Monday, July 30, 2007
Thought of the day: “Through experience we gain perspective, respect, and knowledge of those around us.”
After a weekend retreat to Krakow, it felt good to wake up in my own bed here in Reymontowka. The students were often on my mind and it was quite comforting to know that they would still be here and I would see them again. Half of our team has gone home and back to their lives. As we start our day, I expect each and every one of them to walk through the dining room door, but know that is not going to happen. Instead, new faces come into the room. The team dynamics have changed and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn about our new members and hear their ideas.
After breakfast, we discussed today’s itinerary. We will be going on a field trip to Warsaw for a movie and visiting a zoo. What a refreshing change for both the kids and the teachers. It will be interesting to see them in a different environment.
The day seemed to disappear quite quickly. Before you know it, we were once again on the bus headed back to Reymontowka. Everyone seemed to have a good time and many napped on the ride home. It had rained off and on all afternoon. As we pulled into Reymontowka, the appearance of a double rainbow really completed the day. Truly, we had found our pot of gold!
The common topic of discussion throughout the week is the thought of not leaving. We would of course have to bring our families here, but that is just a minor technicality! It has continued to be a wonderful experience and we have formed bonds with all here at the manor. The kids have taught us so much about ourselves - we will forever be changed. I hope the students will remember what it was like to be here and that somehow we have added value to their lives.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
Friday, July 27th
"May you confront every challenge with courage and confidence."
One cannot properly convey the multitude of experiences and attitudes present during this past week, though, perhaps, doing so will become somewhat easier as we will be losing some team members today, or at least our time as a team here in Poland has come to an end. Recognition of this fact came much earlier than today, however, as we sat last night realizing that tomorrow morning would be our last meal together. Journals always tend to wax nostalgic, but I feel that for many, this was, indeed, an abrupt realization. We awoke to our usual breakfast of Polish champions, as we are always treated to, and then rushed off to our respective classes. While we, technically, have four 45 minutes lessons per morning, this one was cut short by our own volunteer presentations taking place over the last two periods. We had the first two sessions with the students before they were free for the weekend. Some engaged in the very popular round of varied sports (kickball has lately come into the mix), others played animals or went shopping, and I had a rather unsuccessful bout of Word Yahtzee with my teenagers before giving it all over to watching some video of them dancing the previous night and talking a bit about that. It is amazing to hear about the varied approaches to the students and their incredibly varied responses. Some are more than eager to learn, while others have a different idea of being at camp and one that does not entirely rest in the sole desire to learn English. Oh well…that is expected, I suppose. As my students said, they were just here to get away from their parents!
After our lessons, we all shuffled into the big white tent as Dorota tried to gain the attention of 60 kids for staff presentations. I was up first, which was nice for me as I had less time to wonder what on earth I would say about myself up there. I seemed to have more of an ability for blathering about myself than I initially gave myself credit for and told some likely unimpressive details of my life in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was only when Dorota suggested that I show the class some karate that I rustled up some enthusiasm and all of the students quickly joined me in showing off their best karate punches and kicks. I may just have to use this for a lesson. I have already had a request to teach another class, so perhaps karate will be on the menu for the following week. At any rate, I hope the kids enjoyed hearing about us…or at least as much as we do about them. In the end, though, we are pretty much the same.
Jennifer followed my presentations and the kids were absolutely enthralled with the idea of her talking parakeet while Ann shared how much her kids loved popsicles (among many other great notes of which my incapacitated memory does not allow me to recall). The rest of the group continued on while Ann, Jennifer, and I all ate an early lunch and figured out how we were to get to Krakow that afternoon. Dorota dropped us off at the little Kotun railway station which was just a short jaunt away and we hopped on our train while Dorota waved us goodbye (packed dinners in hand). We were to head to Warsaw and then switch trains. I was just dying to have some time to wander aimlessly through the streets of Krakow.
Journals are always hampered by different events which are not experienced by everyone, so I can only rely on Judy’s account of the emotional nature of our fellow volunteers who were treated to (or what sounded to be) a wonderful send off by the students (rumor has it some tears were involved…or, if they were not shown, they surely recessed to form a pool of sentiment within everyone). Many have grown rather fond of their students and when anyone asks if you can make a difference in a week, I think they have showed that it is most certainly possible. It is all what you make of it, I suppose. What do people really mean when they say that, anyway? Perhaps I should ask myself the same question!
