Eleven days ago, as I was boarding a plane in Lubbock, Texas I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My head was flooded with a mix of emotions as I prepared to embark on the journey of a lifetime. After a few hours I met with eight other students who like me, where excited and nervous to hop on a plane to Poland. Although we had never met before, the nine of us became instant friends, sharing laughter, telling stories, and growing closer on our nine-hour flight. When we landed in Warsaw, Poland we met with Katarzyna (or Kasia) Boczek who works with the Polish Extension Service and assists with the Polish 4-H program. She is such a friendly woman, and made us feel instantly welcome with her overwhelming hospitality. The next three days we visited local agriculture agencies, farms, a local high school, a fruit processing plant, museums, a research institution, a fertilizer plant, and the Polish Parliament. Talk about being busy! We learned about the impact of the European Union on the Polish Agriculture industry, and about different agencies that work to assist local farmers. By the end of our first three days together, we began to understand a little more about not only the agriculture industry, but also the history and culture of Poland.
Wednesday morning, the nine of us prepared to part ways and meet our new hosts families. We ate lunch together at a restaurant in downtown Warsaw, where we met our families for the first time. I was scared to death. Part of me was ecstatic to be fully immersed in a new culture; while the other part of me was terrified to live in a country I’ve never been to, with a family I’ve never met who speaks a language I do not know. After lunch, I grabbed my luggage and got in the car with Kamil (my host brother who speaks EXCELLENT English), Krzysia (my host sister), and Damian (Krzysia’s boyfriend). We were all pretty quiet as we drove from Warsaw to Wola Kałkowa, the beautiful village where they live. As I sat in the car I was extremely anxious, until good ole Taylor Swift came on the radio and we all laughed and hummed along together. Never underestimate the power of T- Swizzle. After a few hours in the car we arrived to the house, and I met my sweet host parents. Although it is difficult to communicate, they are so incredibly kind and welcoming. They truly made all my worries disappear, and I have felt at home since the moment I arrived.
Poland is an extremely Catholic country, which I find so amazing. There are beautiful churches at every corner, and small shrines at every crossroad to pray for safe travels. Thursday was Boże Ciało, or the Feast of Corpus Christi, so I went to Łowicz with Kamil and his father for Mass, to watch the procession of the Eucharist, and to enjoy the booths and rides at the festival. We had so much fun! Lots of people (men, women, and children) were dressed in traditional clothing. The dresses were so colorful and bright, and all of them were handmade! I took so many pictures, but they don’t do any of it justice. The clothing was extremely impressive, but I was more impressed with the respect and reverence that the entire city held throughout the day. It was evident that everyone understood why we were celebrating, and during Mass the entire Cathedral was full and people were crowded outside, listening to Mass through large speakers. It was such a wonderful experience.
Saturday night was Krzysia’s 18th birthday party, and man oh man it was fun! Friends and families came together to celebrate her with food, drinks, music, and dancing. The food was DELICIOUS. We ate three three-course meals and birthday cake (aka I am pretty sure I won’t fit into my jeans when I go home). I danced with Kryzysia and her friends and even tried teaching them how to two-step. We all had a blast and danced the night away until about 5 the next morning. We were exhausted, but had too much fun to care.
So to wrap things up, here are the top ten things I have learned in my 11 days in Poland:
- I overpacked.
- There is so much value in knowing a second language, and I should really brush up on my Spanish.
- I am not sure how I survived so many years without pierogi, because it is officially my favorite food.
- Polish words are extremely complicated and hard to pronounce, but I have a month so hopefully I will be able to at least pronounce Kryzysia correctly before I leave, because I feel so bad when I butcher her name (which is every time).
- Music is the same everywhere, and Kamil and I have very similar taste in it and have enjoyed sharing our favorites with each other.
- The Catholic church is truly Universal.
- I may not be able to understand Polish, but I do understand kindness and I am overwhelmed by the kindness of the Polish people.
- I need to learn more about world history.
- The USA should really use the metric system, because it is so simple.
- One month is not long enough to spend in this breathtakingly beautiful country.
Kisses from Poland,