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Do widzenia! (good bye)

June 17th, 2008

Since we leave for the airport tomorrow at 3:45 am, which to my thinking is technically the dead of night, I think this qualifies as our last morning in Ziebice. Today, everyone spends the day with their host families, packing and preparing for the 23 hours of travel back to Denver that await us. I think most of the students are just going to stay awake the whole night fueled by lots of Coke and then sleep on the plane.  But after three busy weeks of sight-seeing, i am going to sleep early tonight and then ALSO on the plane. 

I heard a little bit about the students weekend adventures when we traveled to Opole yesterday. Arthur took a train to Wroclaw and apparently rode ATVs at some point in the weekend.  David and Cullen went to a high-ropes course. Becca went swimming, and Aysha went to see a famous church made of human bones.  Aga took me to a fortress, where we walked around an underground labrynth, and then to a beautiful nature preserve and another castle.  She pointed out yet another castle to me as we were driving and explained that now it was a private home.  I thought, well, that pretty much trumps any millionaire homes that we have in the U.S.!  Anyway, the host families obviously did an amazing job of making sure the students had a great time during their last weekend.

Yesterday we visited a village/museum in Opole, where cottages, windmills, and a wooden church from the 17th century still stand.  We got a demonstration from the blacksmith and threw zlotys into the lake by the water mill.  I think the original plan was to eat at a Polish restaurant near the village, but one of the teachers from Ziebice who was with us for the day explained, “The food there isn’t Polish, it’s just bad.”  So, back to McDonald’s! Some of the students were excited, but a lot of them actually like Polish food like pierogies stuffed with potatoes and cheese or cabbage rolls and were a little disappointed. This made my heart swell with pride…as I polished off my McDonald’s chicken wrap. 

After lunch we went to Opole’s city center for about an hour of shopping. Opole is a smaller town than Krakow or Wroclaw with lots of universities and students.  There had been a big music festival there over the weekend, and there were posters and pictures all over the city. An hour turned out to be the perfect amount of time in Opole because it started to rain hard as we hustled to the bus.

Last night we had our goodbye party.  The parents hosted it at a beuatiful old building overlooking Ziebice that is usually used for weddings. There were tents set up for us outside…and more kielbasa, French fries, and cakes than we could eat. One student groaned, “I’m not going to eat for like a week when I get home.”  Mayor Antoni Herbowski and Mariusz presented all of the Americans with a plaque and a CD with a video and pictures of our trip. We stayed until about midnight, talking about soccer and stories from this and past Sister Cities exchanges.

I was talking with a friend of Aga’s over the weekend, and he said, “I think your trip here has been a great adventure.” He frowned and double-checked his use of English,  “Like Indiana Jones had an adventure, yes?”  And I think our trip here has seemed in some ways like a really fun summer popcorn movie.  We’ve laughed hard, we’ve seen places that, to us, are so beautiful and exotic that they almost seem like they’re from a screen, we’re walking away with big smiles on our faces, talking about our favorite parts.

But as we settle back into our lives in Colorado I think we will come to realize how important this exhange really was.  Our world today makes it so easy to stay isolated. Some people go a lifetime without connecting with other cultures, wihout seeing how other people live in other countries, without making a friend who lives across an ocean.  Exchanges like the one between Brighton and Ziebice are more than just fun.  The sense of understanding and connection that are created during these trips are critical. They help those involved become citizens not just of one city or one country, but of the world.

And here’s the thing. All this starts witha handful of people who are willing to take a risk and leave their comfort zone, and I want to single out and commend the students, still kids really, who are willing to try out a different life for three weeks. The students from both sides of this exhange are willing to take a huge leap into the unknown, and I know that the incredible experience that the Sister Cities exchange allows them to have, thanks in no small part to the generous and hospitable host families, will encourage them to continue to travel and to find common ground with other people and cultures throughout their lives. 




Czesc (It’s REALLY right this time!) on Saturday morning

June 14th, 2008

We visited some places closer to Ziebice during the last part of this week.  Wednesday was a “day off” after our busy trip to Wroclaw, but one of the host families threw a party for the kids. They bonded over video games and French fries, two things with near-universal appeal for teenagers! 