Our life on the Polish transit system was a breeze…old pros we are (okay, okay, Dorota walked us through the entire thing, but we did arrive just safe and sound). After about five hours, we made it to Krakow and headed to our hostel, the Globtrotter, which has found some previous success with other volunteers. What a beautiful city it is and writing about it in this journal does it little, if any, justice. I will have to leave this one in my memory. But, sipping a coffee in the largest square in Europe, under the lights and around allof the bustle, is not a bad way to start the weekend, nor to end a week of rather intense teaching. I am sure that those who are departing do so with some sadness, but that is likely the best proof that theirs was a wonderful experience. We all have our different challenges, but in the end, I am sure this will be something we will all certainly remember fondly. Just come ready to be overwhelmed, if you are anything like me.
Friday, July 27, 2007
“Follow your genius close enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.” -Henry David Thoreau
Today began for Tom and I a little later than for the rest of the group due to an “alarm clock malfunction.” We maintain this has to do with the different voltages that apply to our electronic devices but are still investigating whether or not human error may have played a factor. We are also exploring the possibility that this same “malfunction” may have affected the previous day’s journal. Inasmuch, we were not able to ease into the day.
Today’s ‘Breakfast Special’ consisted of jam-filled crepes with an optional whipped cream topping, in addition to our already ample “normal” breakfast. I must say I enjoy the variety. While we were all finishing our cups of kava or herbatta, we discussed the games to be played this evening with the kids as part of “American Night.” It was decided that a three-legged race, “Quarter-Between-Your-Knees,” Human Wheelbarrow Race, and a “Spoon-On-Your- Nose” race would be the activities. Of course, it was necessary for everyone to practice balancing a spoon on their nose -Ellen is the pro amongst us.
Classes this morning began without a hitch. Jennifer and Ann combined forces for their classes to mix kickball and Dr. Seuss into their curriculum. Ellen, with her group of athletes, crushed Erik’s group 16-1 in a game of football (soccer), although Erik does not remember his team scoring at all. Tom taught his kids how to play knockout basketball while Didi and her kids used body English to identify the names, sounds, and body parts of different animals. Lindsey tried kickball with her students but after discovering they were simply “too cool” for it, returned with them to her table to engage in discussion about plans for an imaginary discotheque. Judy spent her classes teaching all the terms the kids would need to know to survive in any convenience store. For my part, I helped my students draft a chart of different emotions and later began the game of human knots- Twister. I think at this point we are all starting to figure out activities that are both educational yet enjoyable- the challenge for any teacher.
After yet another sumptuous traditional meal for lunch, we piled into a mini-bus for an afternoon of local sightseeing. The first stop was the outdoor architecture museum where we viewed a house that has stood since 1743. Obviously, there had been renovations to keep it standing but the original essence had been graciously maintained. Also on the grounds we went inside an old windmill and viewed many structures built to reflect the architecture of an earlier, simpler time. We finished our tour by viewing the ruins of an old castle replete with an armory featuring everything from archaic swords to WWII artillery, then sitting next to a river to take in some sun and snacks.
After a short break and dinner, our evening activities commenced. America Night went smoothly as the kids ran three-legged, two-armed, cross-kneed and cross-eyed all over the fields. The enthusiasm in their eyes let us know that our games were well-received.
After the field games the kids had a disco party that we were invited to. One thing I am absolutely amazed by is how well kids dance here! They were spinning on the floor, doing hand-stands and just overall impressive. Didi, Ellen, Lynsi and I tried to join in but just could keep up.
I don’t want to leave. This week is has been filled with so many conversations, Polish and English (and Russian, see: Erik) that leaving feels premature. The enthusiasm displayed by the team, kids, and staff each day energizes you to give nothing less than you’re all. In addition, the rapid cultural immersion that has taken place has left us all feeling as though we are amongst old friends and family. Albeit short (for some of us), this program has been a success.
Niech Zyje Polska! (May Poland Live!)
