Poland special: Wrocław highlights and language barrier issues

I understand I am in France now, and I was last in Israel but I am still catching up on blogging about Poland!

Despite calling mysef a linguist, I found it particuarly difficult to grasp the Polish language during the 3 weeks that I was there. I specialise in Romance languages, not Slavonic. And the sounds and letters that Polish use are completely alien to me. I did try, but I didn’t get very far.

It’s a beautiful language, very softly spoken, but the way that it is written down sounds absolutely NOTHING like how it is pronounced. This made reading from a phrase-book all the more challenging as I had no idea how on earth you were supposed to pronounce the words! The Polish people I met are very aware of this and are understanding that it is indeed a challenging language, but of course, trying outsaying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in Polish can go a long way.

Before I even arrived I had this issue. I was flying to, and spending several days in the city of ‘Wrocław.’ I, along with many other English-speaking people would pronounce this as, well, ‘Wroclaw.’ But, no, no… it isn’t that simple. In fact, ‘Wroclaw’ is pronounced something like ‘Vhrats-wahv.’ It feels quite good now to not be ignorant and actually be able to pronounce it correctly when I am talking about it.

Wrocław on the map

Despite Wrocław being a bit of a pain to pronounce at first, it is in fact a beautiful city. Situated in the SW of Poland, it’s one of the warmest cities in the country! It’s Rynek (market square) and Town Hall are absolutely stunning. Each building is unique and has it’s own style, colour and design. You can just sit there and admire them for hours. I wish I had spent more time here and would not say no to returning in the future.

Market Square

Market Square

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My favourite place though was Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island), one of the oldest parts of the city. Standing on Piaskowy Bridge (Sand Bridge), looking over at the cathedral with its two towers in the distance beyond the water, was simply stunning. Yet, I don’t think that the picture gives it justice.

View from Sand Bridge

View from Sand Bridge

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Another charming cultural factor about this city is that it has been infiltrated by gnomes (seriously!). There are hundreds of them all over the city, many businesses have their own outside shops too. They are everywhere, but you probably won’t spot them unless you are looking for them. You can even go ‘gnome spotting’ around the city. Although this is all fun and games, they are actually iconic as symbols of Wrocław, because they have a direct link to the political situation of the 1980s. Under communism, the ‘Orange Alternative’ movement (an underground protest movement) used ‘gnomes’ as an excuse to stage absurd, crazy, yet peaceful protests.

Gnomes!

Gnomes!

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I had never heard of Wrocław before I signed up for a week of voluntary teaching nearby, but it is definately a city that you must visit if you are going to Poland. It can easily be overlooked because many people just go to Kraków as that is where all the tourists go. Still, the UK has direct flights there and Poland’s public transport system is well-connected with coaches and trains around the country that are very cheap, so you don’t have much of an excuse. A 5 hour journey only cost me £7 to get from Wrocław-Warsaw and then another from Warsaw-Kraków (this is complete with free wifi, air-con and on one journey, I was even given a free packed-lunch! National Express needs to sort its life out…)

Kocham Polskę (I love Poland)!

Have you visited anywhere in Poland, what did you think and how did you find the language? 

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August Update and My Summer Highlights

It’s been over a month since my last blog post and so much has happened. I see my ‘Year Abroad countdown’ and it now says it is only ‘4 days’ and not ‘1 month!’

I have had the privilege of touring two beautiful countries this summer: Poland for 3 weeks and Israel over 10 days. I would like to share here a few highlights of this incredible, whirlwind summer of living out of my suitcase.

1. Angloville, Poland :

I worked as an English Participant for one week on an ‘Angloville Junior programme’, essentially an English summer immersion programme for Polish teenagers, 11-18. 20-26 July (Chojnik Hotel in Karkonoskie Mountains).

It was an incredible experience for so many reasons; if you are interested in teaching English, experiencing Polish culture and meeting people from all over the world then it is definately worth applying. I found the programme advertised on my university job vacancies website and Angloville provide full-board accommodation, transportation to and from the venue and activities during the week. All you need to do is speak speak speak as much English as is physically possible without losing your voice (although that did happen to one participant!) in order to help the Polish participants benefit from the experience.

Over the course of the programme you get to know everyone well. What I really enjoyed was just how much the Polish participants grew in confidence and English-speaking ability over such a short period of time. It felt wonderful to have contributed to this, but even more so because they were aware of their improvements themselves and knew they had achieved something incredible.

I am considering going into teaching after I graduate. So, taking part in volunteering programmes such as this as well as my Outreach Work at university has affirmed that this is definately something I enjoy and should perhaps persue further down the line.

