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