Thought of the Day (Tom): “To Know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.” – Anatole France
Wednesday??? It is really only Wednesday!? As we pass over the hump of the week, the day began early in the morning watching one of my students and another camper take a late night jog with his friend. The boys have lots of energy and needed a stroll around the scenic grounds of Reymontowka to be ready for bed.
Breakfast begins with a baked egg dish that is a mix between an omelet and a quiche. We all eagerly finish eating and prepare for the lessons of the day. We made accommodations for the gloomy weather and chillier summer temperature as many of our classrooms are outdoors for the most part. Everyone is feeling more and more comfortable as the days pass. Today we only need to prepare for three sessions as the fourth session will be dancing. The students have been practicing their dance moves every day after lunch and bust a move to YMCA, the Electric slide and Cotton-Eyed Joe several times. Cotton-Eyed Joe is the crowd favorite and some campers were not satisfied with hearing it three. Several campers needed to borrow the CD with the songs for listening in their free time.
Lunch conversation is lively despite the rainy weather. We discuss the pluses and minuses of brussel sprouts as a few volunteers consume the food of many childhood nightmares. We are told that our host Marek has arranged a horse and carriage ride for the volunteers to see Poland at a relaxed pace. Eric opted for a nap and I opted to decompress and catch up with what is happening with friends at home.
Our group has truly bonded with the counselors. After a short break in the action for Erik and me, we join the counselors on the back patio for a game of cards. It was probably the slowest game I have ever played but easily the most enjoyable. The game needed to be explained in English to Erik and to several of the counselors.
Marek treats the other volunteers to a bumpy horse and carriage ride through the nearby countryside. They came back with a renewed energy that crossed over in to a lively dinner conversation about the following night’s America (U.S.A.) night. Various activities were proposed and we opted to plan a night of events including a wheel barrow race and 3-legged race. A break was taken during dinner for the celebration of the name day of one of the campers named Chris. In Poland, they celebrate both the day of one’s birth as well as celebrating the day of their namesake. We attempted to sing the Polish version of happy birthday and then shared our version. The Polish song was a song in the hope that he lives another 100 years. The excitement of the kids singing and celebrating their newly made friends was yet another sign of the impact this camp setting has on the campers. I have watched both my students and other campers come together to learn and have fun as a group despite their different preferences of activities.
The night activities kicked off with a lip sync presentation that three brave volunteers lent their unique talents. The campers and counselors did rousing lip sync routines that included streamers, outfits and dance moves. The camp counselors joined in on the fun in a song that was a mix of modern dance beats and polka for a unique and enjoyable hybrid. This was followed by a disco in main tent. The camp counselors watch on in hopes that the evening’s activities ensure a relaxing night.
The rest of the night was spent by volunteers enjoying the brisk weather amongst the camp counselors. The campers appear to be tiring out a little bit and they are able to enjoy a rousing conversation in a variety of languages.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this journal was finished on Thursday after teaching. My roommate and I got an extra hour of sleep due to an alarm clock malfunction. I was prepared to wake up early and finish my entry but much like the rest of the week, time seemed to escape us. It will be very hard for everyone to leave. In a very short time, we have made friends and shared experiences with the campers that will stay with us forever.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
For me, today’s story began late last night; or early this morning, depending on your point of view. We had received an invitation to spend some time with the camp counselors. A group of us stayed up late last night to take up their hospitality. While we waited on the back porch a cat and her kitten kept us company. The kitten mewed so loudly that the entire forest seemed utterly silent in comparison. After some effort we were able to pet the kitten and reunite mother and daughter. Tom brought his laptop out to play background music. While we were selecting tunes he noticed a wireless network for the first time. We tried the usual passwords and tried to guess what they might be in Polish to no avail. While I knew there were plans to bring the Internet to Reymontowka, the revelation of how this foreshadowed the rest of my day had to wait. When the counselors arrived they were keen to share colorful metaphors. Ostensibly this was to prepare us for when the students might say something inappropriate, however in practice it helped pass the time better.
