Poznan is a city with a rich history going back more than a thousand years. It is among the oldest cities in Poland and it was here that the first Polish rulers settled but it has now become a modern, vibrant city with a population of nearly 600,000, over 130,000 of whom are students. It is the capital of the Wielkopolska region in west-central Poland, approximately 170 miles from Poland's capital, Warsaw and the same distance from Berlin, Germany. Poznan has its own international airport making it easy to reach, even from Ireland, so hopefully we can expect lots of visitors who will be excited to see what Poznan has to offer them!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Week 15-20: Monday 17th May – Friday 25th June 2010

On 9th February 2010 I landed in Poland and now, 20 weeks later (which sounds like an awful long time), I am writing my last blog entry from Spain where I have just arrived. I have to say, there are some things which I will not miss, for example my room, but I will never forget the people I have grown to love here, the places that have captured my heart and the life that I have lived here which I will forever cherish. I am saddened to realise that my adventure in Poland is now over and I’m quite sure that the time I spent there will seem almost like a dream when I’m back in Northern Ireland. Right now I’m nervous about going back to normal life at home. I have experienced a great deal of change since I came here. I am not the same person as I was when I last stood on Irish soil. I am fully aware that what I left behind will not have changed much and that integrating back into that culture will be difficult, made more difficult by the fact that I don’t have such a strong desire to do so. Maybe I’m just struggling to deal with leaving this life and going back to normality and maybe there is so much more to Northern Ireland that I have never discovered. I believe the latter of these will prove to be true and I’m excited, in this way, to go back and see what I have missed out on in my own country before I run away from it so hastily. My home will always be N. Ireland and it may be true that ‘far off fields look green’ (even greener than Ireland!), but at least now I’m in a position to see the world from a wider perspective, something which I think N. Ireland somehow narrows. This experience has opened my mind up to a world of opportunities and I am so happy for that, but I will be careful not to spend time at home complaining with bitterness because, although it has its problems, as any country does, ours is not one to abandon so light-heartedly. And so, I am looking forward to returning and, of course, being with all the people I know and love there, as I look back on my Erasmus experience in Poland with fondness.

Before I go any further I think that I must apologise for not updating this for the past number of weeks. My only excuse is that I’ve been very busy and a lot of things have been happening, which, on a brighter note, should make for a more interesting read for this last blog! A brief introductory summary to the past five weeks of my life would read: visitors from home; travelling; exams, presentations & assignments; goodbye parties; and relaxing with friends.

Week fifteen in Poznan was not so very exciting and so all I will tell you about is my first visitor from Northern Ireland! Ruth arrived on Friday and would stay for the weekend during which time I really became a tourist of this city for the first time. Yes, I’ve seen different places here but not like I did this weekend. It was very, very nice to have someone from home see a little bit of my life here. I think when I get home it will help to tie this part of my life to the rest of it! Having Ruth here, and later my parents, make this experience more real for some reason I think. It was nice to be able to show someone around the city that has become my home for the past few months. I am proud to live here. On Saturday we did all the touristy things like watching the goats on the town hall at noon, visiting the museums, the zoo and lake Malta, and eating out! Sunday was a lovely day. Ruth got to experience my church here and the hospitality of my friends here. After the service Cris had us over for dinner along with another friend, Kennedy. After dinner we went for a rather long walk across the city. We saw cathedrals, Cytadela park and a number of neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city as we continued our trek!

At the beginning of week sixteen I had an interesting exchange at the airport: my parents for Ruth! As I was saying goodbye to Ruth I welcomed my parents to Poland, and so the process of hosting began again for another week. From Monday to Friday I spent my time with my parents when I could, mainly to eat out (which I have never done so much before in my life as I did these days!), and the rest of the time I spent in classes and in school. I won’t bore you with the details of all that we did, mainly because they are probably the only ones who read this in detail (and they already know what they did here!), but I think they got a very good overview of Poznan, its history and all that is has to offer.

I said at the start that I’ve been very busy recently which I’m realising now was very true! I had different events back to back: Ruth left and my parents came, then my parents left on Friday and I left that evening for a trip to Krakow. This particular journey was not so fun. Antonio and I stood for a couple of hours and sat on the floor in a narrow corridor for another 4 hours before getting a seat for the remaining hours of the journey. This is typical of the cheaper Polish transport. When you buy a train ticket a seat is not designated. This means there could be only one person in your carriage (as it was on one journey I took) or there could be one hundred people (as in this case!). We left Poznan at 23:14 and arrived the next morning in Krakow at 06:38 after a sleepless night. In Krakow we were ‘couch surfing’ but one of the girls in our group knew the host so we were safe enough. The rest of that day we spent visiting Auswitz concentration camp which was a sombering trip but something I really wanted to see, especially as I was already in Poland. On the Sunday we took a free walking tour around the city and saw a little of the Jewish ghetto before heading back home that evening. On this journey we managed to get seats and in our cabin was a very minor celebrity, a guy who was on TV in a Polish dance competition, ‘Po Prostu Tancz; You Can Dance’!

