A few weeks ago, I decided on a whim, to apply for a volunteer position in an Immersion English program, called Angloville. I never knew these types of programs existed before coming across a description of the program on an international work exchange website. The thought of getting to experience a new culture (my choice was Hungary or Poland), meet local professionals, stay in a nice hotel, with nice meals in exchange for simply speaking English all day every day was definitely appealing.
Though I opted for Hungary when I applied, an opportunity came up sooner, in Poland. As I didn’t have much interest in traveling to Poland, and the travel to and from the country with hotels before and after the program was going to make the week’s ‘free’ lodging a bit expensive, I asked if I could do two weeks in a row versus just one.
There was an opportunity to do both a program near Wroclaw (a major city in Poland- and soon to be the 2016 European Capital of Culture), and then another program the next week near Warsaw. So, I booked my tickets and committed.
I had no idea what to expect.
I didn’t know much about Poland’s culture. Only it’s war torn history (through movies and books). And that they had some pretty darn good sausages.
I didn’t know anyone who had traveled to Poland for leisure, and I had never heard it talked about in my international circles of traveling friends. Even during my time volunteering with Angloville, it seemed that most people I met, had ended up in Poland because of Polish ancestry, or because they were travelers looking for free lodging/interesting work exchange opportunities.
I am so glad I took the chance to do something that, though unplanned and unexpected, was a great opportunity!
What I can say now, after finishing two weeks of 12-16 hour days filled with speaking, eating, and drinking with Polish professionals in remote locations? Just that Polish people will always hold a special place in my heart.
I have always been most drawn to cultures and countries that are warm, welcoming and who love to smile and laugh a lot. I found this in Poland.
Talk about a people who love to stay up late, drink, and be social (I decided the Polish and the Irish have a lot in common on this trip)! The Polish are hard to keep up with as they tend to often drink straight vodka (or vodka fermented with fruit or chased with fruit juice) but I gave it my best shot. I won’t say it was pretty.
My first week of Angloville, began in Wroclaw where our group met up to take the bus together to a small village called Chojnik a couple of hours away. After the first few days (and night) I was hooked. Sure, it was cold, and I lost my voice within three days of talking-tutoring 12-14 hours a day non stop. But…. it was also fun (often silly), interesting, invigorating, and beautiful.
A typical day for me during my 1st week of Angloville Poland was: wake up, walk or run the Autumn leaf covered trails through the forest near the hotel, shower, have breakfast with fellow tutors and Polish participants, meet one-on-one for 3 hours with different Polish people (sometimes we’d take a hike during our sessions), and do a group activity for 1 hour. Then lunch. Then a 1.5 hour break. Then, the same schedule as the morning, again until dinner. After dinner, we had an entertainment hour (Charades, Taboo, Scattergories, etc) where each group was a mix of Polish and English speakers, and after the entertainment hour we all meandered off into groups to play cards, play pool, sit and tell stories and drink vodka or do whatever else took our fancy.
Towards the end of the week we also took a group hike to the nearby Chojnik Castle which was one of the highlights of the week for me (photo above).
Although by the end of this first week I sounded like a cross between Steven Tyler and a throaty phone sex operator and was a walking coughing fit, I was really sad to leave. I’d met a lot of people who I genuinely wanted and arranged to stay in touch with. I even got an invitation from my Polish friend, Zbyszek (I can’t say it either-we all called him ZB) to visit another small town in Poland and participate in the horse race and forest bonfire going on there that weekend. Who could say no to that?!
I spent the weekend drinking the often proffered Naplavka (fruit infused vodka) and vodka, meeting new friends (though all conversations had to be translated through ZB) sitting fireside inside and outside, riding in a horse-drawn carriage while following horses and riders to a big horse-chases-man-wearing-foxtail-hat race near the forest, roasting sausages on sticks, and, in general, having a blast. Not to mention it was a super unique and likely never to be repeated in my lifetime experience. This is the kind of thing that only happens when you say ‘yes’ to invitation from almost-strangers……:)
After this weekend away in the forest, my second week of Angloville, that began the morning I arrived in Warsaw to catch the bus with my new group to a new remote village (a place called Dwor Zabuze near the border in Poland that is closest to Belarus), seemed like it was going to be harder than the first.
I was almost suspicious of the new group and the new location, having had such an amazing time and having made such special connections during the first week . But, by mid-week, I realized that I was going to have just as good a time the second time around even if I got a slower start due to still being very hoarse and extremely congested (the massive amount of coal they burn in Poland really does a number on asthmatic lungs that are used to cleaner air).
True to form, the rest of my second week at Angloville went much like the first. Jam packed days full of never ending conversations (all interesting!) ending with all of us every night, post-dinner, in an exhausted state (Polish and English speakers alike) and ready to have a few drinks.
I left the second week’s Angloville program with a heavy heart, as did the rest of my volunteer group.
Though I’ve now left Poland, I’d like to say ‘Poland, I will miss you’.
And by this, I mean I will miss the wonderful Polish people and other travelers that I met and spent so much time with these past two weeks. Being an English Immersion program volunteer is my new favorite pastime in Europe!