A few of us were zombies during breakfast, though I managed to avoid infection. A couple cups of kava and I was set. We spoke of how the previous lessons had gone and were planning the ones yet to come. Soon it was time to get down to business. One of my students challenged Tom’s group to a friendly game of soccer. My Giants were doing extremely well in the early part of the game, taking the first two scores. A young girl, Gabby, from Tom’s team scraped her knee. We lost all girls from the field as she went off to get bandaged. Upon Gabby’s return to the field she performed as a virtual Joan of Arc, rallying her team and outmaneuvering her considerably larger opponents for the rest of the game. Perhaps it was Gabby’s return and my lamentable performance as goalie that caused the Giants to fall. Though as with all good games, everyone had fun. My students enjoyed discussion points from the book “Talk Your Head Off” for the second period. When Dorota’s laptop was set down on the table to gain access to the Internet my priorities changed. We were experiencing the usual teething issues and so my efforts were spent in that direction. Soon the wireless Internet connection was working.
Many laughs were had over lunch as we told the story about our evening rendezvous with the camp counselors. Arek was tossing out some of the possible Polish phrases we were taught, while Dorota slowly turned pink. Then Arek said an equivalent translation in English which was rapidly repeated by Didi with a straight face. This would be the same Didi who “has not spoken a swear word in her life,” of course. People with gray hair get away with so many things. As the topics swayed back to more serious matters the fact of Internet access began to sink in for everyone and this further brightened our spirits.
Our afternoon was spent in Siedlce. We started with a visit to the government office and an hour long meeting with the governor (mayor) of Siedlce. The governor was very lively and interesting to meet. After a most friendly welcome he brought up the eighteen year relationship between Global Volunteers and Siedlce in the warmest of terms. You could see the depth of this relationship reflected in the chosen artwork in his office. Most of the paintings were of Reymontowka and surrounding environs. As a hobby, he has a background in being a judge for professional weight lifting competitions. During a discussion about the Internet’s development in Poland and its use in local government we had the pleasure of informing him that Reymontowka was now on the grid.
We saw many interesting things during our tour of Seidlce. In the bookstores, Harry Potter was front and center just as he is back home. Atlas was atop one of the museums. The old palace is now an academy yet retains the elegance of its earlier career. Several of the churches are old and have distinctive architecture. Kitty-corner from the largest church Tom was the first to notice a sign for the Pink Store. Judy and I had our picture taken in front of the sign as a gift for our co-worker Shirliana, She Who Is All Things Pink. At the grocery store, Ann had her picture taken with ketchup potato chips in honor of our co-worker Eric, who loves a ton of ketchup on many things.
My ride back from Siedlce was interesting in its own right. We had the services of the governor’s official driver take Arek, Judy, Ellen and myself back to Reymontowka. Ellen is something of a daredevil and she wanted to see what the driver was capable of. Judy had heard stories about Polish driving and was told she had to see it for herself. I was just along for an interesting ride. It turns out that both lanes pass by moving into the middle and expecting the other lanes to part ways. There were some curious moments between Ellen’s mad giggling and Judy’s gasps where I saw my entire life pass before my eyes. I noticed that the law of gross tonnage still applies. We were at Reymontowka, stat. I left that vehicle with a profound respect for driving professionals and what they’re capable of.
At the end of the day staff invited us to have a small party with them. The laptop was passed around as everyone, staff included, checked their emails or surfed the web. After most of the people melted into the night there was just a handful left to continue sharing stories. Greg was soaking up words at a breathtaking pace, taking copious notes in the process. I find that our similarities are far greater than our differences.
We’ve survived the first day, but some just barely. Everyone came back with adventures to tell, but I should start at the beginning.
We all made it out of bed for breakfast, some with stories of campers running around until 4am, alarms going off throughout the night, late-night conversations with camp counselors and even a possible owl sighting. The highlight of breakfast was cream filled crepes, although some of us were too nervous about our first day of teaching to fully enjoy them.
I’m pretty sure that the thought of the day helped:
“Sometimes we have to reach out in new directions in order to change and grow.”
At 9:30am we went out to begin our first 45 minute lesson. We each lead four of these throughout the morning, with 10, 30 and 10 minute breaks in between sessions. My experience began with the realization that everything I had prepared would not work. My group consisted of seven campers, ranging in age from 12 through 15. The youngest in the group are two 12 year-old girls and the rest are rambunctious boys. They are by far the loudest and most energetic group, and they are a challenge! I had planned to begin with a name game, where campers say their name and an adjective to describe themselves, but I learned within 30 seconds that this would not work.
