By WorldTeach Poland volunteer Caitlin Wilkinson, 2015
Hello! My name is Caitlin and I spent the summer of 2015 teaching English in Poland! I have always wanted to be a teacher and teaching for a summer in Poland was such a unique opportunity. It was a culture and a language unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I lived in a small town outside of Krakow of about 5,000 people. I walked a mile to school and back almost every day. The community was welcoming and my host families made an effort to get to know me while we had fun trying to teach each other our languages. While my entire experience was unforgettable, there are a few unique moments I will never forget.
Poland has some pretty powerful storms. Like whipping winds, torrential downpour kind of storms, feel like the house is going to fall apart storms. I believe it was the second week of my placement and we had one of these storms at about 6 in the morning. I was only a little terrified. The storm ended up knocking out the power in my town. And unlike in most of the States, fixing power lines takes a little while but my kids were used to it. I ended up having to teach with no technology or power (including lights) that day. While it was a little stressful at first, it was also liberating. I ended teaching my kids games like duck duck goose and charades. We were able to go outside and play categories. Losing power gave me the opportunities to see things from a different perspective and forced me to think on my feet. And those are just some of the skills I learned in the classroom.
Nothing brings worlds together quite like pop culture. One game I remember having the students play was where the kids had a piece of paper that had a random phrase on it that they then had to draw on the board for their peers to guess. One of the phrases was something like Justin Bieber riding a fish. While the phrases were goofy, the kids were practice English and laughing at the same time.
One Eastern European tradition I was able to participate in was my host father’s name day. In Poland, instead of celebrating birthdays, families celebrate name days. Most Poles are named after a saint and there is a saint for each day of the year. It is a big celebration with lots of food, drink and family. My first host father had his name day while I was staying with them. Their whole family came over and it was a big celebration. This is one of my favorite memories because after dinner, we all went outside and played volleyball. Even though there was a large language barrier between me and most the family, we were still able to have fun and laugh. It made me feel like I was at home.
Another vivid experience happened during our end-of-session trip when we traveled to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains. On one of the days, we took a gondola ski lift up to the top of the mountains and hiked out to one of the peaks. It was a surreal moment and one of the coolest experiences of my time in Poland. Poland’s geography is so diverse and it was awesome to experience every part of it.