Peace Corps Poland
Peace Corps Poland has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my life (so far). Training was held in three separate locations, as there were so many of us. We were split into groups of about 40 people. My group (fondly remembered as the "red" group) was sent to Piaseczno, just south of Warsaw. Here we are:
Training in Piaseczno was, to say the least, interesting. We were all assigned to different families for our living arrangements. I was extremely lucky to stay with a family that I am still in close contact with. I lived a little ways outside the village of Piaseczno, but it was worth it. The Stygar family is very warm and welcoming. The first few days were filled with frustration on both sides at the difficulty of communicating, but we overcame it. Dueling Dictionaries was a "game" played by one and all. Fortunately we had the stamina to keep up with it all, and I eventually became fairly proficient in the Polish language. Little Zbyszek, the 8 year old, took me for walks and taught me my colors and numbers. Here's the whole family:
From l to r: Jacek, Matylda,Zbyszek,Wiesa, me, Dominika, Mirek.
Training was very important in many aspects. We learned Polish language 4 hours every day, as well as teacher training, culture and health. We also went to Warsaw individually and in groups, and we were sent on an exciting trip to various places around the country for the Fourth of July weekend. My group went to Gdansk, which is a magnificent place!
Gdansk has a lot to offer tourists, and is a wonderful city to visit. We spent time wondering in the Old Town, which houses many museums as well as restored facades This was also the birthplace of Solidarity. If you go to Gdansk, don't forget to go to Hel!
Finally, at the end of August, we were assigned to our schools, and off we went. It was hard leaving our new friends, but plans were made to get together. There was another volunteer going to Gorzów, and we were driven there together, about a 6 hour trip. Once in Gorzow, I was placed in my own apartment, while others lived in dorms, or with families. One of the first things I did was get a cat, Mickiewicz, and a year later I added to the family with Tadeusz. (Oddly enough, Polish people prefer dogs, even though most live in very small, crowded apartments.)
Tadeusz (white) and Mickiewicz.
While living and working in Gorzow I was able to visit many places around Europe, including Sweden, Prague, Paris, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece. Peace Corps requires that you stay in Poland for the first three months of service, and after that you have to claim vacation time for travel outside of the country. My trips to Sweden and Paris were with school groups, which made it that much easier. Paris was a three day trip, and we spent five days in Sweden. Both times I went as a chaperone. Fortunately, all the kids were well behaved and no one got lost...
I also made many very good friends in Gorzów, which helped a lot with my language skills, as most of them didn't speak English. They took me all over the area - to the Drawienski National Park, the W.W.II bunkers in Miedzyrzecz, Poznan, and others. And of course I visited my Peace Corps friends at their sites.
After my two year commitment was up, I extended for a third year. I think I knew I would, right from the beginning, and can't imagine having left at that time. Please see my "photo album" for more pictures.
Feeding the swans in Prague.
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