The following week beginning Monday 31st May I had lots of work to prepare for school and I had revision to do for an exam and preparations to make for presentations but I managed to fit in some time for the first of the goodbye parties. The group of Erasmus students I was closest to went out to ‘Sphinx’ for a meal, a favourite location and a popular restaurant in Poland. Now that I have said goodbye to all of these people I realise how much I will miss them, and how much I have learned from them. Actually, I’ve even learned English words from some Spaniards because they speak English so properly and well! It’s funny when they are the ones teaching me English! The friends I had in Poland are some of the smartest, most interesting and nicest people I have ever met. It’s obvious that I would miss such people. After the exams were over for the week I spent an afternoon with the usual group in Cytadela Park and finished off the evening in the flat of some of our friends. On the Saturday I was invited to dinner at a Polish friend’s house and I enjoyed a wonderful meal there with her and her friend and the rest of the weekend we ate out a lot because many of the restaurants were half price. After Church on Sunday with a group of Erasmus friends we had a relaxing day at the ‘beach’ beside Lake Rusalka. It was just lovely.

Week 18 was my last week of classes, both in university and in school. It was another week of tests, assignments, exams and presentations but everything went very well and I am very pleased with all my results here. People at home may complain that it is easy to do well on Erasmus, and it can be true, but I still had to work to get good grades in all of my subjects, I think equally as much as I would have in Stranmillis. Of course, I still had time for more than one party during the week in the various dormitories that my friends live in across the city, culminating in another ‘goodbye’ dinner on the Friday for two very special and lovely Czech girls, Pavlina and Barbora. I spent the rest of that weekend with the gang eating out, shopping, preparing ‘goodbye’ gifts, watching films and chatting the night away in a friendly bar where I spoke for a long while with a French Basque guy about important issues!

Finally free from all our studies and work, a group of us went on a trip to Wroclaw, a city only a couple of hours away from Poznan by train, but not before having one last party altogether, a picnic in one of the dorms for a Polish friend’s birthday. In Wroclaw we were, again, ‘couch surfing’ but, as with the last time, we were familiar with the host. One difference, though, was that there were already 5 Mexicans staying in this particular house, so when we arrived it brought the total number of guests to 12! Of course, there weren’t beds for all these people so we made mattresses out of cushions. I actually had a great sleep! In Wroclaw we mostly ate, drank and talked but we also got to have a look around the city and took some dance lessons! The city also boasts an exciting musical fountain which we watched at 10pm which was only spoiled by the number of annoying mosquitoes by the waterside! That evening was a sad one as the next day we would all split up and for some of us, this was goodbye.

At 5.30am the next morning I got a tram to Wroclaw’s railway station where I began my next trip, alone this time, to Prague! By midday I was in Prague where I was met by one of the Czech girls we had only just said goodbye to in Poznan. I had an amazing time in their city! One of the girls hosted me in her family’s home and they showed me all around Prague presenting to me their vast knowledge of their home. Coincidentally, I also bumped into the Mexicans who I had stayed with in Wroclaw, proving again just how small the world is! During the two days I met lots of people who were friends of the girls I knew which is something I would not have got to do had I just been an average tourist in Prague. On my last night in the city, well, I didn’t go to bed! It seems extreme for me but there was somewhat of a party going on in my host house and it was still going when I had to leave at 5am to catch my bus home! It was a great night, though, and I was engaged in some interesting conversations and met some fascinating people. To be honest, I’m very glad that I didn’t sleep. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Anyway, the next day I slept on the bus for most of the 10 hour journey so I didn’t lose any sleep! Back in Poznan I stayed at the bus station to say goodbye to a couple more people before rushing home to get ready to go away for the weekend. I was rather busy this week but I had to fit lots of activities (and places) in as it was coming to the end of my time in Poland.

At the weekend I was invited to Kaja, my Polish friend’s, house. It was so lovely to live with a Polish family, especially this family as they were so kind to me. It was nice to be back out in the countryside again, riding a bike again and experiencing the small town life again. Meeting Kaja’s friends was a lovely experience and all of us just hung out, eating, drinking and even dancing the night away! After Polish Church on the Sunday, another new experience for me, Kaja took me on a long walk all around her town and later on we even went to the zoo before we had to catch the train home to Poznan again. It will be times like these that I will miss most; quality time spent with great people all the while getting to know even more people. Also, because I am often heard saying, ‘I’ve never done that before’, especially the past four and a half months in Poland, my life is always an adventure with so many new experiences and sensations. That’s the way I like it. That’s the way I hope it continues.

Finally, my last week in Poland began well: Cris came back from his travels and we spent the day doing some last minute exploration of the city which had become our home. I visited the zoo for the third time (!) but the variety of animals with all their beautiful colours and designs did not cease to amaze me, however, I’m not a big fan of animals locked in cages. The following day I met up with some of my Church friends in a cute, little café to say good bye. I will miss these people a lot too! I have learned a lot from them and I have needed them most of all during my time here. That evening it was another party to say goodbye to another group of people, this time in the home of a German girl, Maria. The next day after finalising all my Erasmus documents I spent a wonderful afternoon at Lake Rusalka with a very good friend in a very beautiful place. I shall miss very much days like this. Later we met up with some others for a bite to eat and later for drinks which covered, in total, 3 locations! Another day brought another meeting to say goodbye. The end was clearly drawing nigh! Last Thursday I spent with the Polish girls at the Palm House. I really enjoyed it! These girls always show such concern for me and have looked after me carefully during my time here. That evening was my last in Poland and I spent it with my favourite Spaniards, Cris, Yaiza, Ana and Eneko, among others in our favourite bar, Dragon bar. These people make you realise that the North of Spain is also worth visiting, so my advice is this: don’t just go on holiday to the south and to the islands, there is much more of Spain to see (and I am living in it now)! My last day in Poland came so very quickly as the week just flew in. I only had time for a little get-together in my room to celebrate Ana’s birthday and lunch in the vegetarian with the remaining good friends I had there before it was time for my own ‘goodbye’. I knew the day had to come eventually but it did not make it any easier. It was not a happy occasion but having Cris, Kaja, Magda and Daga come to the airport with me was extra special and reminded me of how great my time in Poland had been. Even as I write now I’m finding it difficult to write in the past tense! However, it is true, Poland is now in the past and my life will continue outside of Poland, but importantly, it will be different because of Poland.

