Polish Studies Scholarship—winter semester 2016/2017 at Jagiellonian University in Kraków
Before I left for my semester long study abroad in Kraków, Poland, I kept trying to imagine how living in Kraków would really be like—how different it would be than seeing the city in photos or video clips. As my departure got closer, trying to predict what it would be like when I stepped off the plane was only natural, but trying to guess at a place I had never been before didn’t prepare me for the completely new environment of living in a foreign country. However, after a few days of adjusting to the new time zone, and unfounded panic about leaving the apartment to go for groceries (‘what if I suddenly forget all the Polish I’ve learned and make a fool of myself!?’) I adjusted very quickly and started to stress less and have more fun.
Of course, one of the biggest elements of my trip was how I would take the best advantage of the immersive environment to improve my language skills. Unfortunately for my language progress, my roommates were not Polish, but from Italy. Yet I still got the chance to visit with some neighbors and take the bus to Lublin to see a Polish friend for the weekend. This isn’t to mention all the everyday conversations that inevitably took place. At first they often took me by surprise (is that how you say “do you want a plastic bag?” in Polish?), but these repeated scenarios were easy to pick up on, and even strengthened my confidence.
At the beginning of my trip, I was starting to feel some frustration about my learning progress. Initial learning had felt quick, but now I was at a place where simple vocabulary memorization and grammar drills bored me, yet didn’t know if I was ready to read more complicated things, or follow the plots of films without subtitles. A little while later, I passed a bookstore and picked up some copies of a few novels I had read as a teenager—that I didn’t even know were translated into Polish. Some parts read easier than others, but once I actually started reading I realized how exciting it was that I could read more than I thought I could.
Travel, both in Kraków and around Poland, was what I had looked forward to the most. The international student office at Jagiellonian University organized many trips for students, and joining in on a few was a great way to make friends. One of most enjoyable was to Zakopane in early October when the weather was still warm. We went hiking, then had dinner while getting to hear a traditional folk band. In addition to travel with other students, I did a lot of exploring and visiting other cities on my own. I was a little startled when other students acted as though this didn’t sound like much fun. Certainly traveling with friends was amazing, but going out on my own meant that I could chose the cities I visited, where I went, and how long I was there. I spent a weekend in Łódź, then went to Warsaw for Christmas vacation. It was interesting to get to compare the three largest cities in Poland, which were each as unique as the next. Initially, I had planned to visit Gdansk as well in December, but later realized that cutting short my visit in Warsaw would make the experience seem more rushed than I liked—and I already knew that I wanted to come back to Poland to visit again in the future.