Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A life-changing experience, courtesy of Poland

We landed in Krakow, Poland, at about 8:30 p.m. after almost a full day of traveling. The six-hour time change wasn’t as difficult as I thought considering I was so warn out from the long flight and four-hour layover. At this point we were all running on adrenaline from finally making it to our destination — so we took a stroll through the Main Market Square after dropping off our bags.

Public transportation is key to walking around the city. At first I was hesitant, because I didn’t know a single word in Polish and translating isn’t as easy as one might think, but grabbing the tram was simple. It was about a 10-minute ride and the square was accessible from there. It was lit up with lights from Christmas and lined with restaurants, shops, and bars. It truly was beautiful.

In the main open square they were in the process of setting up a stage for the New Year’s celebration — expectancy over 800,000 people from all over Europe. When we weren’t in class we took tours all over the city and in took all its beauty. We were able to walk on the oldest road in Krakow, more than 900 years and spent the afternoon in the Wawel Castle where King’s once inhabited its corridors. The castle overlooked the river, which held a certain aspect of beauty during sunset.

We took a look at the Bishops corridor where Pope John Paul II once was during his lifetime, which was really interesting. Catholicism is a big part of the Polish culture so there was a Church located every few blocks but each had a personal touch to each one. I couldn’t grasp the concept of how old each individual building was throughout the city, the architecture was truly captivating.

The next day as class we took a field trip about 40 minutes outside the city to the Wieliczka salt mine. We took stairs down about 400 meters and walked through tunnels that once inhabited many mine workers. Salt was quite a luxury back in the day. Since everything in this mine was made of salt we were able to lick the walls and taste it because the salt would end up killing the germs or bacteria so it was completely sanitary. This was an experience to say the least.

One of the most eye-opening trips we took was to Auschwitz during out second week. I’ve had a European history class before, but I never truly could grasp the concept that millions of people were mass murdered during this five-year period. We took a walk through where all of these horrid things had happened. We all stayed rather quiet and respectful, because no one had the words to explain what we were looking at. It was a day I’ll never forget.

Our last weekend in Poland we took an eight-hour bus ride to the Czech Repulic, Prague. It was so beautiful there and the culture was similar to Poland, but they had traditions of their own. We got a tour through the town and walked across the St. Charles Bridge, which was breathtaking. Overall the trip was life changing, but I couldn’t wait to step foot on familiar grounds again.

Discovering Study Abroad

I originally heard about this program around the beginning of November last fall. I received an email from the professor who was in charge of the trip, Dr. Polyhua. When I was a freshman four years ago, I knew my one goal before graduating college was to study abroad. I had heard so much positive feedback from people who I have knew had the opportunity to travel abroad, that I wanted it for myself.

The main concern I had was money, because it would be on my own dollar that I could achieve this opportunity. I’m a huge history nerd as well and the idea of going to Poland really excited me. I read through the email and the price was within my range, so of course I signed up right away! Within two weeks I was set to go and accepted into the program. More than 60 students applied for 30 spots. I was thrilled!

Going on this trip truly changed me for the better, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have this opportunity.

3 Things Study Abroad Taught Me

  • Independence — Coming to college is an adjustment from high school, but going to a foreign country with 29 basically strangers and two professors you’ve only spoken to briefly is a wake- up call. You really have to learn how to hold your own. I had experience with airports so I found it almost calming since I had been through security many times before, but knowing I was going miles away from home and across an ocean was slightly terrifying. My mom and dad were no longer a two hour drive away in case of emergency. I adjusted rather quickly to Krakow and found a sense of ease after getting settled. Even though I was the outsider who didn’t understand the language I embraced it for what it was. Most people spoke a broken version of English so it was simple to figure things out. Studying abroad truly helped me figure out who I am and how to go through life on my own.
  • Teamwork — I’m a social person so I lucked out in the sense that I got along with everyone on the trip. I can honestly say that I consider a few close friends of mine. We have managed to keep in touch since the program ended and have gotten together to hang out. When you spend three weeks straight together its almost impossible not to become close with people. I say teamwork because other than planned trips and class, we were mostly on our own. We had the ability to wander freely as we pleased, but we were also in an area we weren’t aware of. There were times we would get lost or be unsure of what road we were taking and since we couldn’t read the language let alone speak it – we really had to work together to figure it out. It’s really easy to see people’s strengths and weaknesses, but together we would always manage to get ourselves out of any sticky situation. It was good for both my leadership and social skills.
  • To Be Fearless — As a society we tend to fear the unknown, it can be difficult not too. I’ll be honest I was very nervous and cautious about attending this trip. I went into it almost blindly with not a lot of information except the basics, but I learned quickly that things will all work out. Once we landed my fear had seemed to disappear and excitement began to form in the pit of my stomach. I understood that when something went wrong not to panic, but take it one step a time and it would eventually resolve itself. I honestly ran into barely any issues while I was there and the trip was truly enjoyable. The fear I had originated with had turned into pure bliss.

— Dana Shirley, senior mass communications major #HuskyAbroad #WinterBreak

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