Professionally I have gained knowledge about teaching Science in the classroom having engaged in practical activities which will be useful in the future with my classes and I have learned a lot about the Storyline Approach to teaching, something which I think the Northern Ireland Curriculum (2007) has encouraged teachers to adopt similar strategies to more often. My time in school was interesting and taught me that I prefer a more structured approach to teaching as is usually in effect in NI, however, I realise that I need to learn how to deal with less ‘structure’, and by that I mean more topic based approaches with much greater pupil interaction and involvement because this seems to be the future of teaching. I need to adapt now before I begin my career as a teacher! I have witnessed quite a different education system and I am looking forward to making use of the ideas and knowledge I have gained here in primary schools in Northern Ireland.

It is true that I was in Poland to study and to practise as a teacher in school but, of course, I have gained so much more than that. And, with that in mind, I must bring this essay to a close! Erasmus in Poznan, Poland has, without exaggeration, been a life changing experience for me. I have learned much through the incredible people that I have met and through all the activities which I have done. It has forced me to change the way I think about some things and has made me more open-minded. I feel now like I needed to have this experience to really grow up, to experience independence and to prepare myself for real life, that is, life outside the gates of Stranmillis and everything that, I feel, it embodies. Having said that, life is what you make it and I will be more careful now to live life to the full, ‘making the best use of time…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father’ (Eph. 5:16, 20).

Ps. As great a time as I have spent in Poland I will still be VERY excited and happy to see everyone again in Northern Ireland who have been making my life so special even before Poland; long before Poland. And so, I also thank all of you, for your love, your friendship and your prayers. See you in August! Much love, Andrew.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Week 13-14: Monday 3rd – Sunday 16th May 2010

A few weeks ago I said that time was flying in…I had no idea what it meant for time to fly back then! These past few weeks have gone by so quickly that I’m actually confused about how I have come to be at this date in time. Honestly, I’m so confused. I think my problem is that I’ve been thinking ahead a lot to the future and what I’m doing this summer. Last week I was busy with university work much of the time as I had a presentation on Thursday. I’ve been in school for a few weeks now although I still haven’t really got into a rhythm with teaching or with a particular class.

In school on my 13th week here I taught a couple of lessons. On Wednesdays I am with Grade 5 and their topic at the minute is to do with children around the world so I taught a lesson on Afghanistan! I learned so much myself. I find the style of teaching that the children are used to very difficult to work with. I had two hours probably to teach and I was surprised to find that we actually filled that whole time. At home I am very used to neat little sections of time where there is some teaching time followed by the children working on something – usually on worksheets or from textbooks. What I’m doing here requires more effort and allows a lot of time for children to discuss and ask questions. It is not so divided up into different subject areas as at home so this allows more flexibility throughout the day. Having said that, the children have separate Maths lessons with a different teacher, and on Friday I took a Maths lesson. It was really good because I had the class to myself for the first time as there was no one else to cover the lesson (so I got it!).

Last Friday night I went out with a large group of Erasmus ones for a spontaneous night out. We had dinner in an unusually themed restaurant with waiters dressed as aliens and loud music you would expect to hear in horror films…which was slightly strange…however we had a good night together. The following evening I went out with the Spanish ones to the ‘Dragon’ and got back home very late, but it was such a lovely, funny evening. I love those people!

On Sunday of last week I visited the Botanical Gardens here with Asta. I love gardens so I enjoyed it a lot! It was a great chance to get to know Asta and to help her with her English too.

This week I really did very little due to the presentation I was working on. However, on Tuesday I had an exciting trip across Poland to the capital, Warsaw, where I met up with some Northern Irish girls from Stranmillis. It was a great day. The weather was good and the company was better! It was nice to be able to catch up with some people from home, especially as they had also been on Erasmus. We spent much time comparing our experiences and talking about how they have changed our lives. Interestingly, we’ve had some similar experiences and learned similar things, but I think the main thing to note is that everyone seems to have learned so much. We saw some of the main sights in Warsaw but we spent so much time talking that we didn’t have all that long since I had to leave quite early in the evening. However, I didn’t mind! It was just so nice to be with people who know the ‘world’ that I come from and discuss things with them. Going on Erasmus certainly has quite an impact on your life.