On Thursday, the group visited Henrykow to tour the stunning church and monastery there.  The inside of the church is ornately decorated in Baroque style, with elaborate wooden carvings and gilded surfaces and angels peering at you from every corner.  There are also several giant paintings that line the walls of the church.  These are in the slow process of being restored…this costs about 75,000 dollars for each painting.  Also, for reasons I never fully understood, there is a small zoo with wild pigs, deer, horses and donkeys, and a lone ostrich by the monastery, so we fed the animals, then walked to Aga’s school and had lunch. The American students are trying to learn more and more Polish as the trip goes on, and they wanted to try out some of their new words on the young Polish students at the school.  The students more often than not would just stare at the Americans, prompting one of them to ask, “Do they speak Polish here?”

Many of the students from our host families had a ball that is a rite of passage here to celebrate graduating from gimnazjum.  It sounds a little bit like an American prom, except in addition to getting their hair done and getting decked out in formal clothes, at this ball, they perform a traditional Polish dance that requires lots of practice and preparation.  So on Thursday night, many of the American students attended this ball with the kids from their host families.  The ones who didn’t watched a heartbreaking Poland-Austria match.  Poland led for most of the game, but a bad call by a ref led to a penalty kick that ended the game in a tie.  Yesterday on the radio, when they were interviewing the Polish players, I got the gist of what was being said mainly because the interviews were basically a series of censor’s bleeps. Also, the ref now must travel with security “because,” Aga told me, ”our fans will kill him.”  I laughed.  She did not.

Yesterday we visited the gold mine in Zloty Stok.  We had a funny tour guide who told us at one point that even Chuck Norris couldn’t lift up a block of gold with two fingers.  We saw an underground waterfall, rode a train through part of the mine, and panned for fool’s gold.  There was also a big trampoline by the small shops and restaurant at the mine, and David, Alec, Cullen, and Arthur took full advantage of this! When we returned to Ziebice, we visited the high school briefly.  Between the game and the ball the night before, everyone seemed tired after our trip. 

The students are spending time with the host families this weekend, and then on Monday we visit a town named Opole for our last sightseeing trip!

Dancing with the Stars

June 11th, 2008

As we were waiting to go into the ballroom to begin our dance lesson on Monday night, the Polish and American students were standing in a big group, laughing and talking just like usual.  This time though, occasionally one of the American students would break off from the group, slink up to me and whisper, “I can’t dance!”  with a look of total terror on their face before they would go back to the group of teenagers.  When we entered the ballroom, sat down, and watched the young dancers do a demonstration for us, it didn’t do anything to calm their nerves.  Ballroom dancing seems like a popular “after-school activity” for both boys and girls here, and we watched pairs of kids as young as ten shimmy and whirl gracefully on the dance floor, moving their hips and feet in ways that I was pretty sure my hips and feet didn’t move.  At least not on purpose. We applauded for the young students, and then it was our turn.  I was nervous as we went out on the dance floor…would our students cover up their fear with bravado and an attitude?  Would they be able to loosen up and have fun?  Would any of us break a leg and have to be sent home early?

But every one of us had a blast learning the cha-cha, giggling at each other and ourselves. The teachers taught us the steps individually, and we would practice alone.  Then we would partner up with a Polish dancing student and dance as pairs.  It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but we all could do the complete dance at the end of the lesson, thanks to the patient teachers and partners. 

Yesterday we took a trip to Wroclaw, a city which is the capital of Lower Silesia, the part of Poland that we are in.  It was a great day in another fascinating city.  Wroclaw is smaller, but has the same beautiful architecture, market square lined with cafes, and rich sense of history as Krakow. There are also several universities and lots of students.  It took us about an hour to get there by bus.  Our first stop was the Japanese garden, a lush, calm spot.  It was completely underwater in a 1997 flood, but has been restored.  We had fun feeding bits of our sandwiches to the huge carp in the ponds.

Next we fought our way through crowds of school children to eat lunch at McDonald’s.  The American kids were pretty happy to see hamburgers!  After lunch, we visited the Panorama Raclawicka, a huge cylindrical painting commemorating a successful Polish uprising against the Russians.  We also took a little cruise on the Odra river that runs through the city, sailing under some beautiful bridges.  Wroclaw is actually a series of islands joined by bridges, kind of like Venice. Then we climbed the 420-step tower at St. Elizabeth’s church to get a beautiful view of the city.  We climbed down and walked around the city, had dinner, and then  walked around the cobblestone roads of Ostrow Tumski at night.  This is the oldest part of the city, and even has gas lanterns that someone walks around and lights manually each evening. 

Oh, and we were gnome-hunting all day.  Wroclaw has about seventy small brass gnomes hiding around the city.  Some are by the river, some are walking in small, secret doors in the sides of buildings.  We had fun trying to see as many as we could, although we didn’t see nearly all seventy!

