Well, what do you know? I’m finally in Poland. Land of kielbasa, pierogis, potatoes and oh yeah, a lot of my family. It’s so strange to think that I’m writing this post from a small European country that I never would have imagined myself in this time last year. What am I doing here? Why choose Poland for my summer vacation? Shouldn’t I have chosen someplace warmer, say Spain?
I’ll start from the beginning. At Northeastern University, where I just finished my first year of college, they offer programs for students to take classes abroad, but in a way where they don’t have to give up an entire semester on campus. It’s a great way to study abroad without the actual “study abroad semester.” A year ago I would have told you I wanted to study abroad for 6 months or a year, but life changes sometimes (at that time I was also a biology major and we all know how that one turned out). Since I want to focus so much now on the day to day politics of my own country, it would be difficult to just leave for so long. So this Dialogue thing seemed pretty cool when the opportunity arose in the fall.
I applied to the Poland trip on a whim. My family is originally mostly from Poland and I’ve always had an interest in family history. I had also declared a history minor and the class for the Dialogue would help me complete that. I’d get to knock out two birds with one stone, what a great plan. Honestly I sort of forgot I had even applied for the trip until I got an email from the professor saying I was accepted and just like that, I was going to Poland.
Actually getting here is an entirely different story and I won’t bore you with the details, but it involves a lot of packing, re-packing, airplanes, buses and being really tired.
We left Boston Sunday afternoon and after a quick stop in Frankfurt, Germany (even got a passport stamp to prove it!), we made it to Poland. The day took on an entirely different meaning for me as I found out that our departure day was also the yahrtzeit of my Great-Grandfather Irving Yaverbaum, who emigrated to the United States from Poland in 1912. Just over a hundred years later, there I was, back again.
There are 15 students on the trip, along with our professor and his wife (who takes such good care of us that I’m pretty sure I’ll be calling her mom by the end of the week). We loaded our fancy bus from the airport and drive through Warsaw to our hotel, located just outside the city.
I have to be honest here and say that I really didn’t do a ton of research about Poland before I came, so I didn’t know what to expect. I can tell you, however, my first impressions of Warsaw and Poland are very different that anything I ever imagined.
Here are my top ten first impressions:
1. People actually speak Polish here. I’d always heard that most places in Europe now use English, especially in cities (and they are people who speak English), but the majority of the people we’ve encountered really only speak Polish. It makes things harder, but at the same time, it’s going to make things memorable. Sure, ordering foods involves a lot of pointing now, but I can just make up what I think every billboard in town says.
2. Even in the city, the architecture is both more complex and simple than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The majority of the buildings are just basic rectangular buildings that aren’t even that tall. But then you’ll see the skyscraper that is purposely leaning at an angle and/or looks like something crashed into it. But it’s meant to look like that.
3. It must rain a lot here. There is so much greenery on the side of the roads and in Warsaw itself. Grass, trees, bushes. All very green.
4. Driving out of Warsaw to our hotel, I felt as if I was back in Mexico, driving down the highway there. Flat as far as the eye can see and little farms plopped down on the side of the road with no particular order to them. All the properties have a one or two story, relatively nice house in the middle with somewhat unfinished structures all around. And a big fence encircling it all to separate form the property next door. If there hadn’t been Polish signs everywhere, I could have easily forgot I was in Poland for a moment.
5. Polish people are still coming to terms with what happened in World War II. Our host professor, from the University of Warsaw, mentioned that he named his first son a Jewish name even though his family wasn’t Jewish and he came from two Communist parents. I’m interested to see other aspects of Poland-Jewish relations.
6. There is a LOT of food here. I don’t know if it’s just the hotel we’re staying at or the country in general, but I’ve never eaten this much food in one day ever before in my life.
7. Poland has perfect weather. No humidity.
8. Everything is red and orange. Trains, buses, taxis, signs. And I don’t know why.
9. I wish I spoke Polish. It sounds cool. It looks cool.
10. Even though I’ve never been here before, it already feels familiar. Maybe it’s the family history here, who knows?
Tomorrow we’ll be venturing off to the Old Town in Warsaw. I’ll post pictures soon!