Poland

Tim - English Tutor in Poland

Gap year in Europe – Tim’s experience in Poland

Posted on the 24th July 2018

What made you take a gap year in Europe in the first place?

6 months ago, though it feels like much longer, I chose to take a gap year for a whole bunch of different reasons. I’d had a busy & enjoyable, but highly pressured last year of school – so I felt like I needed a break; I’d never really been on any big adventure by myself, so I felt it was time to ‘spread my wings’, so to speak; and most of all, through nobody’s fault – I’d never really done anything particularly different with my life – it was as if I was set on some pre-prescribed course headed for uni, work etc. So, I felt it was time to break out! Although I already knew what I wanted to study and where I wanted to do it, for all these reasons I decided it could wait a year – and so here I am, writing this from across the world – on a trip in Athens, Greece.

Gap Year in Europe

Why Poland?

So I guess you could ask why Poland? Believe it or not, this was actually a question I seemed to get asked everywhere – not just from friends and family in New Zealand, but also once I touched down in the country itself. For me, it was pretty simple – even though I didn’t speak a word of Polish, and had never once visited the country – I’d always dreamed of visiting Europe, and out of the two options I had – the UK or Poland – I think you can guess which one seemed more intriguing, and because of that, for me – more appealing.

Gap Year in Europe

Please describe your town to us. And can you describe your placement in detail?

If we talk about inside Poland itself, I was based in Poland’s capital of Warsaw, or Warszawa (Var-Shav-a) in Polish. Crazy I know, Polish gets likes that. Warsaw was a great city for me to live in – not only did it have the buzz and hum of any major city, but also plenty of cool cultural hotspots to scope out and experience. On top of that, being the capital, it was really easy to catch bus, train or flight connections when travelling within or even outside Poland. In Warsaw, I taught at a school called Warsaw 77, or Bolesław Prus. It was a lively central city high school – less like the open plan, field-inclusive schools of NZ and a little more two storey, High School Musical-esque. Certainly cool to walk into everyday.

What are some examples of the duties you performed there?

Each day at Prus,  I ran lessons with 4-5 different classes of students ranging from ages 13 to 18. Now it might sound a little daunting, but believe me when I say – having the freedom to create, teach, and see your lessons working in real life is a totally rewarding experience – one I imagine I might not get again, provided I don’t become a teacher, of course. At Prus it was great, because as long as Maggie (the other volunteer I was there with) and I got the kids speaking and interacting in English, we had free reign to create whatever lessons we wanted. This meant I got the chance to run all and any kinds of classes I could think of with my students – Debates, Research lessons, Skits and Drama, I did most of it – all in English, of course. Sure, sometimes the teaching could become a little repetitive, but that’s part of any job I suppose. All in all, I really enjoyed my duties while volunteering at Prus, I had a great time.

Can you describe your accommodation? Your host family?

Now of course I didn’t live inside the school while doing this teaching! I was lucky enough to be placed with an amazing host family in Warsaw while I taught there. While living in another family’s home did take a week or so to adjust to, my 5 months in Poland without a doubt wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if I hadn’t been there. I had my own room, plenty of access to food and internet – but most importantly, my host family looked after me like one of their own; constantly feeding me more than I needed, taking me with them on vacations around Poland, even occasionally waking me up (yikes) when I couldn’t quite hear my alarm some mornings. In return I tried my best to be a part of their life – I cooked dinner around once a week, did the vacuuming on occasion, and of course talked to them as much as I could, so they could practice their English – something they want you for in the first place! They truly are lovely people and I won’t hesitate to stay in contact with them once I leave Europe.

How did you cope with the big differences between Poland and home?

Obviously, there were big differences between my home in Warsaw, Poland, and my one in Hamilton, NZ. However, I honestly didn’t see these as obstacles – these big differences – like another language, more people, ease of travel – these were the places I feel as if I learned the most from, and gained the most experience from while adjusting to them. Sure, you’re always a little afraid of change. But take it from me, once you’re over here, most differences are just that – just differences, and cool ones to.

 

poland gap year - tim ng 003

What do you think has been your favourite moment/ best thing that happened to you whilst there?

Something I’m bound to be asked when I return home – and one which I should probably address here – is highlights – favourite moments, times, or places. It’s obviously quite hard to pick out a single moment in 6 months of an amazing experience, but for me there’s two stand-outs: One – the travel; being across the other side of the world in Europe, not only seeing, tasting and breathing in different cultures, but actually living in one. And two, a more obscure one – on occassion, sitting in a classroom, having taught my lesson- and overhearing one, two, maybe three students not just using the English I taught them, but putting it into practice – using it in conversation, laughing about it, having real fun with it. That’s reward enough in itself, really.

Lattitude in Warsaw

Can you give examples of any personal development you may have noticed during your time there?

If I think about the ways in which I’ve grown over here, what I’ve been taught or have realised while in Europe, it’s certainly an area I could fill with some text. So, I’ll keep it simple – everything, and I mean everything – has been a new sensation over here – travelling on my own, dealing with a different language every day, wrapping up for -18° cold – it was all new, and I, like all my fellow volunteers in Poland – adjusted to it.  Because of that, I feel as if I’ve grown several years in experience, in only a few, seemingly short months – it’s an odd feeling really, but a great one to have, for sure.

What are your future plans, and how do you think your volunteering experience might help?

