Getting past the culture shock :-)

I continue to settle into my life in Poland – my flat is organized with all the creature comforts I might ever need, I’ve figured out how to get around, the work is going well, I’ve gone mushroom picking in the forest outside Torun with my colleague Dorota and her friends, I know what shops to go to for bread, milk, meat, pickles and donuts and I’ve located several eateries where I can figure out most items on the menu. What has been most surprising to me is the daily challenge of living in a foreign country – something I have been completely ignorant of in the past. (To all our visiting scholars and international students – please forgive me for my lack of awareness as you were struggling with these same challenges). It’s this struggle that has been the most difficult for me and has at times caused me to question my decision to move here for five months. I’ve done some reading up and learned this is a pretty common reaction – and most importantly – that this too shall pass. So here is what I have been doing to cure my culture shock…

Being myself…. I spent the first several weeks worrying that I might appear too “American.” I felt that people were staring or looking at me funny if I smiled too much or appeared to be overly enthusiastic, which – if you know me – is pretty normal for me. I have learned this is MY reaction to not feeling completely comfortable in a new environment. Now I just go about my business as I normally would. And guess what?? I’ve been asked many times for directions or assistance – I’m not sure which because I’m always asked in Polish which I don’t understand. Nevertheless, it’s a true testament that I do fit in!!

The honey isle in the Real hypermarket.

Going out of my way…. I have found the most amazing things while jogging or speed walking around the city to no particular destination. On one trip, I happily discovered Real hypermarket – a store very similar to a Walmart in the states. The first time I entered it was as if the heavens opened up and the light shone down upon me – hallelujah! Now my only problem is learning to shop without a car – and it’s two bus stops from my flat. I limit my purchases to what I can fit in my little rolling shopping bag. I also found a Brico Depot (similar to a Home Depot) which completely solved my dilemma of where in the heck to buy a light bulb.

Meeting new people…. Thanks to the only Fulbright ETA on my campus (Alex), I learned of a Symposium on Human Rights that was being conducted on campus and entirely in English. It’s not really my field so I could have let it pass by, but the topic was interesting AND it was in English, so I decided to attend. What a great decision that was. I got invited to an after hours reception, met the most amazing people, and I have the inklings of an idea for a similar type of exchange with the department I am associated with here. Now I am on the lookout for any other opportunities that increase my exposure to other faculty and events on campus. Thanks again Alex!!

Networking…. The student Fulbrighters definitely have their act together. From the very beginning, they communicated and networked through a Facebook account. This is an absolute lifeline for me – it keeps me connected to all the Fulbrighters in Poland – most of them students, but I don’t mind if they don’t mind. At any one time I can log on, and see who’s doing what, who’s going where, and what activities are being planned. As I write this, an event is scheduled in Krakow for Halloween weekend. And guess what?? I’m going to be there!

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Fulbright Update

I realize now, that I have waited much too long to update the status of my Fulbright experience, but in my defense it has been a very hectic couple of weeks. I’m finally feeling settled, now that I am in my flat, and I’m making great progress in learning my way around the city of Torun, so it seemed a good time to take a breath and reflect on the last few weeks. It seems ages since I first landed in Warsaw for the welcome session and first meeting of the Fulbrighters to Poland.

I arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday, September 11, had a quick briefing at the US Embassy on Wednesday morning and meeting of the Fulbright commission in the afternoon. We arrived in Torun by bus on Thursday to begin our orientation.

Most of the Fulbrighters (50 or so) are students who will either be English Teaching Assistants (ETA’s) or conducting research on various topics – all really fascinating and quite outside the scope of my expertise. There are only about 7 senior Fulbrighters, me included, so I spent a lot of time with students which was especially rewarding. We have a Facebook page for staying connected and reaching out in case we need a place to stay when visiting other cities.

In addition to Polish language instruction, the orientation also included some pretty intensive cultural immersion activities which I found most helpful. I attended a concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Bydgoszcz, home of the Academy of Music, have been to the Gingerbread Museum (they are famous for their “Pierniki” in Torun), the Modern Art Museum and Malbork castle (when this region was controlled by Germany, it was known as Marienberg), and I’ve even had Polish folk dancing lessons. I’ve listened to lectures on Polish literature, poetry, art and the Tuetonic Knights, on Polish Nobel Prize winners and the influence of Communism on all of it. I completed 24 hours of Polish language instruction. I can say my numbers to 20, hello, goodbye, excuse me, please, and my address. I can order mushroom soup (grzybami zupy – my favorite here because the mushrooms are local and fresh), goulash, pierogi, nalishniki (crepes or pancakes, but not like any pancakes you have ever tasted) and wine at a restaurant. I can buy a few staples, meat and vodka (woodka) at the grocery store. And I think I can purchase a train ticket but I haven’t actually tried it on my own yet. I’m pretty comfortable with the public transportation system and now have a permanent pass to use the system whenever I want. I have found the major shopping centers and can get there relatively easy by tram or bus. I’ve gotten used to walking though – it’s just what everybody does here. I’m about 15 minutes walk from Old Town and about a 10 minute bus ride from the university.

I’ve also had a chance to meet several times with the Department Chair and faculty in the department where I am housed. I am using my time now to learn about the department and to understand their processes which are somewhat different that those at a typical university in the US. The goal is to find opportunities for partnering in the future. I will also be conducting special lectures and workshops for students and faculty during the semester but in the meantime, I plan to sit in on classes taught by my colleagues. Yesterday (Monday, Oct. 1) was the inaugural address and official opening of the new academic year. I was surprised and excited that the Vice Prime Minister of Poland spoke at the ceremony.

In the middle of all this, I was invited to attend a reception at the home of the US Ambassador to Poland, to recognize outgoing and incoming Fulbrighters. It was also a special celebration to say goodbye to Andrzej Dakowski, the Executive Director of the Polish-US Fulbright Commission. How could I refuse? This meant a quick trip to Warsaw, which I managed to accomplish on my own. I did get off at the wrong train station though. After a moment of panic and walking in circles, I managed to find a taxi to get me to my destination without any further problems 🙂

That pretty much covers it. I have many photos of my activities that I will post separately here and on Facebook.

Eating in Poland

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Food 2012, a set on Flickr.

You can’t visit Poland and not talk about the food! I’m especially enamored with the mushrooms – they are extremely abundant and come in every shape and size. The mushroom soups aren’t anything like I’ve ever tasted in the US. It’s also interesting to see the variations on popular American dishes like Pizza and hamburgers and the “kabob” is not anything like you’d expect.