On Thursday evening we had a birthday to celebrate! So, after a shopping trip for some presents, we headed to another student dorm to Ainara’s birthday party. I hadn’t seen this group of Erasmus ones as much recently so it was great to hang out with them all again. We’ve all been busier and I’ve been with different people so sometimes it feels like I’m just visiting them again, but I’m glad that I know lots of people in Poznan. I have to be thankful for that.

On Saturday I was invited to a graduation! A Polish friend of ours had Cris and me as her guests as her family couldn’t make it. It was quite an honour really to be asked to something so special and it was my first time at a graduation so it was really nice to be there. We had a lovely day. Well, that was just the morning! The rest of the day turned out to be quite busy too. In the afternoon I went shopping for a bit and went out for coffee with a friend before going around some of the museums in the city.
It was a special night where all the museums were free to enter and they were all open until about 1am. It was a crazy night because the local football team had won a very important match as well, so that, along with all the people who were out to visit the museums, made for a VERY busy city centre! There were so many people everywhere. I really enjoyed the day because I spent time with so many different people. After the museums we met up with some other friends and then whilst getting some dinner (at 1am) we met more Erasmus students. I love it when you randomly bump into people in the streets, and although it happens to me quite often at home, I never expected it to happen here. Now that it does, I feel even more at home!

So, I’m still having an interesting, enjoyable time here. I’m learning lots and have been challenged more and more about my life. This has been a very necessary experience for me to have and I’m very glad I’ve taken it. Now the only difficulty will be going back to the world that I came from in Northern Ireland and applying what I’ve learned here to that situation. I think there will be a bit of a culture shock going back actually, although, I’m going to Spain for a while between Poland and home which I think will help ease the transition! …Do widzenia!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Week 12: Monday 26th April – Sunday 2nd May 2010

This week I experienced what it is like to be busy again. It is a well known fact that Erasmus students are usually not overburdened by academic work to allow time for their personal development and for experiencing new cultures, languages, people, etc. However, as the end of semester draws nigh, I find myself with a larger workload and less time in which to complete it. The key to success is good time management and not getting stressed. I’m failing on at least one of those already (the former!). This week I began teaching in school, I collected assignment titles, I began preparing presentations and I realised that I need to be careful with my time now, especially as there are still many places I’d like to visit and discover in Poland and in neighbouring countries in the 6 weeks I have left. I am learning that I have not appreciated my country and my island back home and am now actually quite excited to return and discover it! At the beginning of the week I read a lot of material about Northern Ireland because I was preparing for a presentation that I have to do for one of my classes on my home country and in school the first lesson I taught was on N. Ireland. I learned SO much this week about things that I should already know!

I have one class in the week which continues to be useful to my future career – didactics of science. In this class I feel like I’m back in Stran’ whilst making telephones out of paper cups and string and ‘experimenting’ with different fabrics! The class is in English just for me so sometimes the other classmates speak in Polish and the worksheets are always in Polish but it is such a practical subject that it is fine, especially as the teacher tries to speak in English the entire time. I’m happy to be in a class with Polish people as all of my other classes consist of other foreigners as they are all taught in English. I think I am also useful to the class because I can help them with their English.

On Tuesday I thought about Northern Ireland all day!! During the day I met with my group to discuss our presentation on Northern Ireland. The class has a lot of Spanish people and actually quite a lot of Poles as well, but we had to form groups of four…so, as I am the only person from Northern Ireland, I got some Polish girls and a Spanish one to bulk up my group! I am excited to present my country to the class which is the Sociology of Multiculturalism, a very multicultural class indeed. The presentation is supposed to be on multiculturalism in N. Ireland, however, with quite a significant lack thereof (it is something like 99% White Christian), we may have to go down a different route for the main content of our presentation. It is so nice to see other people researching and studying your own country. Later on that evening I was preparing for my first lesson with G5 (P7) which was on N. Ireland as their theme at the minute is ‘Finding peaceful solutions to conflict (and the privilege of a good education) leads to a better quality of human life’. Northern Ireland seemed like a good introduction to the topic. I should mention at this point that the school is hugely focused on ‘topic-based’ learning. The children learn almost everything through whichever topic they are studying at a given time. Every ‘subject’ relates to the topic as far as is possible.

Every Wednesday I’ll be in school from now until I leave. School starts at 8am so that means me leaving the flat at 07.20, catching a tram at 07.27 and a bus at 07.48! (However, this will change from now on as a great neighbour from Church has offered to drive me to school everyday...and so the benefits of meeting the locals continues!!) The first thing I thought when I first made this journey was that I couldn’t believe how many people were up at this time of the morning…clearly I have been disillusioned to the reality of early starts by the student life! At this time of the morning it is difficult for me to get on the tram. Sometimes you have to force your way in the door! Once at school I think I spent nearly a couple of hours teaching my lesson. There is certainly not as much structure as in the classrooms at home. Because of the importance of topic learning, you don’t have the rigidity of subject separation so I had a long time to talk to the children about N. Ireland. It was so exciting to teach other people about my country. I had such a good time doing it and the children in my class were really eager to ask questions and discuss things and could do so for a long time! The school day finishes at 3.20pm for G5, so in total, one hour and 20 minutes longer than primary children are in school at home. For me, this is crazy. It is too long. The children get a 5 minute break between each 45minute ‘session’ but personally I think it only disrupts them more and lengthens the time they have to spend in school. Also, they are only allowed outside once a day for half an hour at lunchtime and if it rains they are forbidden. At primary school I was forced out no matter what the weather! I think it is connected with the fact it is a private school and the children being slightly overprotected. The discipline procedure in the school is minimal, mainly amounting to some marbles which are passed from one container labelled ‘teacher’ to another labelled ‘pupils’! The aim for the pupils is to fill their container by behaving in an acceptable manner because if they do they win a prize. I don’t think I’ll be in the school long enough to judge its effectiveness. Being from ‘Ireland’ people generally expect me to play Irish music because I play the flute! So at the end of my lesson I played some traditional Irish music for the children in class. It was very funny. I wasn’t great but the children were encouraging nonetheless! I like this type of music now and I want to get better at playing it but it is very fast paced and will require lots of practice! That evening I had a few visitors and the briefly attended a birthday celebration in my kitchen for some friends before helping another friend with English.