In the future, I hope to study something in the field of International Relations and Commerce in Wellington. While of course I can’t link the two directly, I do have a hunch being over here – living in, experiencing and seeing all kinds of different cultures – may help me in this area. Besides that, I think the travel experience and personal growth I’ve been lucky enough to gain will obviously help me in anything I choose to do next – not to mention I now feel fully ready to settle back into the groove and tackle Uni!

Finally, why should others consider heading to Poland with Lattitude?

So I guess to sum up, why should you consider coming to Poland on your own possible gap year? Well if I haven’t already made it clear, I think it’s an incredible, once-in-a lifetime experience you should definitely jump onto if you can. Not only does the programme in and of itself offer so many great opportunities and memories, but simply being over here in Europe, in exciting and challenging Poland – man, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Lattitude in Warsaw

George - English Tutor in Poland

Gap Year in Poland!

What made you take a gap year in the first place?

I decided to take a gap year because in year 13 I was unsure exactly what I wanted to study at University. I didn’t want to choose something that I would later regret, so I decided that I would have a break for a year. I also really did not feel like doing more study after 13 years at school, and I wanted to see a bit of the world and have some real life experience before continuing my studies. I knew that this meant I’d be a year behind all my fellow classmates, but I decided it would be worth it, and I was certainly right.

English Tutor in Poland

Why Poland?

I decided to choose Poland because I wanted to go to a country where English wasn’t their first language, and also a country that has great travel opportunities. Poland seemed to be a good choice, and I’m very happy I chose it.

Can you describe your placement in detail?

For my first placement I lived in a town called Żywiec, which has about 30,000 people, so not very big. In the middle of the town is a square and shops. There is a big lake, and mountains, and it gets very cold in the winter! (the coldest temperature I had was -22°). In the summer of also gets hot, up to 32° or so. My placement was in the academic high school of Żywiec, Kopernik. This was a very nice school, primarily because of the extremely nice and hospitable staff and students! The level of English at this school is probably the highest in Żywiec, so it was really easy to talk to the students and make good friends.

What are some examples of the duties you performed there?

At Kopernik I usually had 4 – 5 classes a day, depending on if the teachers needed me, and for these classes I would mostly take them myself, maybe with the teacher sitting in the back. For about half of the lessons I would have a prepared class on something in English. The great thing about teaching English as a second language is that you can teach any subject, just as long as everyone is speaking English! The other half of my lessons I would help students practice for their speaking exams at the end of the year. This involved me sitting outside the classroom with a student individually and testing them on their talking ability.

For my placement, this high school decided to try taking me to other schools regularly, which is not common in most placements. Every Tuesday I would go a school for disabled children, which was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. On Thursdays I would go to a primary school in the South of Poland near Slovakia, about a 30 minute drive from Żywiec. This was also a really great experience and I know that the speaking abilities of many of the kids there has vastly improved since I arrived.

Can you describe your accommodation? Your host family?

During my first placement I had two host families. Both of these families were lovely and I had some very unforgettable times with them. For me I think living with a host family is really great, especially when it comes to learning the language. Both families were the families of students from the school, so the students could speak English, but the majority of the time the whole family was  speaking in Polish. This made it really easy for me to learn Polish, because I could just listen to my host families talking and slowly learn words or phrases that they said often or that sounded interesting to me. Staying with a host family is just a great time. I was taken on trips to the mountains, and to the local beer brewery, and I learnt lots about Polish culture and traditions, especially on holidays such as Easter.

How did you cope with the big differences between Poland and home?

For me the differences between home and Poland were usually positive. Poland is much cheaper than New Zealand, they definitely know how to cook great food, and Europe in general is just older and more developed and has greater infrastructure and public transport than in New Zealand. The only differences that were difficult to cope with were, of course, missing my family and friends, missing my dog, and not living beside the sea. The language of course was the biggest difference, but I learnt to overcome this with a mixture of Google translate and the limited Polish that I learnt.

What do you think has been your favourite moment/ best thing that happened to you whilst there?

It’s very hard to say what my favourite moment of my time in Żywiec was, as so many awesome things happened! But one highlight was certainly when some of my students persuaded me to come down to the lake for ‘an interview’ and it turned out to be a surprise birthday party for me!

Can you give examples of any personal development you may have gained during your time there (don’t be humble now!)

This is definitely the hardest question, I don’t know if I can think of any examples of personal development that I have gained during my time in my placement! I suppose something really important for doing a year like this is adaption, and I think I have definitely developed that over this time. Also independency and problem solving are very important, and I think I have developed these too. But I think one thing that I have developed most is confidence. My ability to talk to people, or to think of things to talk about, has definitely improved I think.

What are your future plans, and how do you think your volunteering experience might help?

Before coming to Poland I did not know what I wanted to study at University and how I wanted to continue my life after high school. But after three months in Poland, I had decided exactly what I wanted to study at University. I think the biggest factor that helped me decide was going to the disabled school every Tuesday. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and it made me want to study psychology.

Finally, why should others consider taking a gap year in Poland with Lattitude?

I think there are many reasons why others should consider taking a gap year in Poland with Lattitude. I think if you are unsure of what you want to study at University, or what you want to do after high school, then taking some time off to think about exactly what you want to do is a very good idea. It’s not good to rush into something that will end up later regretting. And even if you do know what you want you want to do after high school, it’s still a great idea You can get some real life experience, meet new people, and travel some of the world.

Overall it was the best year of my life, and I can’t wait to come back and visit my friends in Żywiec!

Matthew - English Tutor in Poland

“I wanted to experience something different, –  Poland became the obvious choice. I submitted my application and never looked back.” – Matthew, Poland

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

What made me volunteer in the first place?

