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.