2. Kraków, Poland

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Krakow Rynek

This was the most beautiful city in Poland that I visited but also the most touristy. I would recommend Wroclaw for somewhere just as beautiful, smaller and less of a tourist-trap.

Wroclaw

Wroclaw Rynek

Unlike Warsaw, Krakow’s ‘Rynek’ or market square is completely original and has stayed intact despite WWII; many of the buildings date back to the 13th century. As the ground level has risen since then due to lots of road resurfacing over the centuries, the original buildings have become cosy basement bars and restaurants.  I stayed a week in this city and I am so glad I did. Many people I met only visited for 2 or 3 days and could only do the ‘major’ sites. Spending 7 days there, I can comfortably say I got do to everything I wanted without rushing things.

The highlight for me was the ‘Miners’ Route‘ of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a 20-minute train ride from Kraków and about 30p on a student ticket! We had to dress up in miners’ clothing and explore parts of the mine that were not open on the Tourist Route, complete with helmet and headlamp. It was a 3 hour tour, about £7 and there were only 3 of us in the English group! We were able to ask lots of questions and be actively involved in the experience. We even took home a free souvenir of salt rock that we chiseled away ourselves and received a certificate of participation (who wouldn’t want that?!)

I also visited Auschwitz-Birkenhau, one of the main reasons for wanting to visit Kraków, which was a very harrowing experience but still very important. There are many museums, cathedrals, Free Walking Tours, Orchestral Concerts, great restaurants and bars in the heart of the Rynek at very very reasonably priced and the Planty park which is beautiful to walk in.

If you visit Kraków, don’t just go to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines, there is so much to see and do in this beautiful and historic city.

3. Birthright Israel – Taglit

Masada at sunrise

Okay, so what do I say about Birthright? I don’t think any adjective in the English dictionary can express such an incredible experience. I only returned from Israel yesterday but I am feeling serious post-Birthright blues, planning my next Israel adventure and I cannot part from wearing my group t-shirt just yet. But I don’t think I can manage to look at another pot of hummus, bag of falafel or a bagel again anytime soon.

If you are eligible to take part, DO IT. I cannot stress this enough and I can honestly say that this is one of the best things I have ever done. I went on a UJIA Israel Experience, Movement for Reform Judaism trip with 30 other young people aged 20-26 from the UK and Israel. I must say, what makes any experience amazing is due to the great people you share it with. I was so lucky to be able to share this gift of a lifetime with genuinely nice people.

We were able to have fun on nights out in Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, messing about on a water hike and kayaking, but then on a different note we were not afraid to speak our minds and share our inner thoughts or fears and burst into tears at Yad Vashem or during a tense group discussion. I am feeling truly thankful for such an incredible Israel experience and I have come back with a better understanding of my identity, my connection with Israel and have made good friends I hope to stay in contact with for many years to come. MRJBus551 ❤

The Dead Sea (the salts sting so much!)

The Dead Sea (the salts sting so much!)

View of Old Jerusalem

View of Old Jerusalem

Summer 2014, wow, you have been amazing. And now, I need to pack my suitcase again, as I am moving to France on Tuesday to start my Year Abroad!

What amazing things did you get up to this summer?

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Preparing for Israel, exam results and stuff

This afternoon I went to a pre-orientation event for my upcoming trip to Israel with Birthright (in 4 weeks and 1 day). It was great to meet a few people who I will be travelling with. Since I signed up in February, I didn’t know anyone going, so it’s good to know who I will be experiencing this amazing opportunity with. I couldn’t be more excited to travel this summer – it is all now very close and very real.

The major topic for the day was safety and security during the trip. With Israel being a hot topic in the news at present with the current crisis, it is reassuring to know that safety is the utmost-priority and that there are many security measures in place.

The meeting gave a good flavour of what to expect on the trip:

1. There was good food – this is important!

2. It was open-minded: we had an informal discussion about our views. It was a very open space, it was also good to be able to express your ideas or views without judgement.

3. It was educational: we made an intention to decide what we want to get out of this this trip. I feel that visiting the country will educate me in ways I haven’t been able to understand before.

On the trip we will be encouraged to learn about and connect with our faith, our fellow participants and Israeli people.