In my 2nd to last year of college I was adamant that university was where I would go immediately after college. At the end of year 12 I had a sudden change of heart. I was freaking out, as I suddenly gone from knowing what I wanted to study to not knowing at all. I’d known several people to go on gap years and just rave about them so I went along to an info evening and decided it was for me.

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap YearWhy Poland?

Once I had decided to take a gap year, the decision of where to go was the next challenge but easily beaten in a few steps. First I decided on a continent – Europe, something about Europe had always interested me and having never been before it was a simple choice. Then looking at the Lattitude website I saw that two countries were on offer to me, the UK and Poland. I wanted to experience something different and compared to the UK, Poland became the obvious choice, I submitted my application and never looked back.

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

My placement and my role

I had two placements over the year I was in Poland. The first was in a town called Żywiec, of 30,000 people so coming from a city it was a shock to find how small it was. In Żywiec I stayed in the boarding house of the school which had its ups and downs as many placements will. The big change in population from where I was living to Żywiec took a lot of getting used to but once I did and it was time to leave I found myself getting quite upset. All the teachers and students were so lovely that now I miss the people more than the place.

My second placement I thrived in as I was based in the capital of Poland, Warsaw. For this placement I stayed with a host family who really made the experience different from any other. I got to have an insight on Polish family life, customs and holidays experiencing everything 1st hand. My family lived in a nice area close to school making the morning commute very easy.

In Żywiec I was a teacher assistant and aided in class with pronunciation and reading tasks, also aided students practicing for their end of year oral exam whereas in Warsaw I was the teacher in the classroom. Every week I planned a lesson and used that lesson all week with 16 different classes, as I don’t speak Polish there was always a bi-lingual English teacher. The job sounded stressful but once I arrived the teachers and even the students themselves create a very relaxed and comfortable environment making classes something to look forward to not to stress over.

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

My accommodation & host family

In Żywiec I was based in the boarding house and had my own room and bathroom with the school catering all my meals, I lived about a 5-10 min walk away from the town center and the other volunteer living in the town with me.

In Warsaw my host family lived in an excellent location right by the metro and a bus stop making travel around the city including to and from school very very simple. I felt safe in the area I lived in and was always entertained by something happening in and around Warsaw. Living with a host family can seem daunting but in my experience with mine and other volunteers’ families, the kind of people who accept other people into their homes are kind and loving and really enhance the whole experience culturally.

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Coping with the differences between Poland and home

Homesickness is real. I never thought I would experience it but then it hit me and it was hard but I think it something that every volunteer did deal with in their own time. The way to beat it was support from other volunteers who know exactly how you’re feeling and can relate.

I didn’t cope with cultural differences, I craved them. It was one of the major reasons I chose to spend my year in Poland and they were everywhere. Poland is a country, rich with traditions, festivals and culture unlike any I had come across before making Poland the perfect destination for my gap year.

Favourite memory

One of my favorite moments (as there were many) would have to when I left, so actually is a sad moment too. When it came time to leave my placements it was a very sad moment but the fact that I could see how much I was going to be missed made me feel very valued and it really put my whole placement in perspective seeing what a wonderful  experience I had just had.

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Personal development

Confidence in myself as a person: many times over the year I experienced some scary or embarrassing moments but now looking back on them I can say I built off them and understand that perhaps they weren’t so scary or I was getting embarrassed for stupid reasons. I feel much more mature which I think really helps being at university and I can certainly see a contrast between myself and some first year school leavers. Also having a year off has given me some perspective about what I really want in life and with all the travel I did last year, it really sunk in how privileged I was to live in New Zealand and be able to have opportunities like the one Lattitude offered me.

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

What I am doing now

This year I’m taking a Bachelor of Health Science at the University of Auckland and currently living at O’Rorke, a hall of residence. Over the year I developed as a person and gained many skills that now help me in life today, a sense of independence being the first of many. No problem seems too big after having to deal with issues living half way across the world from home. University doesn’t seem so scary after conquering a year in a foreign country!! #noregrets

Matthew in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Kirby - English Tutor in Poland

Kirby in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

There is no good way to even start to explain my experiences so far, everything is so overwhelming and spectacular. I already feel like a changed person thanks to this experience and I am only half way through.

My placement

I have been placed in a primary school in the city of Warsaw and I absolutely adore it! Every single child at my school has completely overwhelming energy; I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it. There is never a dull moment here. Firstly there are the little ones, and all they want to do is hug you, hug you and hug you some more. A few times a week I help out with the younger ones in a group called świetlica (afterschool care) and it is without a doubt one of the funniest things I do. Being beaten by ten year olds in checkers, learning what every piece of clothing I am wearing is called in Polish and a lot of confused faces pretty much explains an afternoon in świetlica.

I have also been helping out with our school’s musical, we sing all the songs in Polish and English which is always amusing. The kids get really involved in it and always get a good laugh when I try and sing in Polish.

Poland

How to even begin explaining Poland…well I guess the first thing that comes to mind is the language barrier. Sure the other volunteers and I have picked up a bit of Polish here and there, but it always makes for new experiences. Whether you’re attempting to translate a menu, or buy a ticket you’re never entirely sure what you’re going to get. Some of the things that have shown up on my plate I do seriously wonder about, but give everything a try right? Oh but do be assured Polish food is completely marvellous.

