Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Time To Say Goodbye

The last day of a Global Volunteers program is a bittersweet event. If you've bonded with your students, "synergized" with your team, and fallen in love with the country in which you're serving, as you hoped to do on the very first day, then the parting day is tinted with a hint of sadness. Or maybe more than a hint.

Today was very much like every other, and yet very much set apart. We began the day with our usual classes, trying to finish up activities or cram in new ones. If we listened hard enough, however, we could also hear the strains of a very particular version of "All You Need Is Love" carried on the Zakopane breeze, as Kathy and Steve's combined classes scrambled to learn the words to an alternate version of the song. Or perhaps we heard Steve's class perfecting their Poland sales pitch. Or Sally's Magda and Ania quietly rehearsing their original poem "Zakopane." Or Lori's class trying to contain their laughter while going over the short stories built sentence by sentence by nine different contributors. Or Cyndi and Chris's class combining voices with Sue and Sam's class to sing the Polish song that loosely translates "Don't Cry, Eva" with Chris accompanying the group on Paulina C.'s guitar. Of course, Cortney, the Reeves, and their "Soulja People" managed to keep their rap/dance number--super secret until the night's performance. In regard to the latter, let's just say it's fortunate that Sam and the students had some concept of rhythm!

On what was quite possibly the most perfect day weather-wise of the whole two weeks, several of the American teachers managed to squeeze in a rain-delayed kickball game with a group of enthusiastic students. By the end of the game, the students had gotten the hang of fielding, sometimes retiring a side with no runs. However, the finer points of base-running still eluded many. Maybe next year?

Some forewent the excitement of kickball to spend one last day in town or to pack in anticipation of our early morning departure. By 6:30 pm, we had all gathered for our final dinner. Tonight it was the traditional Polish dish bigos, a stew composed of sauerkraut, sausage, and pieces of meat.

After some last-minute dress rehearsals, everyone gathered in the study area for the final performances by each group of students, as well as thank-you's from Teresa, the leader of the camp, Sue, who spoke for the American teachers, and Greg and Paulina C., who spoke for the students. A small group of students sang a special good-bye song in English to the tune of a popular Polish song.

After the formal program, the students presented each teacher with a gift. There was lots of hugging and address-exchanging before most of us repaired to our rooms to finish packing. Rumor had it that many of the students stayed up late pulling pranks or simply extending their friendships with one final conversation in the darkened rooms and hallways.

One of the American teachers remarked that saying good-bye at this camp was the hardest of any farewell he had ever experienced. Part of the difficulty was no doubt attributable to the fact that the students already spoke very good English, and that we worked with them in small groups. Thus it was possible to develop a very strong bond with the students. As Sue remarked in her closing statement, we could all see that some of Poland's future leaders would likely come from this group.

As luck would have it, we did have a chance to say once last good-bye to the students in the morning, since all of us were up early enough to share breakfast with them. As they gathered on the sidewalk in front of Wanta, we gathered on the landing above. The last sight we had of the students was of them turning to wave good-bye as they headed toward the bus.

Of course, it was equally hard to part ways with each other. At the Krakow Airport, we did so reluctantly, some of us apprehensive about making close flight connections, and others hoping their flights were not oversold as they had been on the inbound journey. Parting was made easier by the conviction that we would someday return to Poland to teach again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thought for the day: Tourists are very useful to the modern world; it is very difficult to hate the people that one knows. Attributed to John Steinbeck and shared by Lori

An early morning begins a full day! We start the day with some bad news. Steve R is still not feeling well and won’t be joining us on the hike to Morskie Oko. We hope he feels 100% soon.

After breakfast everyone who wanted to go on the hike gathered in the lobby to meet the guide and head out. The drive out to the mountain took about 45 minutes and everyone was eager to get on the trail and get hiking. After about 45 minutes of walking, we came to the place in the trail where the groups split up. Sally and Cortney continued with the students and Polish teachers/camp counselors to one of the peaks around Morskie Oko. Meanwhile Steve L, Sue, Kathy and I went with Piotr and Paulina on road straight up to the lake.

While it may sound like both hikes were difficult, the end result was definitely worth it. Morskie Oko was absolutely gorgeous. While some of us circled the lake or caught some Z’s in the woods, Chris and Cyndi walked around the lake and went up to the different lake higher up. It seems like the only inspiration to leave the beautiful lake was the promise for off in the distance of a warm dinner and a comfy bed.

