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.