Also because Poland is such a captivating place, the other volunteers and I have explored a little further. About three weeks into our placement all seven of us from Warsaw took a trip to visit the other two girls in Krakow. This was a weekend full of catching up on all of our placements, realising how entirely different they were and exploring the incredible city of Krakow.

It’s been such an amazing experience so far, I have no idea how it could possibly get any better! Teaching English as a foreign language, meeting so many magnificent people, and exploring unbelievable Europe all in one, really what could be better?

Danae - English Tutor in Poland

Danae in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to after high school yet, so Lattitude gave me the opportunity to do something worthwhile. Volunteering in another country and experiencing a different culture, while also being able to see the world. I chose Poland because it’s somewhere different that doesn’t speak English. Also it’s in the centre of Europe which makes it easy to travel.

My placement is in a primary school with kids ages 6-13. I have classes with a range of ages, and with 3 different teachers who are all so lovely! I don’t teach by myself, my role is more focused on sitting with the students and helping with their work and just trying to get them to speak English. Their English levels range from kids who can have a full conversation, to kids who can only say the basics like hello, how are you? Everyone at the school is so friendly and you can’t walk down the corridor without at least 20 kids saying hello and wanting to give you hugs. (You get A LOT of hugs).

Danae in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

I tend to sit with the students who struggle more with English or are just easily distracted and don’t often do their work. It’s really rewarding, especially when you can see that your help is making a difference, and often they want you to sit with them every lesson! With the younger kids it’s a bit tougher because they don’t understand that you don’t speak Polish. They ask you questions in Polish, so it’s hard to communicate with them and you have to get creative! On the whole the kids love having volunteers there and want to talk to you as much as they can and ask all sorts of questions about your life.

Danae in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

My host family has 1 daughter who is 15. She attends a boarding school in the UK so isn’t often around but when she is it’s great, we get along so well and I really enjoy her.

My host dad also works out of town, so most of the time it’s just me and my Polish mum, who is so lovely. She cooks so much food! It’s amazing. My house is in a complex of flats about half an hour out of town so I bus in to work everyday. My house is really nice. My room is the study which is downstairs from theirs so I have my own space which is nice. My bed is a pull out couch which seems to be quite common with the volunteers but it’s super comfy.

The language is definitely what I find the biggest difference from home. It took a while, but if you learn the absolute basics it’s usually enough to get by. Most places you’ll go usually have someone who knows at least some English, so thankfully you don’t need to learn fluent Polish! Most young people know English though so if you get lost for example, just ask someone and 90% of the time they are happy to help!

Danae in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Travelling with the other volunteers would have to be one of the highlights. You all become so close so quickly, and spend a lot of time with them traveling everywhere. Literally everyone wants to travel just like you and you end up having so much fun with everyone. My favourite memory would have to be one of the first weekends when basically all the volunteers (about 30 of us) all went to Kraków for the weekend. It was such an amazing time.

Danae in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

I have definitely become more confident and organised being over here, especially with travelling. You don’t realise how much you rely on your parents for planning trips until you have to do everything for yourself, like accomodation, transport, food and just all the little things you’d usually never think to do. Also because you’re in a new place that doesn’t have much English you often do have to ask for help and directions because you can’t actually read any signs, so sometimes it can be a bit difficult. (Google translate will become your best friend while you’re here.)

Emma - English Tutor in Poland

Emma in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

I decided at the start of my last year of high school that I wanted to take a gap year before starting University. A friend of mine suggested that I use my gap year to volunteer overseas and it sounded like a great thing to do. Volunteering allowed me to travel to a new country, experience a new culture, and also made me feel like I was using my year off wisely. The idea of doing something helpful for others also really appealed to me.

I wanted to go somewhere that was different to New Zealand, somewhere with history, a new language to learn, and a new culture to immerse myself in. Poland checked off all of those points, which was a major seller for me. Another reason I chose Poland was that it is in Europe which means that holiday and travel options are limitless. There’s always something new to see.

Emma in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

At the moment I am placed in a convent school in a small city called Jaroslaw. The name of the school is Convent School of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The school is for children from year one to year eleven all of which have varying levels of English. The school has a nice vibe, the kids are always happy to see me and love to say hello. The teachers, and nuns, at the school are also very friendly and helpful, they are always keen to practice their own English as well.

At the school I am expected to attend English classes with the other volunteer here, and assist the teachers. Sometimes we will plan out lessons and take the classes ourselves, for example recently we had to plan a lesson for a primary school class that was based on food so we came up with some games and found some songs to do with food that we then taught to the class. We also have conversation classes at the end of the day with students who want to practice their English, we also have classes with some of the nuns and teachers. Conversation classes are a bit more chill than ordinary classes, usually we play English based games with the students so that they can enjoy practicing a different language.

Emma in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

My host family is lovely, they have twin 13 year old girls and three cats. It has been really easy for me to become comfortable here, my host family is very accommodating and treat me like a member of the family. We have gone on a few short trips to other cities while I have been here which have been very fun. Their levels of English are varied from a few sentences to a full grasp of the language but there have still been a few miscommunications!

I’m handling the experience well. I wasn’t expecting to but I am loving the Polish culture. Getting past the accents is probably the hardest part, as well as the language barriers. I would say that on a whole living in Poland is different to New Zealand but after the initial shock of being in a new country it’s not difficult at all to get accustomed.

Volunteering has definitely made me less shy about teaching in front of large crowds. A year ago the talking in front of and taking an entire class by myself would have terrified me but now it is something I can do easily and even enjoy.
I’ve also had to take a lot more responsibility when it comes to travel, accommodation, feeding myself, and handling money which are all massively important to becoming an adult.