Back on the home front, Lori and Steve R took another dive into American culture with the remaining students and discussed what Americans call football and some rules in the game of baseball.

After dinner of soup and surprise, surprise, port, everyone headed up to their rooms to prepare to prepare for the saddest day of the trip – the last day with the students. Time has flown by.

Journal submitted by Sammi

Thoughts for the day:

The future depends on what we do in the present. --- Attributed to Mahatma Ghandi
Always fall in what you’re asked to accept. Take what is given and make it your way. ---Attributed to Robert Frost

Thoughts above were shared by Sammi

The end is approaching fast for our band of volunteers at Zakopane. After the first few days here in Poland, many of us felt as if we had lived here for months. Alas, the days have gone by more and more quickly over the past two weeks with our students learning their conversational English by morning, hiking in the afternoon, and relaxing at night.

Today went by quite smoothly. Some of our students created monster children for their 2250 Make-a-Baby activity. Piotr thought his custom-made miniature boy would make an ideal child for taking off his shoes and socks at the end of a long day's work, which for some reason elicited contagious laughter from Kathy. I presume the rest of the American teachers maintained their aura of seriousness during lessons.

Many of the volunteers and just a handful of students went on a hike in Dolina Kościeliska (scientifically rated by my mom a 1.2576 out of 10 on the difficulty scale) and others stayed behind to play in a ping-pong tournament or relax during the afternoon. The day concluded with a meeting after dinner to discuss how to conduct our final classes on Friday. The team is preparing to go on a hike tomorrow with about half of the Polish students up to the famous Morskie Oko lake in the mountains while Lori remains behind to teach the remaining students for the day.

Looking back on today and the past two weeks, it is extremely rewarding to know that we have helped contribute in a small way to the intellectual development of these young adults. Above all, I believe that we have shown our students not only how to improve their English, but also how to enjoy learning the language. That is the most important lesson we could teach them in our short time here

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thought for the day: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Attributed to Theodore Roosevelt and shared by Chris.

We had another successful day of teaching. A few groups went to check out the natural history museum today. As I understand it, the museum was under construction, but they talked their way in.

Although many of us were eager to hike after lunch, it had to be canceled due to the rain. The rain wasn’t enough to stop Sally, and rumor had it that she came back soaked to the knees.

After dinner the students presented Polish Night. They did a wonderful job and had us all laughing. The presentations began with an overview of the educational system, and the kids acted out the various developmental age groups. Next we learned about major cities in Poland. We even got to sample candy which the students explained came from Krakow. The fun continued with a hysterical game of Family Feud. The Kowalscy family battled the Brzęczyszczykiewiczowie family for the win. After we learned about famous Polish people and holidays in Family Feud game, the students ended their presentations by telling us a bit of Polish history.

The students came to the close with a gigantic vanilla cake with coconut and strawberry icing, too. The cake was lit by what I can only describe as sparklers for the birthdays of Steve L, Peter (a student camper), and myself. It was another wonderful ending to yet another wonderful day in Zakopane.

Submitted by Cortney

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thought for the day: "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision... It is the fuel that allows common people to achieve uncommon results." Shared by Cortney

This day started and ended with song. The rainy Monday morning officially began with a surprise birthday greeting from the Polish students for Steve L. He stood up for this event and graciously accepted the presentation of a gold wooden flower.
At 9 AM we reassembled in the study room for the volunteers’ presentation on home town topics. Cyndi opened an explanation of the Star Spangled Banner. The ten volunteers all moved up front to sing our national anthem.

Presentations were done by each volunteer. Lori’s topic, the Fourth of July, included of course our early history with the British, but also examples of how American today typically celebrate this national holiday. Steve L shared with us a special story of his life. Many early Icelanders viewed the extremely deep ash from the one volcano’s eruption as a sign it was time to seek a new land. Thus, his grandfather sailed to Canada and ultimately traveled to North Dakota. Sally, with the help of a carefully drawn map, focused on the history and changing culture of Pittsburgh, once labeled as the Dirty Steel Town. Steve R, a resident of Cleveland, touched the listeners with the story of his and his father’s connection with relatives on a trip to Slovenia. Kathy gave her audience a sense of Minnesota’s natural environment. She relayed images of wild turkeys and the timber wolves, and “the lakes inside my soul.”Sue took her audience to an island in South Carolina where Toyota and BMW are building their plants, black residents are from Ghana, and alligators eat little dogs. Cortney chose a topic close to the minds of the students and pointed out the differences between American and Polish culture in universities. Her Pop Rocks provided a new life experience. Sam followed with a visit to the Minnesota State Fair with the food extravaganza, the butter bust of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way, and the presence of the biggest pig in Minnesota. Chris closed the program with a visual presentation of that made Los Angeles and Pomona College a reality for the Polish students. Cyndi, the designated mistress of ceremonies, successfully tied together this collage of America.

