Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In a nutshell

My dear friends I finally have an answer for you. So many ask the question, "So what is Polish really like? Is it really that difficult to learn?" My usual answer consists of a mundane response, leaving no real description of the challenge I, and all other brave souls who try to conquer this language, face on daily basis. "Oh, it is difficult. Yea, really really hard."
Well no more prosaic answers. I officially have the best description one can possibly create about learning Polish. Norman Davies, a British Historian, says it best.
"Everyone visiting Poland has to try and speak the language. After all,
its really not that difficult. In fact, the pronunciation is extremely regular.
All you need is a split palate, a rubber jaw, steel teeth, a forked tongue,
large gaps between your teeth to release the excess saliva, and twenty years
of practice. That's when you can say Kopiec Kościuszki without using an umbrella."

Thank dear sir, for adequately describing the Polish language. In those brief sentences you put into words what I've tried to explain for weeks.

*Norman Davies is a British Historian who lived and studied in Poland. The time he spent here developed into a profound love of the country and its history. This quote is from a guest lecture he gave at The Summer School of Polish Language and Culture at the Jagiellonian University in 1995.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Four foreigners walk into a room....

I love to talk. I love conversations that begin at one end of the spectrum and after a roller coaster ride of engaging discussions finishes at the complete opposite end. When you become so involved with one topic which turns into six and then suddenly it ends with no one remembering how it began. So the other night, some of my friends and I were sitting around in my room. Our conversation was casual, talking first about our personalities. How I tend to be sarcastic and tease people, but in a good natured way. How my friend Robert and I agree that you shouldn't dish it out if you can take it.

When Josephine (my Chinese suite mate) joined in we started talking about what life is like in China. It was very eye opening, since she said that life in America must be better. There much more freedom to do what you want. How in the States you have the right to protest Obama on the National Mall is you feel the need to do so. However, do that in China and you’ll find yourself locked up in jail. She shared how her mom and dad work hard but don’t make the money they deserve and how so much of that money goes back to the government. This conversation made me truly appreciate what I have living in the States. However, I realize America is far from perfect.

We then moved on to talking about education. Again, Josephine shared how the Chinese educational system is rigorous, demanding extremely dedicated students. Education is valued therefore much emphasis is put on succeeding. Robert too shared his experience of education in Romania. What struck me most was the story of an American teacher who spent time teaching in Romania. What surprised this teacher was the dedication of his students. For example, they went out partying late one night but somehow they all managed to make it to class the next day. The teacher fully expected most of them to blow class off, as many of his former students would in the States. This teaching experience was so moving, during his end of the year speech he cried. What does this say about the emphasis put on education in the States? Unfortunately, it is easy to coast by through high school in the states and never really learn anything. I know plenty of people who barely made the grade in High School but still managed to walk down the aisle at graduation, diploma in hand. That being said, there are plenty of great things about the education system in the States. I went to a great high school and was privileged enough to have some dedicated teachers.

The topper to this whole conversation is the fact that we spoke English the entire time. A guy from Romania, a girl from China and two girls from America. Again I feel so privileged that English to some extent is universal language. That when I walk into the store praying someone knows English, my wishes 9 times out of 10 are answered. Not enough emphasis is put on learning a foreign language. I took French for years and while I could survive in Paris, I’ve lost most of it.

I can’t even imagine the challenge some of my classmates must go through on a daily basis. Trying to learn a foreign language in a foreign language. I am the only native English speaker in my Polish class and again it is a privilege to be taught in English. Most of the time the class is taught in Polish but when we are all sitting there with blank stares on our face, completely confused our Professor asks that daily question, Rozumiemy? (Do you understand) and when we clearly do not she switches to English to explain.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I feel Frumpy. Oh, so Frumpy.

Today I dedicate my blog to the fashionable style of Poles, well, Europeans in general. Each day a young woman is dressed fabulous head to toe. Her style beginning with a snazzy haircut. Hair salons can be found on almost any street in Poland. In fact, there is one located on the first floor of my dorm. It seems Poles, especially women, pride themselves on their hair. Of course, with all the gorgeous Polish women there are also those who should walk right back to the hair salon and demand their money back for their butchered job. On that note, I miss and greatly appreciate Linda for her wonderful talent and for just being a fabulous person!
I have yet to see a Polish woman, older than a teenager that is, wear a plain or graphic t-shirt. A nice blouse, sweater or just simple shirt is worn. Jeans are quite popular among most Poles. Thank god, because 99% of the time I am wearing jeans.
But the true topper, are the shoes. I love shoes, so basically I am in heaven. There are boots galore and every woman wears boots. Whether they are adorable ankle boots or sexy knee high leather boots. Heels of course are also popular. I rarely see women wearing sneakers, and if I do, they are fashionable sneakers, not white exercise sneakers.

All the fashion here makes me feel so frumpy and plain. It's reached a point where I don't even want to walk to the kitchen to cook dinner in my gray sweatpants and t-shirt. However, were I home in the States this wouldn't be a second thought. In some ways, I am happy for this change. It forces me to take a second glance in the mirror on the way out the door just to make sure I look presentable for the day. Americans are frumpy. There I said it. We are. But ya know, sometimes I really enjoy my baggy sweatpants and worn out t-shirt.

