy that occurred there. At one point, our tour guide explained why the victims brought suitcases and bags with them. "Hope," he said, "They never gave up hope. These are symbols of their hope." They had collected everything- suitcases with names on them, shoes, human hair, glasses, and more. It was overwhelming, and it didn't even come close to the sheer number of people murdered at that site.

During the walk, we also came across the house of Rudolf Höss, the Nazi commander in charge of the entire camp. His house where his family and children lived was only yards away from the gas chamber where thousands of people died every day. When he was convicted in 1944 after liberation, he was hung on a gallows built in between his home and the gas chamber.

Then we saw the gas chamber. There really isn't a way to describe what it feels like to stand in a room where 70,000 people were murdered.

Birkenau, unlike the base camp, was built to ease congestion in the base camp. This is where most people sent to Auschwitz ended up, and it was huge. Majority of the wooden barracks had been destroyed either by the Germans or natural destruction over the years. However, some remained, and seeing the wood planks lined up on top of one another made my stomach turn. Our tour guide described the number of people who would fit into one cell, often covered in diarrhea from those in the cell above suffering from starvation and exhaustion. He said that rats were so aggressive, they would bite at the victims who were too weak to swat them away. The air was stale, and maybe it was my imagination, but I felt like there was a stench to the staleness.

At this point, I was walking through the camp with incredible guilt. I felt guilty for the incredible life I've been given, and guilty for not being able to do anything for these people who were taken so unfairly and so horrifically. But mostly, I think I just felt guilty that there is a place within the human heart that is capable of this kind of cruelty. Our tour guide said, "Do not judge those for these actions. It's easy to pass judgement on those who did nothing to help but who knew. But if it were you in this time, it would not be as easy to risk your family's lives to help others."

I'm honored to have had the opportunity to visit one of the most important places in human history. Thank you LE.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 3: Krakow Discoveries

It's only day 3, but I feel like I've been on a non-stop roller coaster ride of awesomeness for weeks.

Since my last post, a lot has happened here in the beautiful city of Krakow. On Wednesday, I woke up from a nap to find two of my room mates had just arrived along with a couple of other volunteers. Despite the fact that I was in total sleep-deprived zombie mode, I managed to be charming and alive enough to grab some food. We headed out into the city on foot for the first time. To save time, I'll quickly summarize my findings based on this first day: 

1. It's currently freezing here, even though last week it was 90 degrees. 
2. Kebabs are everywhere and are delicious.
3. "Thank you" in Polish is definitely not the same as a German "thank you." In fact, try to find out whether or not the shop keepers speak perfect English before you butcher their language.
4. Me to the kebab guy: "So is there anything you recommend us doing while we're in Krakow?"
Kebab guy: "Yeah! Weed." Not exactly what I had in mind, but thank you sir for the recommendation...
5. European men wear suits better than Barney Stinson sings about them. 

That night also had it's own discoveries as I grabbed a couple of beers at a pub with my fellow volunteers, then headed out with the other travelers at the hostel. Again, bullet point summary:

1. Polish beer is strong. Very strong.
2. If you're an American traveling in Krakow, you're more likely to hang out with the British, Australian, South African, and Irish than Polish. 
3. There's a shot called a Mad Dog- it includes vodka, raspberry syrup, and tabasco sauce. It is not to be trifled with. 
4. The late night snack of choice is called a zapiekanka, a french pizza looking pile of amazingness and comfort. 
5. The sun rises at 4am, and people actually stay out this late here.

Until next time, 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 1: The Beginning

Well here I am. Sitting on a super trendy couch in my super trendy hostel in the super trendy city of Krakow. I feel so cool and independent, like a european Annie Hall; it almost makes me forget that I'm the first of my Learning Enterprises group to arrive, and am therefore without friends until tonight...unless I make friends with the British dude sitting across the room from me now (special shout out: thank you trendy British man for your wifi password knowledge).

Anyway, while I wait for my hostel room to become available, let me tell you a bit about my Poland adventure thus far.

I almost missed my flight this morning. Turns out, the D.C. traffic god had it in for me today. Not only did we come across the usual traffic torture that comes with being in the D.C. area, but also multiple construction sites where some genius thought it would be a great idea to cut off an entire lane of traffic during the lunch rush hour (I can only assume whoever made this call recently got out of a relationship and is trying to get back at their ex by making them late for their super important business lunch OR enjoys making young, wide-eyed travelers such as myself late for their planes).

***BREAKING NEWS: Just had a lovely conversation with British dude. Unfortunately, our friendship was very short lived since he just checked out of the hostel. Or maybe he just gets easily annoyed by overly bubbly American girls attempting to be trendy by sporting thick glasses and a beanie.***

Back to the "I-almost-missed-my-flight" story. When we finally arrived at the airport, I had to check in, deal with the fact that apparently I didn't have a specific seat booked, rush to security, wait in a ridiculously long line, get on a train to my gate, and then bolt to my flight. It was one of those times where you wish you could just make an 80's montage of your life and cut time in half. They should make an app for that.

By the time I got on the actual flight, I was a mess. I was half expecting the flight attendants to ask, "Can I get you a moist towel-let...or a shower..." When I arrived at my seat, immediately I noticed that the guy sitting next to me could have been a miniature Kanye West, and was immediately intimidated by his coolness, which meant a choice: either I could sit down in all my gross glory and just try to play it off as "sexy girly sweat" (you know, the kind of sweating a girl does when she's doing stretch-yoga or some other adorable exercise that requires very little sweating), OR I could whip out my deodorant like a total dope and engage in the awkward positioning of my arms so that they don't hit his Kanye face. I chose the latter, and for the rest of the flight, my awkwardness did not fail to uphold this initial first impression. For example, the in-flight entertainment included an episode of "Sex & the City." Having ovaries, I immediately clicked on it and began watching a very explicit episode about Samantha fulfilling her fireman fantasy. A scene popped up with Samantha and the fireman "doing the dirty" bare ass naked against a fire truck, when all of the sudden the flight attendant decided to make an announcement. This PAUSED the scene on the fireman's exposed rear, and for the full FIVE MINUTES that the flight attendant was talking, there was man-ass on the screen in front of my chair. Needless to say, I was mortified, and the guy next to me did not seem happy he had to stare at a fireman's derrière for five minutes. 

Other awkward and typical Julie moments included me whacking the other guy next to me with my seat belt by accident, attempting to open a package of cheese for ten minutes, and then having a full blown meltdown in the middle of the German airport regarding my bank account (no wonder the German's think American's are nuts...sorry for upholding that stereotype ya'll). 

Despite how lame I am, my hostel is quite the opposite. It's decorated with street art murals, political and flag wall-art, and is constantly blasting trendy European music. By the time I arrived at my hostel, I basically just decided to embrace my awkwardness and came to realize that it was all part of the experience. In an area teaming with euro-trip backpackers from all over, all a girl can do is be herself. 

Until next time<3

***Quote of the day: "Don't be afraid of your fears. They're not there to scare you. They're there to let you know something is worth it." - C. JoyBell C. (courtesy of Aquaman). 

***Theme song of the day: "Kill Your Heroes" by Awolnation