Taking a gap year with Lattitude has given me a break from school and studying to think about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I would recommend taking a gap year for anyone who is uncertain about what they want to do after high school.

Tamara - English Tutor in Poland

Tamara in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

When people asked me “Why Poland?”, I had no clue what to admit, let alone how to respond to my eager students who posed the same serious question. The exciting prospect of snow, the everyday, delicious devouring of soup (Polish food is like no other, I guarantee you), a colourful language I could barely pronounce? There are so many aspects of such a beautiful culture, language, and country such as Poland. But the real answer was that I wanted adventure; a singularly exciting, challenging experience like no other. And that is exactly what happened.

Volunteering as an English teacher in Poland was unlike anything I had ever attempted before, and the trip changed me in more ways than one. Meeting and sharing moments with unforgettable people, exploring yourself and independence, being able to play a positive, nurturing role in the lives of your students and most importantly, providing them with the confidence to express themselves and understand each other in a new language.

Tamara in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

I learnt the necessary things of course….booking hostels and flights for a myriad of journeys I’d take with fellow volunteers around Europe or travelling on my own, washing clothes, managing money, lesson planning for school, coping with language barriers. But I came back from my trip more myself than I could remember before; more confident, more open. Volunteering is not only an opportunity to experience other cultures, other lives, but to experience a new perspective of yourself.

From miscommunications of the everyday variety, to completely freezing over at the thought of having to kindly reply to the lovely old Polish lady seated across from you on a packed tram, or finding yourself stuck in a small Polish town lost and confused with only a mixed bag of learned and irrelevant phrases and “good day” to use. From greeting classes of shy students to watching them open up and ask questions and laugh and engage with any one of your endless wordy English games, Poland is a place I never wanted to leave and every single day I boasted some new experience. Incredible food, culture, values, lifelong friends, interesting encounters and endless memories. The volunteers alongside me were an incredible mix of individuals I feel privileged to have met and worked and travelled with.

Tamara in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

My family who offered me slippers and tea from the very moment I entered their lovely home, a complete stranger, were and still are a huge part of my life. I became a new daughter and sister at the same time as being able to openly share my thoughts and plans with them, making me feel at home despite living out of a suitcase and wandering across Europe. Their support and advice, guidance and care were endless and we have never lost contact. That is another amazing thing you can hope to expect with Lattitude.

Poland is my new second home now, truly. I can’t remember a happier, more vibrant time in my life to date than those countless experiences in Warsaw. The program is an immense delight. While tough days are inevitable, the students are fantastic, the people are the most hospitable you will probably ever meet, the sites breathtaking, and the language…enough said! So much fun to be had, promise you. All you have to do is embrace a truly life-changing trip. Happy trails!!

Sammy - English Tutor in Poland

Sammy in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

The school I am at is a Private Catholic School for Girls (it accepted its first class of boys this year), and is called the Cecylia Plater-Zyberk School, but students and teachers simply call it ‘Platerki’. The school itself is housed in an old building which has an extensive history; I’m told it was used as a hospital during the war! It is also very centrally located about a 20 minute walk to Centrum (central train station).

The kids start school when they are six years old, until possibly this year they started at seven years old. I teach mainly the younger children aged six to about 14. In the younger classes (0, 1, 2, 3) I tend to take on more of an assistive role, simply acting as a native English speaker or extra set of hands. These kids are full of energy and often learning is the least of their priorities compared to running around like crazy! I really admire the teachers who take these classes as they are so patient and organised. The kids are really cute though and it is common for at least one of them to run up to me in the hallways and give me a big hug. Whenever I walk into the room I am greeted with a loud ‘Hello’, or ‘Good morning/afternoon’ which always brings a smile to my face.

So far the students seem to like me which is a huge plus! Just the other day I got given a bookmark by one of my 4’s saying ‘You are Hero’ accompanied by a floating cape, legs, and head. Not sure what happened to my body but it’s cute all the same! On student’s name days or birthdays they bring in sweets and always rush to give me one. Little things like this really make my day. So that’s an overview of my teaching life!

Sammy Part II - English Tutor in Poland

Sammy in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

So today was my last day and I realise that over the past 5 months’ worth of teaching I have learnt so much. I started out with few responsibilities other than turn up to school and go to the classes I was scheduled to attend. After about a month I was asked to start preparing my own lessons. Here are some things that I really enjoyed, worried about, remember etc about being a teacher (yes I’m putting them in dot points):