While I find the fashion here wonderful, there are still some things I don't understand. For example, its fashionable here to wear tights underneath shorts. And they are not just plain neutral color tights. They are patterned and colorful stockings. I don't think its ugly, but I don't quite think I could pull it off nor am I eager to try.

Well, hopefully, my style will improve and become glamorous while here and I can spread it back to the States once I come home! ;-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Now this is the Poland I remember.

This week has been entertaining to say the least, and I am looking forward to another fun, if gloomy, weekend. If you didn't already know, it snowed this week in Poland. Not to any great amount, but still, it is only October. And according to Pani Beata (my Polish professor) this is quite unusual. I hope this week did not serve as a foreshadowing of the looming winter to come. Fingers crossed.

On a happy note, I am still as happy as can be in this country despite its bizarre weather trends. Thursday night my dorm "Piast" held an 'integration party.' Basically it was a way for everyone in the dorm to get to know one another. Beer, dancing and eclectic music. woot woot!

As previously mentioned my goal is to not only inform you of my day to day activities, but to educate you on life here in Poland as well.

Today, I leave you with two tips of advice.

Tip 1: Always, always and always give your seat to any Babcia (older woman) that may come onto your tram. Not only is it the nice thing to do, but she will literally stand over you and stare or practically sit on you until you get up and move. I've seen both occur.

Tip 2: Always, always and always give exact change whenever possible. This annoys me to no end. Especially when I am scrambling with whatever I bought at the end of the checkout line. If you don't just give it right away, the cashier will more than likely ask for it anyway. So, when in line get your change purse ready.

Much Love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"I don't know the role I'm playing. I only know it's mine, non-convertible."

While I love to share what I do on a daily basis here in this lovely country, my love expands beyond my daily encounters. Therefore, it is through my blog that I will educate you on this country's enriching history and culture. You were briefly introduced to some fine Polish cuisine but it is now time to leave behind the stomach and fill the mind. Therefore, I now introduce you to...

Polish Poet of the Day: Wisława Szymborska

A winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1996) Szymborska's poetry captivates the hearts of Poles, or quite frankly any person who reads her work. It was in my Polish Literature class at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan that I was first introduced to her work. As a child her family moved to Krakow, where she still lives today (according to my literature professor she lives near my dorm.) She studied in Krakow at Jagiellonian University (where I study), focusing on Polish language and literature. She engaged in the local writing scene in the city where she was introduced and later influenced by Czesław Miłosz. (another praised and talented Polish writer) Szymborska's poem's focuses on individuals as well their role in society. Her work has been translated into most European languages. I encourage you to read her work.

The Joy of Writing

Where through the written forest runs that written doe?
Is it to drink from the written water,
which will copy her gentle mouth like a carbon paper?
Why does she raise her head, is it something she hears?
Poised on four fragile legs borrowed from truth
she pricks up her ears under my fingers.
Stillness -- this world also rustles across the paper
and parts the branches brought forth by the word "forest."

Above the blank page lurking, set to spring
are letters that may compose themselves all wrong,
besieging sentences
from which there is no rescue.

In a drop of ink there's a goodly reserve
of huntsmen with eyes squinting to take aim,
ready to dash down the steep pen,
surround the doe and level their guns.

They forget that this is not real life.
Other law, black on white, here hold sway.
The twinkling of an eye will last as long as I wish,
will consent to be divided into small eternities
full of bullets stopped in flight.
Forever, if I command it, nothing will happen here.
Against my will no leaf will fall
nor blade of grass bend under the full stop of a hoof.

Is there than such a world
over which I rule sole ad absolute?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence perpetuated at my command?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
The revenge of a mortal hand.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A good appetite needs no sauce. (Polish proverb)

Ah, yes Poland. Known for its beer, vodka and pierogies. The first time I lived in this wonderful country I was introduced to various Polish cuisine. Traditional Polish food such as pierogi or Gołąbki can be found in most retaurants or households. Then, there are those tasty delights befitting to the category commonly known as "drunk food." So without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to...

Polish Delicacy of the Day: The Zapiekanka

A beautiful baguette (25- 20 cm) sliced in half only to be covered in toppings ranging from cheese to kebab meat. You are free to keep it simple with just cheese, but please, do not forgo the garlic sauce if given the chance. My apologies to the Polish Proverb, however, I enjoy my sauce with or without a good appetite. Popular toppings include mushrooms, onions, kebab meat, pineapple, olives or feta cheese.
My personal favorite is one topped with cheese, garlic sauce and fried onions. You may be thinking to yourself, that doesn't seem very Polish. What is this? I could make it at home! While this may be true, you will never understand the true glory of this food until you eat one in Poland (drunk or sober, as it does serve as a quick snack or lunch) Its similar to the Philly Cheesesteak, until you eat one in Philly, you really haven't eaten one. I enjoy zapiekankas both in a clear and fuzzy state of mind. Either way, its alway delicious.
Affordably priced anywhere from 3 to 7 zloty. They can be found on almost any street corner in Poland.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

You never have one pierogi.