It turned out that they have quite a vocabulary, but I had overestimated their experience putting words together into sentences. We switched gears and I taught them how to play Spoons, a card game that I learned at their age and still love. After we mastered that game, I asked them to return the favor and they taught me a game of theirs called Chooch, or something like that. The second session we played Charades, which went well because they could get up and jump around. In the next session, we played the same game, but against Lynsie’s team, which was of a similar age group, although more advanced. In the last session, we played volleyball against Tom’s team. Although my team lost, they had a good time, and by that time it felt like they were starting to like me, which sounds silly, but felt really good.
At a beautiful lunch of Polish meat loaf, potatoes, mashed beats (which tastes much better than it sounds) and sautéed mushrooms, we all let out a deep breath and reviewed the morning’s experience. Everyone had very interesting stories to report, which I will do my best to briefly recap.
Didi had some of the youngest campers, and it sounds like she used her experience working with little children to her advantage. She was very creative and succeeded in engaging them using the hand-carved wooden statues that are scattered around the Reymontowka grounds. She had them name body parts, count fingers, and name the musical instruments that they hold. She also brought maps of the US and the world and had the children find the states and their direction using the compass rose. They practiced their colors by finding objects on the grounds of certain colors.
Judy was thrilled with her group of 11 year-olds, who she has experience with from her own son and from being a counselor at a summer camp. She took them on walks around the grounds, where they counted sticks in the fence (up to 100!). This came in handy later when Judy unknowingly stepped on a snail that one of her girls found. They had just learned “no problem” so the little girl told Judy, “No problem. There are many, like, 100!”
Greg also had a great experience with his group. His laid-back attitude worked perfectly with his group of enthusiastic and creative students. He was able to engage them in a plan to build a student center. His campers worked together to decide size of the rooms, furnishings, etc. They also helped him with ideas for future lessons. What a dream!
Erik’s group, the giants (because this team consists of most of the tallest boys at camp) seems to have gone well. They seemed a little quiet, but Erik is not at all discouraged. He and Lynsie are facing similar challenges in finding activities that are challenging and cool enough to engage some of the older and more advanced students.
Ann also returned with some wonderful success stories. She had some of the younger children, and was able to have them count to ten, which has inspired her to ask Dorota to help her learn her numbers in Polish, so she can surprise her group tomorrow. Her group was also a challenge and required her flexibility because, like many of us, our expectations regarding their abilities and interests was not exactly correct, thus our preparations didn’t always work.
A perfect example of this is Jennifer, who had to come up with all new activities on the spot when her children were not interested in the Bingo and other games that she had prepared. We suspect that some of their disengagement might come from staying up running around all night, and we’re hoping that tomorrow will be better.
No one hopes to go in a different direction more than Tom. Poor Tom had some of the most advanced students, including a little girl whose mother is Polish but they live in New York. She is with a group of boys with very powerful personalities and, unfortunately, they spend their lessons fighting with one another, or in sullen silence. Tomorrow, Tom will attempt to take a stronger hand, with the help and supervision of the camp director!
The afternoon was a good break for us all and gave us a chance to rejuvenate a little. Some of us took a needed nap while others were treated to Marek’s special whiskey and 4-wheeler rides or took a walk to a nearby hamlet, about half an hour away. This evening I am writing the journal on the back porch of the manor, while the whole camp is gathered in an adjacent tent to play Pictionary. Kids are loud in any language.
For me, the day is concluding with a sense of excitement and hope. I have a mischievous bunch, but I’m really starting to like them. They will challenge me to find activities for the next four days that will allow them to run around together and be loud while they learn something. The good news is, I think they’re on my side, and our team of volunteers is working wonderfully together by sharing our experiences and ideas. I can’t wait to hear the stories we come back with tomorrow!