We were all tired at the end of the day…but some of us were still practicing the cha-cha before we got on the bus back to Ziebice.

Ziebice Days and EuroCup 2008

June 9th, 2008

It’s Monday morning after an eventful weekend.  First of all, we had Ziebice Days…and I hope those of you who attended Ken’s American version had a blast! Ziebice Days is a big town festival.  There was great festival food (in Poland, this means kebabs, popcorn, and waffles with whipped cream and fruit topping…anyone from my family reading this knows how overjoyed I was to see my favorite way to eat waffles), lots of families and kids running around, some very well-known Polish rock bands, and fireworks, which some of the students watched from the giant eagle that overlooks the town.  Ok, so the weather was rainy on Saturday and Sunday, but that didn’t stop everyone from having lots of fun and didn’t stop the dancing on a big wooden dance floor set up in front of the stage…you know that one couple at American parties who are really great dancers who everyone loves to watch?  It seems like just about everyone is like that here…the men and the women!  It was pretty muddy yesterday evening, but Polish women seem to adore really really fabulous shoes (I notice these things, okay?), and they were still in their heels as they walked around the boggy festival.

However, something overshadowed even Ziebice Days yesterday, and that was Poland’s first EuroCup game against Germany.  It is pretty hard to imagine the level of frenzy that the whole country is in when it comes to soccer.   We just don’t quite have an equivalent in the US where the WHOLE COUNTRY loses it’s mind over one team. There are Polska jerseys and flags everywhere, and Wroclaw decorated part of it’s city to look like a soccer field and has a huge fountain filled with soccer balls.  Also, there is a big rivalry between Poland and Germany, although it sounds like Germany is kind of like the Raiders of the European soccer league, and everyone hates them.

So we went to watch the game, me wearing a red sweater of Aga’s and the rest of the group we were with decked out in jerseys, red and white wigs, Polska cowboy hats, and flags.  I don’t actually know much about soccer…I seem to remember from watching high school games that there are midfielders and defenders, and yellow cards are bad…but I still had fun yelling my head off at the TV along with the rest of the crowd.  Soccer has two forty-five minute periods, and there are NO COMMERCIAL BREAKS.  No Bud Light commercials, no Toyota commercials, just forty-five minute stretches of uninterrupted game.  Amazing! Throughout the entire match, our table directed one of about three things at the TV…hisses, repeating “Prosche prosche prosche (”please please please” at varying volumes, and screaming in joy and agony. 

Poland lost, 2-0. The next game is against Austria on Thursday.  I’m glad I have some time to recover emotionally.

Tonight we have dancing lessons, which should be lots of fun, and tomorrow we visit Wroclaw all day.  I hope the city isn’t sold out of Polska jerseys.


Szkola In Poland

June 6th, 2008

I’ve spent the last couple of days in different schools in Ziebice and neighboring Henrykow, and as a teacher in the US, it’s been very interesting to see the educational system here.  I saw lots of similarities between our schools in the US and the ones here. They have pretty much the same schedule, except they go to school almost through June and go back in September, and they have the same division of grades and schools…elementary, middle, and high school.

Yesterday I went with Aga to her primary (elementary) school in Henrykow, where she teaches art.   All students in Poland were required to learn Russian under Soviet rule, but now they learn German and English instead.  So Aga let her class know who I was and they all waved to me and said, “HI!” Some students were shy, but others were more brave and saw me as a great opportunity to practice their English.  One student told me proudly, “We have five Matthews in this class!” and ran around to all the Matthews and made them wave at me.  Another student pointed out to me that Mexico (actually, he said “Mexthico” because he was missing some teeth, and I pretty much wanted to follow him around all day and listen to him talk because he was so cute, but I thought that  be a bit scary) was below my country.  It was a pretty amazing contrast that this boy knew the geography of the Western hemisphere so well, We took the class to a little zoo in a park that had some farm animals, and the students would try to say the English name for a rooster or a pig, and if I didn’t quite understand, they would make the noise that the animal makes to help me.  Aga also took her class to the computer lab, and a little girl sat down beside me and asked me a question in Polish, and I gave her my standard answer when I don’t know what people are saying to me, “Jestem Amerikanski (I am an American).”  She looked at me like I had just beamed myself down from the Enterprise.  Throughout the rest of the period, she would type a word and then stare at me, type a word and then stare some more! I just smiled at her every time.