In other exciting news, I got a 2:1 in my exam results for my 2nd year at uni (!!!!!). This means I passed, and can now officially proceed to the Year Abroad. I feel SO relieved right now and I could not be happier 🙂

Off to Poland this Friday. I will blog about what I am up to when I arrive 🙂

Until then 🙂

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Teaching, travel and bye bye Sheffield

I finished my two-week placement assisting the Languages Department at King Edward VII’s School yesterday. It was a really rewarding and eye-opening experience as I am considering teaching as a profession after my degree. Being mistaken for a 12-year old Year 7, or sometimes a Year 10, became a daily occurrence over the last two weeks; I guess I should take it as a compliment that so many people believe I look 8 years younger than I actually am! Although, many students thought I was Spanish and I had to let them down saying I was actually English, so that’s a plus.

This weekend I am moving out of my student house here in Sheffield at last. Lots of cleaning and hoovering happening right now.

I am also lucky enough to have already started sorting out accommodation for my Year Abroad in Perpignan and Salamanca too. I am in the process of writing lots of complicated emails in French and Spanish asking about contracts, bank accounts etc. and pretending to keep my cool like I know what I am doing, as the system in the UK is different. It’s quite a lot to take in, however the realisation that I am flying out there in two months is now starting to sink in!

As I have previously mentioned, I will be spending 3 weeks in Poland next month. I have decided to visit Warsaw for 3 days between my time in Wroclaw and Krakow. So now, I intend to be seeing quite a bit of the country during my time there 🙂

Also going down to London in 2 weeks for my pre-orientation day for my trip to Israel with Birthright. I received a very packed itinerary by email the other day. It includes: hiking, volunteer work, visiting a kibbutz, camel rides, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Shabbat meals, Yad Vashem, the Dead Sea and so much more. I am so privileged to have been given this opportunity 🙂

Whilst I had my car here in Sheffield over the last few weeks, I tried to make the most of it and went to visit Chatsworth House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. It was stunning,especially the gardens and I would recommend going there during the good weather! Here are a few photos:

Chatsworth House 10435987_10154269524620447_2882723258579345398_n 10437434_10154269534945447_1420540098890614534_n 10447055_10154269532795447_8552221636307104233_n 10471000_10154269535445447_3567549389621628653_n

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¿Qué pasa este verano?

I finished my university exams last week and now I can enjoy summer! It’s without a doubt a really busy few months ahead, so I thought I’d share with you what I am getting up to.

Today I started a two-week Teaching Assistant placement at King Edward VII’s school in Sheffield; this is an extension of my Student Mentoring job that I did during this academic year with the Us in Schools Mentoring Scheme at The University of Sheffield at a 6th form college in Rotherham. I am mostly based at the Lower Site where I will be working with Year 7-9s in the Languages Department. Today went well, I even taught a Spanish class which I was definately not expecting. So far it has been a great opportunity and I am grateful for my time as a Student Mentor and as a Languages Ambassador this year which has helped me establish confidence in the classroom. It can be difficult to gain authority as well, especially when the students ask if you’re in Year 10 doing your GCSEs, when in fact, you have just completed your second year of university and are closer to your twenties than your teens. Oh, and when you’re also smaller than all the Year 7s when walking past in the corridor!

In July, I will be working at several Open Days at The University of Sheffield for prospective students.
I am going to Poland for three weeks during July-August. For the first week I will be going to the city of Wrocław (which happens to be pronounced very different to the spelling!) on a volunteering programme to teach English to Polish teens in the countryside. Then, I am going to visit another city for 3 days (maybe Warsaw) before spending my final week in Kraków. I intend to visit all the cultural sites and go to Auschwitz, somewhere I have always wanted to visit. I have never been to Poland before and I don’t speak any Polish. I am sure I will get by with English but as a linguist, I feel truely abhorred by not being able to speak the language of the country I am visiting, so I am hoping to learn a bit before I go. If not, I can always speak to them in French/Spanish/Portuguese to show them I at least try with other European languages (oh dear!).

For the final stretch of my summer holidays, I am travelling to Israel for ten days in August. I have been warned that I am going to roast alive; I can barely cope with the 20°C in Sheffield right now, so I don’t have how I will manage there! I am going on a Birthright Israel-Taglit trip, which is something you may, or may not, have heard about before. Birthright can be briefly described as a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, aged 18–26. Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery. During their trip, participants, most of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, are encouraged to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture. As a young Jewish person who has never been to Israel, I am eligible to go on the trip so I am taking part in this great opportunity. I don’t feel very connected to Israel in my Jewish identity, so I think that going there and learning more about it’s history and culture and meeting similar people in my position will be worthwhile.

And then…..it’s off to Perpignan sometime after that! But for now, I have plenty to do between preparing for my Year Abroad in September. I will be visiting two countries I have never visited before and will hopefully meet loads of diverse people and make many new memories 🙂

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