Before I dive into the past week of my life, let me explain the title of this blog. For those of you who may or may not know the Polish language is a great big grammar party. What you say and how you say it depends entirely on who you are talking to, what you are talking about, and what the weather is like outside. Ok.. so the last one is not true, but you get the picture. So, my friend Paige was in her Polish class and they were talking about numbers and counting. For example, Jeden bilety is one ticket. Well, someone asked how you say one Pierogi... and the teacher became so flustered and said "we do not say this.... you never have one pierogi... we have no way of saying this because we never experience this." Ahhh Poland... i heart you. While you may lack in many things, you never lack in quality cuisine.

Ok. So my classes started this week and so far they have been pretty damn awesome. Difficult but awesome. Polish is impossible haha but I'm having fun trying to learn. My schedule is nice because I only have to wake up early twice a week. And as we all know, I am not a morning person so this schedule is perfect! :-)

I love it here. Point blank. The people I've met are all nice and out going. My nights here have consisted of playing pool, drinking beer or staying in for girls night with my roommate... and yes, we watch Gossip girl. There are several Americans, however, I have met people from Romania, China, South Korea, Turkey, Holland and Switzerland. My roommate Paige and I are getting along fantastically. My suite mate Josephine (from China) is hilarious and so sweet. She cracks me up on a daily basis. She is still without a roommate so currently it is just the three of us! Our room is ridiculously small yet we somehow manage to make it work!! Yay!

So during the week I stay with the same group of people for my Polish language class. While I love all the people in my class... it is slightly a hilarious situation. Six people from my class are from South Korea, three are from Turkey and two are from China. Basically you look around and its dark hair, dark, hair, dark hair, dark hair... BLONDE!!! I can't help but sing "One of these things is not like the other" everyday! hahaha. I feel bad for my professors because they are having a difficult time pronouncing the names of my classmates. Obviously they have no problem remembering mine... this sometimes however serves as a disadvantage. Also, in light of recent grammar teachings, I've taken on the name Laura Mikulska. Because in fact, Mikulski.... well, makes me a man. Thoughts on permanently changing it for good?

Other than my Polish language class I am taking two other Polish studies courses. One is history and the other is literature. I am so excited for my literature class. I recognize the names of the authors, poets etc. etc. which is great. I've read some of their work, but everything laid out in our syllabus is new. History should be interesting as well. The class will focus primarily on the 19th and 20th century but we are skimming through everything. Props to my Dad because the history books he sent me to Poland with are suggested texts for both my literature and history class!!! Go Ojciec!!!!

Sorry this entry is long, I hope to update it regularly from now on since my roommate has just informed me we do have internet in our room!! Yay!

Until then.

much love.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Class Schedule

So my class schedule is going to be intense however I am extremely excited!

On Monday and Friday I have class from 8:30 am to about noon. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I have class from noon to 3:15 pm in addition to class from 3:20 to 5:00 on Wednesday. All my classes aside from the one on Wednesday evening are solely dedicated to the Polish language. Each hour focuses on a different aspect of the language such as Grammar, Vocabulary, Speaking, Listening and Reading Comprehension. Grammar tends to fill most of the time slots because Polish is extremely difficult grammatically. My Wednesday evening class is an Introduction to Polish History taught in English.

Its going to be a lot of busy work. Apparently they only speak in Polish when teaching the language. That will make life interesting but then again I suppose that is the best way to learn Polish.

Friday, October 2, 2009

And so it starts....

Last night, after walking around in several circles a couple of us went to a bar in Kazimierz which is the Jewish quarter of the city. The bar was lit with just candles creating a very cozy and comfortable setting. And of course no night in Poland would be complete without some Polish piwo (beer). Getting to know everyone in the program has been interesting. Its nice to hear all the different reasons as to why people decided to come to Poland.

So today I met everyone who is going to be in my Polish language class. There is about ten of us. Its going to be pretty intense. On Monday and Fridays I have class from 8:30am to Noon. Then on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I have class from about Noon to 5:00 pm. All but one focus on the language. I will also be taking a Polish history class!!! Below is a picture of Wawel Hill! This is what I see everyday from my classroom window! Absolutely gorgeous!

Today and the past couple of days have been quite delightful. I've explored the city some more and met some pretty cool people who are in the same program. We went to get some lunch, then went to a place called More Than a Cookie where they have delicious desserts and coffee. For 5 zloty you can get a coffee and if you bring back the same cup you can get free refills all day! I think I found my new heaven. Haha!

There is an Ikea not to far from my dorm so I plan on heading there to get some things to liven up my pretty bleak dorm room.

I'm really excited for classes to start on Monday even though there are going to be pretty intense!! Once they do I will be sure to give updates regarding my progress.

Much love.

Check out pictures on Facebook! I'll also post some more on here too!