Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: First Day of Classes...

So i was planning on continuing to write about my adventures from the first three weeks, but i cant help but quickly write about my first day of classes here at Opole University. There have only been a few moment when i've stopped and actually thought, "Oh God Leah, what are you doing in Poland??!!" And i will say that this morning was one of those moments. First, let me give you an idea of the fashion here in Poland....two words...Runway Model. I'm not even kidding, they value appearance very highly and dressing for class is something to be carefully considered. Now....for all the readers out there...you know how i dress, and it doesnt come anywhere near the beautiful European styles. BUT, Leah thought that this would be a great opportunity to not only practice Polish language, but Polish style as well, meaning: heels. Not just ordinary heels, the very fashionable high boot (that comes to your knee) with the heel that resemebles a surgical needle. So last night, my roommate, Agata (who is great and speaks english well) and I took the bus to the mall where i would get my first lesson in European fashion 101. (this class is not for the fashionably handicapped such as myself). The first thing i learned was that i wear a shoe size somewhere between 39 and 40, quite a ways from my usual 8 1/2. After some time, and trying on numerous styles and sizes of boots, we finally found a pair that i liked, and miraculously i was able to zip them over my leg which is another thing i learned: not only do the heels on the shoes resemble surgical needles, but also the ordinary female leg is the size of my wrist (maybe i exaggerate, but seirously). I was so excited to finally have a nice pair of boots that we decided to do a bit more shopping, where i bought a great sweater to match, i wasnt about to touch the European pant sizes, my American digit is already high enough, i didnt need a number in the 30s or 40s to make me feel anymore out of place. This brings us to the story of the first day of classes...
I was told that i would only have two classes on Tuesday: Contemporary International Terrorism and Religion in International Relations, both in the same building which was very close to my dorm. I was pumped, two great classes on subjects that facinate me! I woke up extra early to get ready for class, showered, did my hair, and put on my new sweater and fantastic European boots which looked great with the brown leather purse my sister had bought me in a generous last attempt to sharpen my image before leaving the States, i was more than ready! Or so i thought...
Now, i must interject for a brief note. When one has never worn heels of such style, one should:
A. practice walking in them for apporoximatly 1 to 2 hours prior to making any important appearances.
B. practice walking in them on ANY OTHER surface besides snow...

I left the dorm, my confidence increasing with every click of the heel. Opole University, here comes the foreigner!! Just as i rounded the corner of the building, i suddenly lost the smooth strut as my boots slid on the icy snow, and before i knew what was happening, i was on the ground...as the girl that was walking right behind me just walked around the foreign mess lying on the ground. I couldnt help but laugh...Leah, your an idiot, but its okay, there werent too many people around. I quickly get up, dust off the snow, and try to pull my confidence out of the snow where it also fell in a dirty messy pile. I try to pull off the "i've been going to Opole for years and know exactly what i'm doing" look, and start to feel okay when i approach the front of the building. There were students congregating near the doors, waiting for classes to start, and was about to go introduce myself, when...yes...once again, i lost my footing on the slippery snow and ended up on the ground. This time, i was sure that everyone saw. "hehe ohh look at the foreigner who is trying to walk in Polish boots, silly girl" Nobody said anything, i'm not sure if they even cared, it may happen all the time (it HAS too with EVERYONE wearing heels!) So again, i pulled myself together, left what remained of my confidence in the snow, and headed straight for the class. Upon entering the class, i introduced myself to the professor only to be greeted with a hand shake and head nod. Oh no...was i in the right class? She knows i dont speak any Polish right??? The class begins, and as i had feared, absolutely every part of it was in Polish...i must have had the stupidest look on my face, most likely like a dear caught in the headlights. After class, i approached her and polietly asked if any of the class was going to be in English, and suprisingly, she spoke a decent amount of English and informed me that No, the lectures were going to be taught in Polish, but all the texts were in English. She suggested that if i would come to the lectures, then i would learn how to speak Polish....(a almost laughed, but realized she wasnt joking). I left the class feeling a bit defeated... it was definatly one of those moments when i asked myself What the Heck i was doing in Poland. My next class was in 2 hours, and i was determined to make it a better experience, with no trips to the polish snow mush. Luckily, when the time came, i made it to my next class. Again, i introduced myself to the professor and this time, i was warmly greeted with English and an excited smile. She was very welcoming and excited to have me in her class. To begin the class, she introduced me to the class as "The New American Student", and i said a few words about where i came from and what i'm doing in Opole. A class full of smiles and wide eyes resounded their welcome back. The professor instructed the students that she would be conducting 95% of the class in English and to expect things to be a bit more difficult now that they had a native speaker present. She was very nice, and after class i spoke with her and thanked her for everything. After the class, i got to speak with most of the students, they were all very curious to know why i had come to Poland. "Were you hired by the university to help us with English?" After some talk, and giggles at my attempts to show them the Polish i have learned, we all left on good terms. I'm very optimisitic about this class. On my way back to the dorm, i saw my confidence sitting were i had left it, looking pitiful, so i gave it a hand, dusted off the dirty snow, and together we went to get lunch.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Incredible First 3 Weeks- Part One: The Landing