The students next walked to the nearby, the wet asphalt ball court, where Cyndi gave initial instructions on how to play kickball, and Steve R demonstrated the moves. But how can one explain the intricacies of kickball in only ten minutes? So, the inevitable “play ball” was yelled out, and after one practice inning, confusion changed to expressions of joy and challenge. Shouts of encouragement in Polish, came from the outfield. But soon the fun was ended, for now, with a rain delay. Fun did resume after lunch, however, with the students making banana splits. The scraping of bowls and occasional glance for second servings confirmed the success of this activity.

Our Fourth of July celebration concluded in the side yard of the Wanta Hotel. The evening began around 19:00 under a now clear blue sky, warm enough for a balloon toss and water bottle race, both gone wild. We applauded the short hoola hoop competition and the long, long, and longer egg toss. And who could ask more of life than sitting outside at dusk around a bonfire, roasting kielbasa, making s’mores, listening to Polish girls singing, and hearing Chris play on the guitar. Thank you, Cyndi and Steve R and all your helpers. We honor your enthusiasm.

Journal submitted by Sally

Monday, July 5, 2010

We approached our lessons with gusto even though some of the teens are sleepy at 9 AM. Some of us have been incorporating field trips or walks as part of our time together.

Today was the first day without organized afternoon activities, so we were free to go at our own pace. Some of us, but perhaps mostly me, are still recovering from the Wednesday’s mountain descent. After another busy morning of teaching, Cortney, Sam, Sue and Steve took the bus to Krakow to take advantage of the weekend.

I visited the tourist information offices and was able to obtain senior-priced tickets for the Sunday event in Zakopane. It is so easy to make friends with the local people.

It was a treat to participate in the International Organ Festival. Danuta, Lori, Sally, and I listened to the artistry of the organist, flute and marimba player for an hour at a church. A projection screen showed the movement of the organist’s hands and feet throughout the performance.

One the way back to Hotel Wanta, we were captivated by a young accordion player in festive dress accompanied by a violinist entertaining one and all on Krupowki Street. He had a strong voice and sang with great passion while fingering his instrument.

At the hotel, those remaining experienced a well deserved rest after a busy and engaging week with our motivated students.

I can’t forget to mention our supper. While Chris, Cyndi, and Steve R dined out, sampling a local restaurant, the rest of us enjoyed golabki . Was it ever tasty!
Some highlights of the weekend:

Steve L: Experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – Krakow.
Sam: Loved all the life in the square in Krakow – music, accents from everywhere.
Chris: Allergies are better. I can breathe again.
Sally: A tearful moment which I turned during the Sunday afternoon concert and saw all the Polish people so moved by the music.
Sue: The visit to the Kazimierz district, including the visit to the old burial ground and the old man’s explanation of honoring the dead by leaving stones.
Cortney: Auschwitz and Shindler’s Factory for the same reason, to see all the that from the view of the Polish people.
Lori: It was nice to have it quiet.
Cyndi: Making preparations for American day. Being the guinea pig for the balloon toss was a highlight.

I have the last word, so I will emphasize the wonder of the musical event of Sunday. This was the most electrifying musical performance I have ever experienced. It was incredible to see the talent and energy of the world-acclaimed Mazowsze group.
Today I was lucky enough to sit with the cooks and the dining staff and learn their names and laugh a bit. They gave me a bit of this night’s [Sunday] dessert.

We also appreciated the handiwork of Ania with her food artistry at breakfast.

Submitted by Kathy B.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday was another picturesque day here in Zakopane. I continue to be impressed with the cooperation of the students, work ethic of the volunteers, and the organization and effectiveness of the Global Volunteers program.

All of the sessions are moving along well. It shows how curious learners, prepared instructors, and diversified activities lead to a successful learning environment.

Sam's yearbook continues to be a favorite of the students. It's interesting how effective something from a peer and real life situations can be.

