The GoGlobal Blog

Poland or Bust.

Poland or Bust.

Traveling throughout Poland during my fall break was most likely the best decision I’ll make this semester (besides anytime I decide to get gelato, of course). All three legs of our journey brought laughter, delicious food, and some much needed reflection. After visiting three of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in I am deeply in love with Poland.

In Rome, I’m clearly an American. I do not look Italian, nor do I speak it with any skill level close to being fluent. Although I know my way around Rome I don’t feel any innate connection with the city I’ve lived in for the past two months. The moment I arrived in Warsaw, however, I felt at home. We flew into a remote airport outside of Warsaw which is typical when it comes to RyanAir. The bus ride into the city center reminded me of driving through southern Illinois. Compared to Rome, Warsaw was a fall wonderland. The mid-western girl in me had been craving some colorful fall leaves and weather that actually permitted a scarf. It was extremely odd that people assumed I spoke Polish simply because of how I look. There was also the origin of my last name that caused major confusion about my nationality. While I am partially Polish, I do not speak it and mostly identify with the Irish side of my family. I can’t deny it felt nice to walk into a country for the first time, but be treated as a local.

My time in Warsaw cannot be summarized without mentioning Adrian. Adrian was a self-proclaimed “patriot” that showed us everything from the Jewish ghetto to how to ride the public transit system. He truly went above and beyond his job as tour guide and made our short, two day stint in Warsaw feel like so much more. Our next stop, and the focal point for our trip, was Torun for a human rights symposium that focused on the Rwandan genocide. Nicolaus Copernicus University hosted the symposium which featured a compelling commentary on the genocide from the last American left in Rwanda; Carl Wilkens. Local professors, JFRC alumni, Polish and American students alike discussed this tragedy and what measures need to be taken to prevent it from happening again. It was refreshing to be able to talk with local students from Nicolaus Copernicus to get their perspectives on the genocide but also on life in general. I learned so much about the Rwandan genocide, Poland, and myself while in Torun. We ended our trip in Krakow, where we toured Auschwitz and Berkenau. Yet again being hit with the realities of a genocide was life changing at best. Visiting a salt mine and a gingerbread factory completely contrasted and balanced the emotional toll the previous activities took on our group.

I’ll never forget my time in Poland. Our trip was indeed focused around a symposium that discussed genocide, but the delicious food and hospitality we experienced was just as life changing. I most likely ate enough pierogi, potato pancakes, and cabbage to last me a life time. In Krakow we also discovered that karaoke is a major past time in Poland. One of my favorite memories includes listening to “The Winner Takes it All” by ABBA and “Sex Bomb” by Tom Jones sang by the same German tourist at a karaoke bar the size of a small utility closet. Another favorite moment, which happened more than once on our trip, was the insane amount of food we were served for dinner. One night in particular, sausage, cabbage, and roasted vegetable were served on a bed of pierogi and potato dumplings presented to us on a huge wooden board. While in Warsaw, we got to experience Poland’s historical soccer victory over Germany. Most importantly I got to chant “Polska! Polska! Polska!” with the rest of Warsaw in the streets that night.

I couldn’t have asked for more from this trip. Polska, always.

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