  • Being told to teach a bunch of kids would have been scary enough for me when I was at home, so being in a country where I don’t speak the language or really understand their curriculum or know how to teach the language I’ve been speaking all my life, was actually terrifying.
  • The good news is that I got more confident as time went by, yesterday I even taught a bunch of energetic eight year olds about Kookuburras WITHOUT having a Polish speaking teacher in the room!
  • I found that teaching by myself, without a supervising teacher, to be much easier than with a teacher in the room. When I was by myself I felt more confident in my abilities and authority over the class, and I think the kids also viewed me more like a teacher at these times too.
  • Consequently, I tended to feel happier about the lessons I did on my own than while supervised.
  • Sometimes lessons would crash and burn, and essentially leave me wondering why I came to Poland in the first place. I remember have some classes where the students just wouldn’t listen to me, or I just wasn’t prepared enough to cope.
  • Teachers do have favourite students and classes. I often found myself dreading some classes while getting excited about others. I also had a 4-5 favourite students who always made sure the rest of the class behaved and would greet me in the halls.
  • Sometimes all it takes to make your day is when a 7 year old little Polish girl who barely understands English runs up to you and says ‘Hello Samantha, how are you?” and patiently waits for a response even though she doesn’t understand a word you say.
  • One of the scariest things I encounter was being headbutted by a 6 year old in 0 class as she launched at me screaming ‘I love you!’
  • I now am confident enough to manage a group of 6 year old girls who are dubbed the most troublesome class in the school.
  • I can officially navigate Microsoft word in Polish (mainly because I know all the shortcuts and they are the same in Polish as English).
  • Sometimes it’s best not to ask what you are eating until AFTER you finish it or not at all, especially when it comes to a school cafeteria.
  • Pasta and strawberry yoghurt, potato cakes covered in sugar, and crepes with sweet cheese are seen as acceptable lunch meals for children.
  • I refuse to ever eat cabbage or beetroot ever again (okay this may be more of a Poland lesson in general).
  • Most of all though, the thing about being a teacher was learning to both always and never be prepared for anything and everything.
  • And lastly, if in doubt, play hot seat (or have a music lesson where the kids show you all different versions of ‘Let it Go’ on YouTube, I mean what? I never did that…)

So there are some of my notes on what my life was like at school. I decided to end it there (though I could go on forever) because I think those are the most important things. I absolutely loved my time at this school, the students and staff where incredible.

Portia - English Tutor in Poland

Portia in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Former Timaru Craighead Dio student Portia King has caught the travel bug while she spends the year away in Poland teaching English:

In the days leading up to leaving New Zealand, I felt like a lunatic. Why was I leaving Timaru to fly halfway across the world to Poland to teach English for a year? However, this has turned out to be the most amazing three weeks so far. Being in a foreign country with like-minded young adults from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Scotland meant we were all in the same boat – often lost, confused and unable to communicate with people or understand anything.

Our first week was spend doing an intensive English teaching course. In the evenings, our in-country coordinator, Beata, had activities organised for us so we were kept busy. This included some sightseeing, Polish cuisine and ice-skating. I’d estimate at least six meals per week have been delicious pierogi, which are dumplings with endless choices of both savoury and sweet fillings. I’ve also tried barszcz, a surprisingly good beetroot soup.

Apart form the traditional food, everything has been similar to NZ and luckily my host family shares my love of pasta. Over the Christmas period, the national stadium in Warsaw is turned into a festively decorated ice-skating rink. I’d like you to think we were co-ordinated but I have the feeling the professional skaters were laughing at us, not with us.

Portia in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Living with a Polish host family has helped me to adjust to life in Poland very quickly. My family has been very welcoming and with their help, I am managing the public transport and learning the basic Polish phrases and words that I need to know. On the first weekend, they took me to see the Old Town to see the Christmas decorations and another icerink set up for Christmas. This trip was not complete without trying gofry (waffles) to warm ourselves up on this cold and snowy evening.

Now, perhaps the scariest part of this year – my first day as an English teacher! I have a ‘mentor’ teacher, Gosia, who organises my time in the school, so I spent the first day with her classes and meeting all the other teachers. The children were very excited as it is the first time my school has had a native speaker through the Lattitude programme, let alone someone from New Zealand.

In this first week I basically repeated the same facts about myself and told them about New Zealand using varied levels of English to all ten year groups, from 5 to 15 year olds. It was a great way to meet all the students and get to know them by asking them questions about Poland. I know this is going to be a great placement for the semester, with such great children who are eager to learn, and supportive fellow teachers who are just as excited.

The intercity buses and trains in Poland make it easy to travel around so a group of us have already made a weekend trip to Krakow in the south. We spend hours exporing the beautiful Old Town and Wawel Royal Castle. I can fully understand why Krakow is the most visited place in Poland.

Next months update will include the next weekend adventure to Wroclaw which I started booking the day after returning from Krakow – I might have the travel bug!

 

Portia Part II - English Tutor in Poland

Portia in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

It’s been another fun filled and busy month – it’s crazy how fast it’s gone. Our group of volunteers (‘The Gapfam”) all met up in Wroclaw, in southwest Poland, for one weekend. I teach from Monday to Thursday so having three-day weekends makes it easy to travel.

One of the main attractions in Wroclaw is the approximately 300 miniature statues of dwarves, that look like garden gnomes, in different poses dotted around the city. We spent many hours wandering around and managed to find 20. Some were sitting down watching TV while others were hanging off poles.

Of course, it isn’t a Polish town without an Old Town and some churches to visit as well.
Another weekend, my host family took me to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews which opened in Warsaw last year. It was a very interesting museum, full of so much history and the visuals and interactive technology like touchscreens really gets children and adults involved.

I have settled into my school timetable, helping with 15 English classes and two French classes per week. Having studied French through high school, I’m glad to be helping the students in class and maintain my French speaking skills at the same time. I’m not complaining about making crepes in class either.
In the past week of English classes, I have been helping on the judging panel for each year group’s English singing contest. The variety of classes I work with means I never get bored. One class will be spent listening to advanced English book reviews, and the then the next, I’ll be playing English games like Simon Says with the younger children.

I intend to study geography at university so I have been joining two geography classes per week with the year 5’s and 6’s. These classes are normally in Polish of course, so I have really appreciated the geography teacher including me in her classes. She makes an effort to learn the necessary geographic terms in English, which isn’t easy for her or the children. I have learnt about mammals, parki narodowe (national parks) and landscapes.