Today's hike took place at Gubalowka Mountain. (Again an American keyboard does not allow for the correct entry of the name of this mountain.) This venue provided a challenging climb for those determined to take it on, but a beautiful view and relaxing descent for all on the modern chairlift.

The day concluded with a movie at an open air theater in Zakopane. This is a free event, with popcorn and other refreshments, sponsored by Orange Telecom.

Rumor has it there might be a kickball game on Monday, our time to celebrate Independence Day, between teams coached by Cyndi and Cortney.

Contributed by Steve R.

Thought for the day:
"To the world you may be just one person, but to the one person you may be the world."
Attributed to Candis Goodwin and shared by Steve

Day 3 of our journey as a team began with the thought for the day and a superbly crafted journal entry. The rhythm of small groups followed by combined groups is now well established encouraging coordination of activities between teams and avoiding the repletion of the combined programs. There was evidence of the students late night games of Apples to Apples and Taboo. The scores achieved by the experienced students were exceptional. We are developing a rather impressive array of teaching and learning methods with rich exchanges of successes and new ideas synergizing our team.

The afternoon hiking was graded as an “8” on a 10 point scale compared to the “3” for days one and two. There were tired bodies all around the dinner table.

Lori shared her adventures as a Fulbright exchange scholar in Pecs, Hungary. She contrasted the Hungarian culture with both the US and Poland. The students were encouraged to keep a Polish-US Fulbright exchange as an option for their future. It was a full day for all us.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thought for the day: "Journey of a thousand miles ends with a single step". (Source unknown), contributed by Steve.

The morning sessions all were successful. As discussed later in our post-dinner session, activities that the students particularly enjoyed were playing the games Taboo and Apples to Apples; breaking the ice with the game two truths and a lie, and remembering that at least one of the ideas has to BE a lie; explaining how they'd like their ashes to be scattered after they died; reading, summarizing, and discussing the articles in the USA Today; mapping and then discussing the geography of one's home state and of Poland; having Sam share her yearbook with the students; comparing a wide range of similarities and differences in Polish and American lifestyles; cutting up and putting together similes; giving directions to try to replicate a drawing that the students can't see; and trying to trick a student into answering a simple yes or no in a series of questions. Kathy re-iterated that she's had great success with the exercises in the books The Non-Stop Discussion Workshop and Five-Minute Exercises. Some of the suggestions from these books include "ordering a baby in the year 2250" and "planning a perfect school curriculum."

After a hearty lunch of minestrone, meatloaf with onions, beet salad, yogurt cake and, of course, boiled potatoes, the intrepid among us set out with the students for a long walk to the ski jump as well as to a private villa built in 1896 which exemplifies the best qualities of Zakopane architecture. The biggest challenge of today's field trip was not negotiating slippery boulders down a precarious incline but rather negotiating a chair lift that took us up the side of the mountain. We took our turns and found the lift was rather tame, slowly churning around the platform at a speed that even the least agile among us could handle. The view from the top was magnificent, especially given how clear and perfect the day was. We also had a chance to examine a real ski jump up close and a little too personal. For those of us who watched the Winter Olympics and wondered who would be insane enough to ski down a ramp at 90 mph and fly hundreds of meters down a hill, our impressions were only confirmed by taking in the view from the ski jumper's perspective.

Far be it from me to complain, but it DID seem as if our fearless guides were a little confused about where exactly the next site--Dom Pod Jedlami--was located. After several detours, including what appeared to be serious consideration of crossing a newly tarred road, we finally made it to the villa. Jola explained that the villa's name literally means "under the pine trees." Because the home is privately owned, we were not permitted to go inside; however, we did have a chance to admire the intricate wood carvings and gables that distinguish this type of architecture, as well as examine the unique trees with their peculiarly bunched needles and the gigantic mushrooms called "huba" that grew from their trunks.

Throughout the walk, the students and teachers mixed more easily than they had on yesterday's walk. Many of us had the opportunity to speak casually with students other than our own. I think those conversations were as helpful to us as to the students we are supposed to be teaching.

The less well-traveled road back to the center of town reminded Chris and me of the area surrounding Reymontówka with its narrow, shady, tree-lined roads, though the architecture remained distinctly Zakopane. At the crossroads we parted ways, some of us heading into town and the rest of us back to Wanta for some respite before our simple supper of soup and sandwiches, with a little of the traditional Polish delicacy--lard--thrown in for our artery-clogging pleasure.

Our parting thoughts for the day came from Steve. He observed how easy it is to work with cooperative students who are smart.