On Thursdays I have a couple of classes: Statistics (which I still enjoy lots) and Environmental Sociology which is a little less fun, although I’m sure some people will be wondering why Statistics is ‘fun’…but it is! Later on I discovered a new part of the city, found a new supermarket store and ate some lasagne outside in the park by the pond with a friend. And, yes, the weather was nice enough to have dinner outside!

In school on Friday I was mainly with Grade 3 who are a fun little class but could do with staying in their seats more and talking less! For some reason, though, I enjoy being in with them and look forward to taking some lessons. On Fridays I’m still not quite sure where to be because it’s not like Wednesdays when I am with one class all day. On Fridays I take G2 for readings and will do so on a regular basis, and then I get to leave a little early at 2.15pm. The rest of the day I just observed but next week I will start teaching on Fridays too. On Friday night we were planning to go camping but then the weather seemed as if it wouldn’t be in our favour so we changed our plans for the weekend. I went to Tesco to stock up before the holidays in Poland but I was also feeling a little sick so I needed some medication and an early night.

Saturday was Labour Day holiday in Poland so everyone was off work and all the shops were closed (hence the late night shopping trip to Tesco the previous evening). It was a lovely day and it was a good job too because we had planned to go for a day trip. We got on a 1950s style bus and headed off to a destination near Kornik where we visited a 14th century castle and toured the extensive grounds of its park-arboretum. I went with 4 Spaniards so the day was at least useful for my Spanish but, after a long time, it gets tiring trying to understand/not understanding! It was a very good day nonetheless. After lunch in the park and the trip home I went out to a park in Poznan and sat and read for an hour or two. At 8.30pm the same group, plus a few extra Spaniards, started out for a Chinese restaurant. We arrived at 9.45pm (lol) because it was difficult to find somewhere that was open on this holiday and we just kept walking until we found one that was! We enjoyed a lovely Chinese together but as I was feeling a little unwell again and had an early start the next day I didn’t hang about long.

I was supposed to be in Church on Sunday at 08.10 to set up for the service and to practice...I arrived at 08.45, but it was OK! I was playing my flute in the band on Sunday so we practised for some time before the service began at 10am. The service itself was a little different as we had people share their experiences of the previous Sunday when they were out serving. After International Church we stayed for the Polish Church which I get translated directly to my headphones. It is a great system for non-Polish speakers and I love attending the Church so I’m thankful for it. It was a little longer than usual so we didn’t leave until after 2pm which meant I had been in Church for about 5 hours! Afterwards I went to Cris’s for lunch and spent some time there. Last Sunday was possibly my favourite day in Poland so far because of our visit to the nursing home in the morning and the Baptism in the evening. It was just a lovely day which I will remember, but walking home this Sunday I was thankful for another great one. I like Sundays! However, I only have 6 more to look forward to…

Monday, 26 April 2010

Week 11: Monday 19th - Sunday 25th April 2010

A celebration of all things Basque!

A Spanish dinner at Cris's house

Service Sunday in the old people's home

The older people were very happy to see us!

Playing some hymns for the residents to enjoy

Monday, 19 April 2010

Week 10: Monday 12th – Sunday 18th April 2010

This week I finally arranged my main school placement in the International School of Poznan (www.isop.pl). I met with the Primary Years Co-ordinator and we decided upon me being in school every Wednesday and Friday, as these are the only days I am free of classes and can be in school. This means that from now on I will be much busier! I will have lessons to plan for Wednesdays and Fridays and I’ll be in classes the rest of the week. I have a few presentations that I will shortly begin work on as well so my easy-going Erasmus lifestyle is slowly slipping away! However, I am thoroughly looking forward to getting into school on a more regular basis, and I hope to return to the High School to teach some English lessons at some stage again too. I have just worked out that I’ll need to get up at 6.15am on the mornings that I have school to be there in time for the commencement of lessons at 8am. This is something I have not been used to for a long time! The school caters for children of all ages, from 4 year olds in kindergarten to 18 or 19 year olds completing their ‘diplomas’. It follows the programme of the International Baccalaureate which you can find out more about at www.ibo.org/pyp for the Primary Years Programme in particular. The school is located in a big, old building about 10 minutes from Poznan city centre and welcomes pupils from Poland and International students, however, all are taught in English. For the Polish students at the school it is quite prestigious (and no doubt expensive) but it provides children with a great, internationally acknowledged education. As time goes on I’m sure more information and some photographs will follow as I become more accustomed to the school.