My favourite Polish tradition I have experienced so far is Tlusty Czawartek, also called Fat Thursday. This last Thursday before Lent is an excuse to boast about how many Paczki (large, Polish-style filled doughnuts) you ate! Teachers carried trays and trays around the classrooms for the children and there were even more in the staff room.
I managed to eat seven, which isn’t very many considering some people eat dozens.

Another tradition I really admired was how the men in Poland show appreciation on International Women’s Day. The entire city was full of florists set up on every street corner on the days leading up to Women’s Day. The majority of men get flowers for the women in their family. I got some for my host mother, and received some from the rest of the family as well, which was lovely. This is definitely a tradition we need to start in New Zealand.

Now, I’m staying in Warsaw until Easter to save some money and expore this beautiful city I live in. Over our one week Easter break I will be exploring Prague, Czech Republic. Now the snow is gone, it’s a great time to explore both of these cities by bike on a sunny day.

Portia Part III - English Tutor in Poland

Portia in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

 

To mark one month until the start of the summer holidays here in Poland, our group of volunteers decided to head back to where our great adventures in Europe started – Kraków.

This time, we made it to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wieliczka Salt Mines, which are an incredibly underrated attraction in my opinion.

I’ve seen some impressive sites before, like the colosseum in Rome and the Parthenon in Athens, but never heard raving reviews about a salt mine so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The size of the mine was inconceivable until I had actually descended the 378 steps to get to the first of nine levels, 64 metres deep. Our 3-kilometre tour took us deep into the mine, although there was so much more that we didn’t see. Highlights included licking many walls and seeing the salty Pope John Paul II statue in the mines cathedral.

It wasn’t just a normal workplace. Horses lived down there transporting salt without ever seeing daylight, workers prayed in the many churches and artists worked to carve impressive sculptures and paintings.

The mine goes down to 327m below ground level which is deeper than the height of the Eiffel Tower (301m tall). Luckily there is an elevator up to ground level after eventually reaching 135m below ground level, otherwise I may have had to book into the Salt Mine hotel for the night.

Our next long weekend adventure was Berlin. I haven’t been to a city that I haven’t enjoyed yet, but Berlin is the best so far. I couldn’t have imagined a better city to celebrate my 18th birthday.

The young and lively, yet rich cultural atmosphere of the city motivated me to see as much as possible in the three days my friends and I had.

Portia in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

We started with the Museum Island, as the name suggests, it is an island with five museums, two of which we visited. The Pergamon Museum and Neues Museum show Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Islamic exhibitions which proves just how diverse Berlin is.

I think everyone would be able to find something of interest in at least one of these museums, even the buildings themselves are beautiful and must have a history of their own.

One of the most magnificent pieces of art I’ve seen so far this year has to be the enormous Ishtar Gate, a reconstruction of one of the gates to Babylon, originally built in 575 BC. The deep blue and gold colours were just dazzling.

Following our noses, we found Hackescher Markt, a fragrant and crowded bunch of food stalls. This was like another museum in itself where we tried different tasty Lebanese dishes and german desserts. The transition from Polish Zloty to Euro is rather heartbreaking but a €4.50 lunch is nothing to complain about.

The 42-bed dorm room at The Heart of Gold Hostel doesn’t sound like a fun time, but I can say that it was much better than we ever would have expected.

For €10 per night, I wasn’t expecting much but I was lucky enough to sleep through the whole night, and working wifi and clean bathrooms were a bonus. The hostel experience is still something I enjoy, as you meet people from all over the world and it feels like a cooler version of school camp, but next month I start my two months traveling around Eastern Europe and I will surely be sick of sharing rooms and explaining that New Zealand doesn’t have kangaroos or dangerous animals like in Australia.

We started with the Museum Island, as the name suggests, it is an island with five museums, two of which we visited. The Pergamon Museum and Neues Museum show Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Islamic exhibitions which proves just how diverse Berlin is.

I think everyone would be able to find something of interest in at least one of these museums, even the buildings themselves are beautiful and must have a history of their own.

One of the most magnificent pieces of art I’ve seen so far this year has to be the enormous Ishtar Gate, a reconstruction of one of the gates to Babylon, originally built in 575 BC. The deep blue and gold colours were just dazzling.

Following our noses, we found Hackescher Markt, a fragrant and crowded bunch of food stalls. This was like another museum in itself where we tried different tasty Lebanese dishes and german desserts. The transition from Polish Zloty to Euro is rather heartbreaking but a €4.50 lunch is nothing to complain about.

The 42-bed dorm room at The Heart of Gold Hostel doesn’t sound like a fun time, but I can say that it was much better than we ever would have expected.

For €10 per night, I wasn’t expecting much but I was lucky enough to sleep through the whole night, and working wifi and clean bathrooms were a bonus. The hostel experience is still something I enjoy, as you meet people from all over the world and it feels like a cooler version of school camp, but next month I start my two months traveling around Eastern Europe and I will surely be sick of sharing rooms and explaining that New Zealand doesn’t have kangaroos or dangerous animals like in Australia.

Jenn - English Tutor in Poland

Jenn in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

“I used to think I was going to have a straight foreward life. I thought I was going to know exactly what I wanted to do with myself, be good at it and enjoy it. It turned out it wasn’t that simple. So I decided since life threw a wrench into the works, I would too. That’s when I packed up and flew to Poland for a Gap Year with Lattitude Global Volunteering.