Today we visited the gimnazjum in Ziebice, which is like their junior high here.  We went on a tour of the school and then watched part of a huge handball tournament that is going on here.  Handball seems a lot like lacrosse, only the players use their hands to pass and score instead of sticks…hence the name.  Some of the American students tried to grasp the rules, some tried to give advice to the players after watching for a few minutes, but others pronounced it the weirdest game they had ever seen.  We had lunch at the school as well.  It started with soup, like most lunches here, and I have to say that even though it might seem weird to Americans to have so much soup in the summer, the soups here are fantastic, and I think America should maybe consider adopting this eating habit!

To me, I think it’s fascinating that the elementary school students I talked to yesterday could carry on short conversations in English (and probably can in German too), and the junior high students could create whole presentations in English.  We saw a few at the middle school, and even though a couple of the American students snickered at some spelling a grammar errors in these presentations, the emphasis on the importance of learning other languages is so different from American school, where students are only really required to take a couple of years of another language.  Also, the students in the host families here are basically excused from school for three weeks in order to be with the American students, and I know I would frown upon this as a teacher in America, but this experience seems so worth their absence from my perspective here.  Also, as far as I can tell, I think Polish students go on lots and lots of field trips to other cities.  To me, Polish education seems to teach students not only about their own familiar surroundings, but equips them to make connections with many other people and places.  I wonder if American education could learn from this?

Okay, enough teacher talk! Everyone is looking forward to Ziebice days this weekend!  The stages are being set up in the park, and I know that it will be a great time!

Chesch! (sorry about the misspelling on the previous post!)

June 5th, 2008

It is a lovely Thursday morning in Ziebice…it has been very warm the last few days, but it is a little cooler and breezy today. The students are all spending the day with their host families. It sounded like some were going to take a day trip to the Czech Republic!

Last night we returned from an amazing, amazing trip to Krakow. On Monday, we boarded the local school bus and drove a few hours to Aushwitz. I had never thought of Aushwitz as being a big tourist destination, but when we pulled up, we could see hundreds of tour groups and school children, and rows of buses from all over Europe. We arrived a little early, and it was fun to people-watch and talk with Aga, Ewa, and Mariusz about the differences between people from European countries.
As busy as it was outside of the camp, it was just as quiet and somber inside. We had a very well-informed tour guide take us around the museum and the camp. The museum contained rooms full of thousands of shoes, suitcases, and eyeglasses, and one room displayed two tons of human hair that the Nazis cut off of the female prisoners. They would send it back to Germany for textile manufacturing. Our guide poignantly reminded us that for every pair of glasses, red shoe, or suitcase we saw, that represented one person who had died in the camp. Our normally boisterous group of students was quiet and attentive, and we were teary at several points during the tour.

We drove a little longer after Aushwitz in order to reach Krakow. And for the rest of my life, whenever I talk to anyone who is traveling to Europe, I am going to tell them that they have to see Krakow. Throughout the entire trip, I kept on tripping on sidewalk cracks and curbs because I was looking around in awe at everything this city offers, and it was totally worth a couple of bruised toes! We went on a city tour on Tuesday, and our guide explained that the city is named for a prince who killed a terrible dragon who lived by the river by filling a bag with salt and then feeding it to the dragon. The dragon was so thirsty that he drank from the river until he exploded. This is basically the coolest beginning of a city that I have ever heard! Lots of different architecture, castles, shops, restaurants, and churches were seen on our visit. The highlight of the city is the Market Square, which is lit up at night and contains a Gothic church (where every hour, a bugler high in one tower begins a mournful song that is abruptly cut off…this symbolizes the death of the original watchman of the town who played his trumpet to warn the town of invaders, but was killed before he finished his song) and is lined with sidewalk cafes. To me, it was the equal of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, and it feels much more authentic, peaceful, and less touristy.

 One particular moment on our tour struck me…the tour guide asked the Polish students if they knew how long a particular church had been in existence. One of the American students piped up, “Since the 1800s?” The guide (who seemed alternatively charmed and exasperated with our group!) smiled weakly at her and told her, no, the church had existed since the fourteenth century. This exchange really seemed to speak to the fact that the 1800s is ancient history in America, and it is eye-opening to be in a country that has a much older culture.

We left yesterday morning and visited the Wielezca salt mine on the way home. This is a huge salt mine about 300 feet under the earth…and you can still lick the walls, which are made completely of salt! In some parts of the mine, we saw how the mine operated originally. However, other parts of the mine contain huge, cavernous ballrooms and cathedrals carved out of salt. Even the chandeliers and statues in these rooms are made of salt! The mine was one of the original UNESCO heritage sites, and I definitely encourage anyone to look online for pictures of this stunning place.