At the zoo with Asta.

I started a new class this week – Environmental Health Hazards. I believe the lecturer was a little taken aback when she found out I was a native English speaker, and I could tell it made her a little more nervous especially as it was her first time teaching in English! However, she rarely needed my help and I made sure never to correct her before being asked! A couple of my other classes were cancelled this week for various reasons so, in reality, I had quite a relaxed week. One nice story that I should share tells of the kindness of the people here, and not just anyone, one of my lecturers! On the day I was going to visit my school I was in class just before it and I was still trying to work out how to get to the school. I spoke to my teacher and she offered to take me there in her car. If I hadn’t accepted her offer I would have been very late for my meeting with the school so I’m thankful to her! It feels really good to get to know some staff as well as students here, especially after hearing how bad an opinion most of the Polish students seem to have of university lecturers. Another tutor, for my only Educational class, is carrying it out in English just for me!! The 25 other people in the class (all of whom are female!) must dislike me very much! However, they are all studying Primary Education with English so it is useful for them too.

On Thursday night I went back to the CU that I’ve been to once before with a group of Polish people. It was a good night although, with everything being in Polish, my friend had the hard job of translating for me. I like to show my support for the group though by attending so I’m unsure whether I’ll return or not. They only meet once a month so I may only have one, or at most two, more opportunities to attend. I am having to start thinking about leaving Poland as it will not be very long before I go and I still haven’t booked my flights! At the moment I’m trying to find out when I will be finished exams so that I can leave after that. It will most likely be in the middle of June. I went swimming again this week and I keep meeting more new Polish people there because the class I joined is really only known by local students. Being in this group really makes me feel part of the community here and it is a good feeling. I’m glad I’ve built up such a good group of Polish friends. I really feel like I’ve got such a lot out of this Erasmus experience; probably more than many other students I know.

The weekend was busy but the weather was lovely, as it seems to be most of the time now! On Saturday I went to the New Zoo with a Lithuanian friend, Asta. It is huge and I loved it. It was, as far as I can recollect, the first time I have ever seen an elephant, rhinoceros, bison, so many varieties of Eagle and many, many other creatures. We had a lovely day and it really felt like summer with the heat and the sunshine and lots of walking in new places! After my visit to the zoo I joined a group of people from Church for dinner in Milenium Pizza where you can order the most gigantic pizzas! Great night had by all I reckon. Sunday began with Church as usual followed by a little snippet of the Polish Church where we only stayed for a while because we were going out for dinner with the pastor and his family and a few friends. It was also the President’s funeral this day so everywhere was very quiet and in fact most shops and restaurants were closed for the weekend as a mark of respect. After dinner I sat for a few hours in the park reading, but when I got home I realised it was still too nice and warm to be inside so I went back out to another park and started another book! This time I had a random conversation, if you can call it that because it was in Polish (!), with an old man with one leg…he may have been homeless, I’m not sure! I just wanted to be nice and talk to him and it was good to put my Polish into practice. I hope that I don’t forget about my Polish when I get back home, but I know that I’m going to have to keep practising it if I’m to remember it for any length of time! That’s all for now.

Candles at a major focal point in Poznan in remembrance of those who died.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Week 9: Monday 5th – Sunday 11th April 2010

During this week the Polish people experienced a great loss on a national level. On Saturday morning a plane crashed killing the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, his wife and the 94 other people onboard, many of them significant leaders in Poland’s government. A week of national mourning was declared and I’ve seen first hand how the Poles are reacting to the tragedy. From almost every balcony in the city you can see the Polish flag flying with the poignant black strips hanging alongside it as a mark of mourning. This was a hugely significant event which has really shaken up the people. Shops and businesses closed on the day of the accident and the day which followed, and the rest of the week many forms of entertainment such as concerts and performances have been cancelled as a mark of respect. In terms of the university, classes have been cancelled on Wednesday as some special ceremonies and services will take place, however my schedule hasn’t been changed. I think that no matter how the population felt about the President during his time in office, they are all shocked and saddened by his death especially as it comes along with the death of so many others. While I’m in Poland I try to keep an eye on the news in Northern Ireland and for the first time this week I kind of felt like I was looking at Northern Ireland from a foreigner’s viewpoint and my objective outlook made me really see the difficulties that we still have in our own country. For some reason I didn’t think about it so much when I was in the country!

Anyway, back in Poland, the week began for me with a few days of holidays after the Easter weekend. On Monday I took the opportunity to visit the old zoo in Poznań (we have two zoos here, one called the ‘old zoo’ and one the ‘new zoo’!). Anna and I visited the aquariums and reptile enclosures which were very cheap to visit. Everywhere else in the zoo was free to visit! It was actually quite an amazing experience for me because I can’t remember the last time I was in a zoo! For me, seeing all the different varieties of fish especially just had me in awe at the creativity of their maker. However, seeing all the different snakes just made me want to leave the building! I spent the rest of the evening in a friend’s flat until we went out for dinner in the stary rynek.