Poland. I can’t believe I’m here in Poland. Forests and small hamlets could be seen from the airplane. It was hot as I bounded off the plane, zipped through customs and out to be met by a friendly, smiling face, Dorota. What a treat to be met by such a welcoming person. We were soon on our way to Chlewiska, a 2 hour ride over a two lane road that goes from Lisbon to Moscow. The procedure seemed to be if you wanted to pass, go in the middle between the two lanes and the traffic kind of parted to the sides. Yipes! There are supposed speed limits and seatbelt rules, but the minute we went onto a country road, the driver clicked out of his seat belt as if to say, “I don’t need that any more.” Needless to say, I kept mine on. We approached a white manor house with a circular driveway all decked out with flowers. What an amazing site. The birds were even chirping a welcome to us. The village of Chlewiska has 7 houses, fields, farm yards and fields. So peaceful. We joined the others as they finished up the many coursed dinner topped with fruit and ice cream. What a feast.
The manor house was built in 1807 by a noble family. Then a famous writer’s wife bought the house after her husband died. She sold it in 1939 and moved to Warsaw seven days before the war broke out. The next family ran a coal plant. But the Polish communist government didn’t approve of having your own business and took it away from him. It sat vacant for so long that when the government gave it back to him in 1970ties, the owner could not afford to repair it. Marek became the director of the manor house inviting Global Volunteers to help teach English in 1991.
After dinner and introductions, we toured the grounds. A wedding came to be photographed. The party lasted all night. Marek even stayed up until 5 a.m. The custom is for the bride to pay for the wedding and the groom to pay for the drinks. Luckily this took place at another location as we were all so tired and collapsed into our beds.
Sunday morning started with a huge breakfast. First we had a scrumptious hot egg dish in a mustard cream sauce. On the table were breads, cheeses, ham jams as well as cereal. And of course juices (black currant, apple and orange) as well as tea and coffee.
At 8:30, we started our official orientation meeting upstairs in a large room. We each wrote down 3 goals, categorized them and grouped them. Why are we here and what do we want:
1. To teach conversational English.
2. To learn more about the Polish culture and the people.
3. To build positive relationships.
4. To understand the impact that this program has on the community.
Then we discussed characteristics of an effective team:
Clear communications enthusiasm willingness
Listening fun being positive
Openness being adventurous proactive
Respect flexibility élan
Sharing dynamism passion
Creativity helpfulness courage
Acceptance supportive honesty
Everyone gave input about what special skills they have or things they brought that they could share.
Safety was another topic:
The water is clean but use filtered water for drinking.
Guard dogs roam at night mainly to help discipline the children
No alcohol or cigarettes to be sold to the children
Please wait to take pictures for a few days and then ask permission
If you say hello to a stranger, they usually look down. Wait until they know you.
Please don’t give individual gifts nor make promises as someone may be offended or disappointed.
We were then escorted in cars to visit the church in Zeliszew built in 1776. A very impressive wooded church so crowded that people spilled outside to listen to the service. Even the storks in the trees stood up to listen. A quick drive through the village of Kotun where there are shops and a train station.
A large delicious lunch as that is the main meal for the day.
Children started to arrive and we all met them as each one introduced themselves. The 60 campers were then divided into 9 groups and we met with our groups that we will be teaching for the rest of the camp. Excitement rained in more ways than one. A huge thunder and lightning storm raged. What fun to actually meet our students. Then madly we all prepared lessons and helped each other to make plans for the next day.
The evening meal was more like our lunches with meats, cheeses, breads and an interesting side dish of pasta, whipped cream and blueberries.
A nice stroll down the lane to the next town. Oh, there are the storks still stretching their legs up on the nest so high. The villagers were very friendly as they talked to us in Polish. We were able to at least say good evening since we had had a crash course on Polish in the afternoon taught so patiently by Dorota.
Oh, I can hear all the campers as they got out of their meeting with squeals of excitement. Yes, camp has actually started and their parents are away.
Monday, July 23, 2007
The flight from Mpls-St.Paul on the first leg of our service program to Poland went smoothly. We arrived at the O’Hare airport in Chicago without a hitch and on schedule. We took the tram to the international terminal and, to our surprise, heard someone calling out “Global Volunteers”. Pleased that someone recognized the name of our organization that was prominently printed on the t-shirt worn by a team member, we were surprised to discover that the person was another volunteer who was heading to a service program in Ghana with her daughter! We introduced ourselves (to Margaret and Erin Good), took pictures together and parted for Poland.