So I’m in my ancestral home of Poland, visiting friends and family, and experiencing my own culture, and even a bit of history! After I had finished my study abroad in Lyon, one of the program coordinators asked me what I was doing after the program, and when I told her that I was going to Poland, her response was that my trip to Poland was going to be another amazing experience. Now I’ve been in Poland for about 3 weeks, and let me say she was right.

The first place I ended up in Poland was Wrocław, a major Polish city on the western side

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Longtime family Friends Beata and her son Oscar

of the country. Here I lived with some old family friends who had moved to Poland years ago. They were so kind to me and took me all over the city of Wrocław, buying me dinner and dessert, and showing me their city. I spent a lot of time with my childhood friend Oscar ( the son), and it was great to be able to see him and catch up with him. I was also in Wrocław just in time for the 2017 World Games. The World Games is an international multi-sport event meant for sports that aren’t contested in the Olympics, the World Games are recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Before my trip to Wrocław I had never heard of the World games, but now I can say that I’ve been to two

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Muay Thai

world games events, the opening ceremony, and the Muay Thai event. Muay Thai was especially cool to go to as I hadn’t really known what Muay Thai was before, and was able to learn about a completely new and unique sport rooted in Thai culture.

 

My next stop after Wrocław was the city of Kalisz Poland, to visit my uncle. My uncle picked me up from the train station and took me to an old communist era 1 bedroom apartment building,  the childhood home of himself and my father, where he was currently living. This visit was particularly sad, as my aunt had passed away in April and

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My uncle Wojtek 

although visiting my uncle was great, there was a somber atmosphere in the air.  I was only in Kalisz for a short 2 night and during that time I had to the opportunity to visit my aunt’s grave.  I went with my uncle and spent about 15-30 minutes there thinking and reflecting on my aunt and her life. I had already come to terms with her death, but this experience led me to further reflect on life and death and come to further accept her passing, which I feel is important. Afterward, I mostly hung out with my uncle, and we talked a lot, about her, about life, and about beliefs. He talked a lot about

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My aunt Magda

how much he believes in me as a person, and at the end of the day, I felt a part of a family that’s more than just me and my parents. The next day this feeling continued as I got to see my other aunt (my uncle’s wife), who I grew close to that last time I was in Poland, we then all went to her parents, who had also come to like me a lot last time. There I took pictures and told every one of my travels and journeys, and there I also felt the strong feeling of love and family.

 

After Kalisz, my next stop was Rzeszow in south eastern Poland to visit my maternal grandpa and cousin. I stayed with my grandfather, once again in a one bedroom communist era apartment building, in which my mother grew up in with her three

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Myself with my Grandfather and cousin Linda

siblings. The apartment was filled with clocks, as my grandpa enjoys fixing clocks, as well as other gadgets. The apartment was also kinda messy as he lives alone and doesn’t clean very often. My grandfather couldn’t stop talking while I was there and always had a story to tell, and though it was exhausting to listen to at times, he did have a few really interesting stories to tell from the German occupation as well as from the communist regime. I obviously didn’t have a blast with my grandpa, but I brought a little joy into his life simply by spending a week with him and that makes me very happy. I also was able to celebrate my grandpa’s 88th birthday with him, which was really special to him as well as myself as I have never had the opportunity to do so. In addition to hanging out with my grandpa, I also got to spend some time with my cousin Linda, whom I haven’t seen in 6 years. She showed me around Rzeszow quite a bit and took me to a few of the shopping malls there, I also had the opportunity stay at her place for a little bit, which was nice because she had Wifi. We talked about a lot about politics, particularly in Poland, as in Poland it could be argued that the government is leaning towards authoritarianism as well as an isolationist foreign policy ( not good things especially for an EU member state). We then talked about prejudice in Poland, as sadly, Poland is not a very progressive country and there are a lot of issues with racism and homophobia here, which is not okay.  We also talked a bit about spirituality. We bonded quite a bit over the time we spent together, which is really cool as I don’t get to see my cousins very often, and she, being quite a bit older than me told me that she was proud of the person I was becoming, which truly meant a lot to me.