I arrived in Warsaw with 30 other volunteers not knowing what to expect of the next 5 months. I wasn’t sure how I was going to teach English to Polish speaking youths (who were considerably close to my age). When the time came for everyone to depart to their placements it started to settle in that I was in a strange country thousands of miles from home and was a bit overwhelming. It’s something you just have to take as it comes. I met my host family, was introduced to the school, began assisting with lessons and everything slowly but naturally fell into place. I never would of thought, but I really enjoyed teaching. By the end of my placement I was not only holding classes on my own, but relieving for teachers (not just from the English department).

The culture was amazing and everyone was really interested in mine. I was constantly asked to do the Haka, which I politely refused, but made up for it by singing a Waiata to 200 confused but appreciative 12-15 year olds. I picked up enough of the language to get along without a student or member of my host family translating, and still enjoy throwing a few Polish phrases around back home.

In terms of what I learnt about myself , it was a bit like re-organising my room. I rummaged through everything I had. Threw out the things that were no longer important, realised the things that were. Discovered some things I forgot I’d even had and was surprised they still worked. On my return home I came back with a fistfull of experience, a headfull of amazing memories and a long list of friends from all over the world who I was excited to one day revisit.

I could go on and on and tell you every detail of every place and person I connected with on my Overseas Gap Year but its not going to change the fact you are still sitting here reading this. You could know every fact and statistic about a culture but there is no higher understanding than being immersed in it. You thought you knew everything about yourself but you’ll see the real you when confronted with situtation you’ve never encountered. There is a big wide world out there. Go see it for yourself.”

 

Grace - English Tutor in Poland

Grace in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

I am placed at “Klasztor Siostr Niepokalanek” aka “Convent of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady” in Jaroslaw, which is in South East Poland. I am living with another volunteer, Georgina from Melbourne, in a Convent with 34 nuns (that wear habits and all!).

Poland is (in as few words as possible) simply amazing, charming and beautiful! I have been to Warsaw, Krakow, and the Tri-City (Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot) so far and have been amazed at the amount of hidden gems this country has. From the quaint and beautifully preserved old towns and churchs to the extravagant castles, like Wawel, this country does nothing but impress. The same goes for its people too. The Poles are… different, but delightful! And the other volunteers, Kiwis and Aussies, are priceless. The trips with them have been beyond memorable! The other NZers, Suzanne, Johanna and Charles are quite amazing. I am so lucky to have met them and to have become so close with them. They’re family, minus the bloodline.

The fact that we, especially coming from little wee NZ, are surrounded by history every day (some of Jaroslaw’s buildings date back to the 13th century) is probably one of the most incredible parts of this experience for me. Especially this week, and in particular this weekend; Poland is mourning and grieving for their President, his wife and several other leading members of their Government, and we (the volunteers), are experiencing this with them. History is taking place right before our eyes and I am learning so much as it happens!

I am so pleased I am here and chose to take a year “growing up” rather than another year with my nose in books! The members of staff here laugh at Georgina and I on a daily basis, because we look like Cheshire cats; always smiling and overly enthusiastic, but it’s hard not to be. After all, WE ARE IN POLAND! The language can sometimes be a small barrier, but also highly entertaining. Many memories have been made with our Polish skills, or lack of, but in the end, the meaning or main gist, usually gets across with the odd phrase.

Anyone that is second guessing a gap year in Poland shouldn’t. Maybe easier said than done, but of all the doubts or second thoughts I have had, I can firmly say, that now, I have none. I am so happy where I am, what I have seen and am yet to experience. There is nowhere else I would rather be right now. Poland and its people; young, old and nuns, have found a very firm and cosy spot in my heart!

Stephanie - English Tutor in Poland

Stephanie in Poland - Lattitude Gap Year

Yesterday it was Michal’s (one of our students) 21st birthday! He speaks English very, very well, and we have great conversations with him, he’s a blast to chat with! The other day he asked if Lissy (my fellow volunteer from Melbourne) and I would like to go for a walk with him on his birthday, and keen as we are to engage fully into our experience and existence here at the school, we said we would.

We were meant to set up a time to meet on Friday, but unfortunately we never crossed paths to do so. So Lissy and I decided we would go in search of him yesterday at the boys’ dorm, but were told that he had left about 15 minutes before. We thought we would return later in the evening to try and catch him.

As we were walking down the avenue back towards our cottage, in the distance we see this boy running towards towards us, obviously blind as he was zig-zagging across the path, (yet amazingly knowing when he hit the edges with the terrain change) and as we looked more closely, we realised it was Michal running towards us! He had been called on his phone to say that we were looking for him and he made haste to get back to the the down as fast as he could. So we called out to him, and at that moment the smile on his face would’ve lit up the whole sky!

When we met on the path we were so excited for him because it was his birthday and wished him a big happy birthday. We then proceeded to go for a walk. We chatted and walked for over an hour, he is truly one of the most amazing people! He never fails to put a smile on my face. He is so incredibly sincere and just so lovely. I wish you could all meet him! And it wasn’t until later on that evening when I was sitting pondering the day passed, that it hit me…Michal was running, RUNNING, to find us because he was so excited. The smile on his face when he realised we were on the track was one of the most memorable things and I won’t ever forget it. To watch a blind person run, unguided, along a path that has roots bumbing up the tar seal on the pathway, and needing to judge where other people are on the way, was mind blowing.

So there you have it, I wanted to share that with you because it’s a reminder of what can be achieved when you put your mind to it. It truly moved me and will remain a reminder of the lives you can touch when volunteering, and also how your life can be touched just as equally.