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, 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…