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!

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!