The next day was not so eventful as practical things like the washing had to be taken care of! However in the evening I went out to the cinema with a friend to see ‘Remember Me’. It clearly wasn’t very popular though because there were only two other people in the entire room! The film was good but the journey home was more entertaining! When we got out of the cinema, which is in a shopping centre, we were directed out through various doors and down long corridors and eventually through an eerily quiet and dimly lit shopping mall. It soon became clear that we didn’t know how to get out of the building - we were trapped! In the end we walked through the car park and just kept walking until we reached the nearest tram stop. It was a humorous adventure for us both.

Polish classes continue to be the main academic focus of my week and my Polish seems to be progressing sufficiently well in comparison to the rest of the class at least. I love my class because they are such a varied bunch with interesting stories to tell. However, I’ve resolved that it is impossible to learn Polish grammar in Polish. Words and phrases I can grasp but to try to learn grammatical structures in anything other than English is too much for me. Having said that, I’m not sure that having it explained in English would be of much benefit because we just don’t have anything like it. I say it every week, but I still need to spend more time studying Polish outside class if I’m going to keep up and remember it when I get home.

On Thursday I attended my statistics class in which we are jut getting on to Normal Distribution. It shouldn’t excite me as much as it does but I can’t help it; I love it! Statistics always brings back very fond memories of maths classes in school days because I studied many of the same things back then. It is all proving very useful to me in this course and it helps me to stay ahead of the rest of the class, however, this means that I’m often having to wait for help to move on and it can get a little boring actually (but only when I’ve got nothing to do). That afternoon I broke my trend and went to Carrefour (a large French store available all over Europe) instead of Tesco! I love Carrefour! You can buy anything you want there, quite literally. Anyway…I got what I needed!

Finally I have something school related to discuss again because on Friday I visited a Polish ‘middle-school’ (gimnazjum) because I wanted to experience what it would be like to be a teacher of English as a foreign language. Children in Poland have to start school at age 6, they attend primary school for 6 years and then move to the ‘gimnazjum’ for 3 years before going on to high school for a final 3 years. Therefore the school I visited was for children aged 12-15 and it was located out in the suburbs of Poznań in a beautiful open area with picturesque views over the Polish countryside. It was idyllic. I could easily work there! One of the girls in my Polish class is a French language assistant in the school and so she put me in touch with one of the English teachers. I spent the day observing in the English classes and I really enjoyed it. It has made me consider teaching English in another country for a while before I teach primary school children. Also, I used to feel like I couldn’t teach children older than those in my primary classes but I now feel confident and old enough to do so, and think I would really enjoy it. Teaching a language seems like a lot of fun! The school has about 300 pupils altogether and was very modern looking as it was only built in 1999/2000 after the education system was reformed to include this new age range they call gimnazjum. After getting the bus home I headed out to lunch with a bunch of Spanish students, had some good conversations and then went to the gym which I only started going to because it is free and is in my building! That evening I went out with some friends from Germany and Finland who were in the mood to dress up judging by this photo!

On Saturday I had a lovely afteroon with Cristian and the Spaniards which began with a very kind host providing me with an amazing tuna and pasta dish and fresh salad followed by dessert. I reckon I could start to like tuna after that! [ :-) !!] . It was delicious and I was very appreciative! The rain came on but that didn’t dampen our spirits as we explored the museum in the town hall. Unfortunately, it was near closing time and we didn’t get to see everything. Luckily, I had already seen everything on a previous visit so I was happy enough! That evening I had to spend some time preparing for Sunday School which Cris and I were leading the following day. It was great to be able to help out in church by taking Sunday School and it was exciting to find out some things behind the scenes like where certain things are kept, etc, because it made me feel more involved and part of the Church. After a restful afternoon I joined some Erasmus friends in a quaint little café. It makes me so happy hanging out with these people. It has been good to meet so many great people from around Europe and to simply spend time with them. I hope I spend the rest of my time wisely and keep building on these relationships which are so important to me before I have to leave them all behind in Poland. :-(

Monday, 5 April 2010

Week 8: Monday 29th March – Sunday 4th April 2010

Now that I’ve been in Poland for two months and am approaching the halfway mark for my time here I can see that I really don’t have long left, judging by how quickly the first half went! This week was a bit different because of the Easter break on Thursday and Friday. Easter is very important to Polish people so there were a few different events on over the holidays and the shops were closed on Easter Sunday and Monday. The city and my dormitory especially have been very empty because many of the students went home for the holidays. It has been a good time of reflection for me too.

On Monday in my Sociology of Multiculturalism class I found out that I will have to do a presentation on Northern Ireland, but we are in groups of 4 so I have some Polish people with me. We also got to discuss a little about the Polish migration to the UK and Ireland since they entered the EU in 2004 and I got to hear their views on it, most of them having a relative or friend there! That evening it was my roommate’s birthday party so Cris and I went for a quick shopping trip to Tesco (where the best birthday presents are sold, of course) before coming back to the flat to join the party. I found out that having a roommate is particularly unhelpful on their birthday – it was a very late night – but, as it was his birthday, I had to be understanding.

On Wednesday I began to plan my trip over Easter. Kaja helped me to get the train tickets and I was able to book the hostels myself. It turned out to be a rather costly day as after paying for hostels and trains I went shopping and paid for my accommodation! In Poland you can get very cheap food but some things, if not most things, are a very similar price to that at home. I’m really bad with handling money and I find it really difficult to consider how much I’m actually paying for things because often I just expect things to be cheaper, but it’s certainly not always the case!