 

After my 10 days in Rzeszow, I was off to my final stop on my European tour, Krakow Poland. Here I once again became a solo traveler and stayed in a hostel for two nights, the Greg & Tom Beer House. I once again had the opportunity to meet other travelers from different parts of the world, and by other parts of the world, I mean other English

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Pigeons in Krakow oldtown

speaking countries as English speakers are who I’ve met a lot at the 2 hostels I’ve been to. After speaking a bit to my new dorm mates I decided to go out and take a Krakow city tour.  The tour was nice short, and free, I learned a lot about Krakow, and got to explore a bit of the beautiful city. Krakow is the former capital of Poland, (It was moved to Warsaw in the 1600s). It also has a wonderfully preserved old town (one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites) with buildings from the middle ages. It is the only Polish city that wasn’t totally destroyed during WWII, and therefore the aforementioned old town is a rarity and gem in Poland. The tour took me through all of old town, to the former home of Pope John Paul II while he was bishop of Krakow, and finally to the Wawel castle, the former home of the king of Poland. It stood there perched atop a hill majestically overlooking the city. After the tour, I took some time to walk around the courtyard of the castle, taking it all in, and then I returned back to my hostel for the night

 

The next morning I woke up early to fulfill a promise I had made to myself after my trip to Berlin. I went on a tour of Auschwitz. My tour began at the Auschwitz I camp, the first of the Auschwitz camps, originally built as a labor camp for Polish prisoners of War. It later held Jews, Romani, and prisoners from other nationalities, and although it remained mostly a labor camp, it did handle mass exterminations later on in the war. The camp consisted of around 20 former military barracks that were converted into blocks in which the prisoners lived. Our tour took us into several of the blocks, in which the conditions of the prisoners were shown. In one room we saw shoes, in another 2 tons of shaved human hair, in another suitcases, and in another pots and pans. I saw the cells that prisoners were put into if they misbehaved, ones in which they were packed into and forced to stand for days at a time, or starved in, or suffocated in. We then were shown to the shooting wall, where victims were lined up and shot, I almost broke into tears. Next was the Auschwitz I crematorium, which was the smallest of crematoriums, but the only one that wasn’t destroyed by the Nazis before the liberation of the camp. Afterward, we went to the second camp Auschwitz II Birkenau, which was created by destroying the Polish village of Brzezinka. This camp was huge and went on as far as the eye could see. The buildings here were much smaller and housed people in much worse conditions. Birkenau was solely extermination camp, meant for housing and killing prisoners. Here we walked around the buildings and saw the rubble of the destroyed Crematoriums left behind by the Germans. I also noticed many children in scouts uniforms from Israel, learning about the acts of horror committed, and praying and chanting for those who so horribly lost their lives there, that was the only beautiful thing I saw in that terrible place. The acts committed there were deplorable and it’s disgusting that they happened only about 75 years ago. Being there and seeing everything and learning about what had happened there in greater detail, in my family’s country, was difficult to take in, however even though I wouldn’t say I was “glad” to visit Auschwitz, I think it was an important place to experience.

After Auschwitz, I returned to my hostel and took some time to reflect on and heal from the experience, as it was a lot to take in. I then passed the rest of my day (the day before

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St Joseph’s Church Krakow

of my flight back home) pretty well/ I hung out with one of my dormmates, Natalia from Australia, and later explored more of Krakow, outside of the old town. I went to the Jewish quarter, which became the Krakow Ghetto during the War, and aside from that fact it was a cool place, and I enjoyed being able to enjoy a different culture and even language within my own family’s own country and culture. I then continued walking around Krakow, seeing a lot of old pre-war buildings and probably one of the most beautiful Catholic churches I have ever seen. I then walked on a pathway by the Wisla river, which runs through the city, and once again saw the imposing sight of the Wawel castle. I snapped one last picture, and made my way back to my room where I had dinner, took a mostly cold shower ( the hot water turned off mid-shower), packed, and got ready for my flight as I was going to be flying back to the States the next day.

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Wawel Castle

 

Poland was my last country on my European tour, and considering it’s a second home to me and I have citizenship there, it felt like a fitting last stop. There were two main take away experiences that I had in Poland and those would be experiencing Auschwitz and reconnecting with family and friends.  Auschwitz was, as mentioned before, a sad, difficult, but extremely important and educational experience. Only 75 years ago people were murdering others in deplorable ways, for their racial and ethnic background and on claims that they literally believed they were better than them. I believe that in many ways people have come a long way since then ( although even today this happens sometimes, but not on the same scale), but there is still so much to learn, and especially considering the political climate found in the U.S and even in France and Poland, and all over Europe, it’s so important for us to be able to learn from our mistakes of the past.  Finally, in terms of reconnecting with my family, I was able to feel love and support from people who I forgot loved me. It’s so hard to feel those things when your family lives so far away, but they do and that’s important to remember. Here I am in the U.S, young, in college, and feeling alone, anxious,  and even depressed as I’m trying to earn my degree and these people love me and support me and believe in me and who I am, all the way from half way across the world. That is so valuable to me and visiting them in Poland helped me realize all of that.

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