I just want to add that the Polish host famiiles are taking such good care of us. They are so kind and conscientous, and they are doing a great job of arranging meals, travel, and schedules so our trip goes as smoothly as possible. The Polish students almost never let the American students buy a Coke or a bottle of water for themselves, and I finally wrestled a bill from a restaurant out of Aga’s hands yesterday. We are in very good hands, and I am already excited to return the kindness when an exchange group from Poland visits our country next summer!


Chesh (hi) on Monday morning,

June 2nd, 2008

Christin Kay Says:

Yesterday we all spent time with our individual host families. So in the morning, I went to Mass in a small church in Henrykow, one of Ziebice’s neighboring towns. Someone must have mentioned my name to the priest, because at one point the sermon went, “Polish Polish Polish Christin Kay from the United States Polish Polish.”
Then we spent most of the day at Aga’s grandmother’s 80th birthday party. We had a big lunch, starting with chicken noodle soup and then going on to spicy chicken and a beautiful strawberry birthday cake. Here’s a little side note- the Poles love their techno dance music, and it is on everywhere. So we’re sitting at this birthday dinner for a very traditional Polish grandmother, and the radio is cranked up through the whole thing with songs about picking up girls in clubs. Anyway, almost immediately after we finsihed that meal, lots of salads, meat, bread, and cakes were set out on the table for snacks and supper. Everyone took very good care of me, passing me bowls and platters and insisting I try everything. After one of the meals (lunch and dinner sort of ran into each other over a period of about seven hours) I went to a small car race in town with Aga and some of her cousins. And when I smay small, I mean it…the cars that were racing made a Civic look like a monster truck, so it was pretty funny to see the intense drivers revving the engines and squealing around the race track.
Today we are off on a three-day trip to Krakow, and we are visiting Aushwitz today. “Excited” isn’t the right word, but it is an important place for the students to visit and I’m anticipating that it will be one of the more emotional parts of the trip.
Do widzenia,

Dzien dobry (hello) from Ziebice!

May 31st, 2008

We have been in this beautiful village in Poland for about two days now, and our host families have already been busy helping us get to know the town and each other. After a long day and a half of travel, we were greeted warmly at the airport by Henry Ross and all of the host families. The Polish boys had baseball caps for Arthur, Alec, David, and Cullen, and Aysha, Becca, and Carissa got flowers from the girls who they are staying with. Everyone crashed that night!
Yesterday we explored our home for the next three weeks- we met at the old City Hall for a meeting with the assistant mayor and a tour of Ziebice. The Polish and American students were a little shy with each other at first, but the principal of the middle school, Mariuscz, told the students that they would be like family within a few days, and that has turned out to be a pretty accurate prediction. The town has about 10,000 residents, and is tucked into beautiful green hills. It seems like every house has a garden full of flowers and vegetables. Instead of chain restaurants like McDonald’s or Subway, there are small shops and cafes lining the sidewalks, and instead of cars, we can walk anywhere in the town in a few minutes.
Yesterday evening, we went to the local hunting lodge to have a welcome barbecue with all the host families. The students all speared some kielbasa and roasted them over a campfire andl started to relax around one another, and after a quick game of soccer, they were all talking and laughing much more easily! I sat with the host parents, and while most of the conversation was in Polish, they all still went out of their way to make me feel at home. It doesn’t get dark until a little after 10 here, and we didn’t make our way home until after it had been dark for quite a while.
Today we went to a 60th anniversary “jubilee” for Ziebice’s primary school. It’s amazing to think about all that the school and this town has experienced since 1948- it has definitely had a tumultuous history, but we saw lots of proud teachers and students today, and the celebration was pretty similar to any school assembly in the US…including the long speeches from principals and superintendents! We had lunch during the celebration. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day here, and starts with soup. After that course, a few of the Brighton students tried some of the more traditional Polish food, and they may not have eaten everything, but I am proud that they were willing to try!
Tomorrow we spend the day with our host families. Some students are going to Mass tomorrow morning (the majority of Poles are Catholic) with their families, which should be interesting. Others are going to relax at the lake, and the weather is hot enough here to make this a pretty good idea. On Monday we leave for a few days in Krakow, a city that is supposed to be very beautiful and culturally fascinating.
Do widzenia!

Direct from Ziebice, Poland …

May 26th, 2008

If you can see this message, you can send your comments to Christin Kay, Brighton High School teacher, with the Sister City delegation in Ziebice, Poland. Seven Brighton-area students are traveling in Brighton’s sister city. Christin will report back frequently, so check back and comment often.