The Easter holidays began on Thursday and classes begin again on Wednesday but in reality it made very little difference to my schedule especially as I’m off on Fridays and Tuesdays every week anyway! However, I still took this opportunity to do a little travelling around Poland. Having had little time to myself what with sharing a room and meeting lots of different people, I wanted to go away by myself for a few days just to stop, think, reflect and pray. And so I did! On Thursday morning I stood for 2 hours on a crowded train to Toruń but it was completely worth it. It was a beautiful day and I just fell in love with the city. The journey itself wasn't too bad either because for me it was nice to see the countryside of Poland (as above). After checking in to my hostel, Hostel Orange, I spent the day seeing all the sights of Toruń when my trusty guidebook of Poland was most useful, and so I must thank Andrew for that! I had such a lovely day strolling through the pretty streets and reading by the Vistula river. After this day I realised how nice Polish people are. I met complete strangers who went out of their way to help me. At one viewpoint of the city at the top of the tower in the Town Hall the security man told me ALL about the city, although I reckon he just wanted to practice his English! Another lady in the gingerbread shop (Toruń is famous for its pierniki) could see that I couldn’t decide what to buy so she placed lots of them out on the counter and told me all about them! It was so lovely of her and really made me happy! In the evening I chatted with the four Erasmus girls from France and Turkey in my room for a couple of hours. They were also travelling to take a break from their studies in another city in Poland.

The next morning, Friday, I got up early to catch a train to Gdańsk, a city near the coast at the Baltic Sea. This time I got a seat and had the opportunity to practice my Polish again because I was in a room with a couple of students and also an older lady who wanted to find out about my life and tell me about hers! It was very endearing and I enjoyed our chat even though we didn’t understand each other all the time! Going away by myself was the first time I’ve really been forced to (try to) speak Polish and I’m glad I forced myself into that position. In Gdańsk I spent a few hours going to see all the sights outlined in my guidebook and taking photos of them, but I got bored of that quite quickly so I jumped on a train to the neighbouring town of Sopot. Sopot could be the holiday destination of the rich and famous judging by its grandeur and, of course, it has the beach! I loved this town and, although it was very cold that day, I ventured down the famous pier, Molo, Europe’s longest wooden pier, and then on to the beach itself. It was SO nice to be back on a beach but I couldn’t stay long. Strangely enough, it actually is rather baltic beside the Baltic sea! Back in Gdańsk I met up with a Polish friend who lives there and a Spanish friend who was with her. We had another look around the city, taking lots of photos. That evening the other guests in the hostel weren’t quite as friendly as the previous night so I just watched a film I had bought earlier that day in the living room of the hostel which was really quite nice. I have to recommend Zachariasz Zappio House to anyone travelling to Gdańsk!

On Saturday morning I spent much time deliberating whether to go to a particular National Park and working out the train times, etc. However, in the end, it wasn’t possible to go so far away so I went to another town just up the coast, Gdynia. Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia are collectively known as the Tri-city area because they are so close together and the transport links between them are excellent with trains leaving frequently. When I arrived in Gdynia I needed my hat and gloves but the sun was shining and it was really a lovely day. After lots and lots of walking around the city I found a ship in the harbour called the Dar Pomorza. It is a touristic museum ship so I was able to go in and have a look throughout the ship including the engine room and living quarters. After that I had lunch in a little café on the pier where the waitress appreciated my attempts at the Polish language as she couldn’t speak English. Back ‘home’ in Poznań I think it is much more common for people to speak English, so I had to go away to actually get to try it. Most of the time in Poznań when I try to speak Polish, the waiter or assistant or whatever will reply in English because they can tell I’m a foreigner! Back in Gdynia, I walked up some hills to find the park at the top where I would sit and read for a while. It was a little haven of peace and tranquillity which overlooked the hustle and bustle of the large industrial city below. I didn’t want to stay too long though because I had to catch my train home in the early evening. I headed back to Gdańsk where I had one last look around the city, had a quick white chocolate mocha and then made my way to the station with my rucksack. At the station I was told I had the wrong ticket so I had to get a new one if I wanted to get home before 3.30am! Thankfully, another kind Polish person who spoke English overheard me attempting to talk to the ticket seller and sorted it all out for me. Unfortunately, the train that got me home earliest was one that took me eight hours to get home! So I saw most of the cities in the North West of Poland and got a lot of my book read! On my outward journey I had a few difficulties with my tickets as well because I had student tickets and in Poland I have to get my student card stamped every month to make it valid but I hadn’t known this before these travels! Thankfully, I got away with it with the support of the Polish people around me who argued on my behalf the fact that I was foreign and didn’t know!

I was rather tired come the next morning but it was Easter Sunday so I wanted to go to church as usual! The service was a little different with some of the children taking part and we had communion. After church another Erasmus girl and I got a lift in the car of one of the American members of the church, firstly to his house to collect some things and then on to the Pastor’s house where we were all meeting up for lunch. I spent a really nice afternoon eating with and getting to know the other people in the Church and other visitors from New Zealand and Sweden. We even got to participate in an Easter-egg hunt! Later in the afternoon I went for a long walk around the city with Anna, my German friend, as it was such a lovely, sunny day. After strolling through some parks and alongside the Warta river we headed back towards home where my legs desperately needed a rest after a busy weekend!