Like I said in my previous post, I'm not very good at this blogging thing, hence the long delay in an update. Although, the craziness that i've come to learn is Poland, hasnt helped my chances at getting to a computer long enough to write. But HARK! I finally have time to write! Ohhh where to start, where to start!? As you've all assumed, I did arrive safely in Poland but not without a small taste of what i would soon find out was the 'usual', the 'everyday', and the 'what should be expected' (or not expected in my case). The flight from JFK to Gatwick, England was flawless. I sat beside a girl that was also studying abroad in Spain, so we had much to talk about, and i had someone to talk during the long flight. The plane from Gatwick to Poland was on time and before i knew it, i was on my way to the beautiful city of Krakow....or so i thought..... Beginning to feel the effects of jet-lag, i doze in and out of conciousness, until i heard the cracky sound of the plane intercom kick on followed by a language that sounded as if someone was desperatly trying to speak with a mouth full of chewed saltines. Lucky for me, English soon followed, although the news wasnt promising. "We are experiencing severe fog coverage of the Krakow airport, we will be circling the runway for approximatly 15 minutes to allow the fog to clear, thank you for your patience." Around this time i fell back asleep, waking upon the shaky impact of landing. Finally I was in Krakow! A place i've only read about in guide books and tourist pamphlets, a beautiful city that is highlighted in every book on European countries, a hotspot for European travelers, and I was finally here....if only it were that easy. Upon landing, again the intercom cracks and the same speedy voice airs over the seats of the plane. I was imagining what he was say, " Welcome to Krakow, enjoy your stay in this medieval city and be sure to try the peirogies, again thank you for flying British Airways." Instead, the same voice, now in English informes us of just the opposite. Apparently while i was asleep, the fog never cleared from the airport. Due to the circumstances, they closed the airport and redirected all flights to Warsaw. Warsaw! The capital of Poland. Although in any other time, this would have been okay, but there were a few things that did not make this an enjoyable situation. Let me explain:

#1- I have a friend that lives in Krakow, Jon, who was also flying to Krakow the same day i was from JFK, on an earlier flight, and the plans were to meet at the airport. Keep in mind that i do not have a cell phone.
#2- I was becoming slightly delusional at this time, the amount of travel and time difference of 6 hours was beginning to take its toll.
#3- Warsaw is in NORTHERN Poland, Krakow-very much SOUTH.

Before leaving the plane, we were told to retrieve our luggage and make our way outside, the airline had arranged for "surface transportation" back to the Krakow airport. This, i came to find out, would be a 7 hour bus ride...i should've known, i reallllly should have known. "Okay Leah, pull yourself out of this coma, get to a pay phone and let Jon know whats going on".... again, not so easy, the payphones were beyond my understanding and the crowd was hurrying outside to wait for the buses. Once i joined the crowd outside, i noticed a large group of young people being instructed by 3 adults, they seemed to be part of a tour group, and upon noticing one of the ladies using a cell phone, i decided to ask if i could quickly use it to phone my friend in Krakow. It turns out, that the lady was very friendly and more than willing to help, AND she spoke English. The group was a history class from a prestigious girls school in London. They were traveling to Krakow to do a weekend World War 2 tour. On of the lady's was their tour guide, an expert in European history, specializing in WW2. When they heard that this was my first time in Europe, and already things were a little hectic, they took me under their wing and i offically became part of their group. I got ahold of Jon, and it turns out that his flight was also redirected so he was also on his way to Krakow, so i spent the next 7 hours talking with the tour guide lady and somewhat sleeping. The ride wasnt so bad, but about 6 hours into the trip everyone was pretty irritated. Finally, we arrived at the airport, along with other buses that have been shipping people all day, so the result was many people scattering everywhere at once. After hours of traveling i finally am able to find Jon in the airport, along with his aunt who greeted me with a warm smile. And just like that, we were on the move again, this time catching a van to the nearest train station. Wanting to catch the next train, we were all running through the station with months of luggage on our backs and in our hand. Jon had the pleasure of wheeling my 60 pound bag everywhere along with his hiking pack that was the size of me. We made it just in time to jump on the train (almost literally), but we werent heading into the city, no no no, we were on a 3 hour train ride to a small village outside the town of Rzeszow, east of Krakow. At this point, i couldnt remember what day it was, what hour, or even where i was, or who i was for that matter, all i knew was sleep...so i slept. Im one of those people who can sleep anywhere, car, train, bus, van, boat, parking lot, park bench... anywhere, so falling asleep wasnt a problem. We met Jon's uncle at the train station and the four of us drove into their village very late, or early, im not sure. It was a beautiful house with mostly wooden interior which looked great with the abundance of plants that they kept inside throughout the year. Shortly after arriving, Jon and i were served my first authentic Polish meal: soup and peirogies! and they were absolutely amazing. I dont think i can ever eat frozen, boxed peirogies from Wal-Mart ever again. After dinner was finished, and our eyes wouldnt stay opened, we all finally slept. It was my first day, night, and meal in Poland, and as my friend Jon often says.... "ah yes, This Is Poland."