Archive for July, 2010

Coming home

On July 5th, 2010, at about 4:00 in the morning Poland time, we said goodbye to our Polish host siblings and made our way to the Krakow airport.

Our Krakow to Munich flight left at 6:50 am, but we arrived at the airport more than two hours before to make sure we would have ample time to check our bags, go through security, etc.

I just realized that our flight isn't actually on this board...oops

Goodbye, Poland...

Our first flight went very well. Once we arrived in Munich we had our passports stamped, got some breakfast, and relaxed for a while (our layover lasted about four hours).

We were all pretty sleepy from having awoke at 3:30 am, but most of us took naps either on the plane, in the airport or both, so we were okay. :)

Before boarding our flight to the US, we had to go through a passport check and another security checkpoint. I appreciate that United Airlines wants to keep terrorists from hurting America/Americans, and going through security’s not that bad…but at the same time, going through the same checks multiple times in one day can get a bit tiring.

We boarded our next flight around 11:30 am. Unlike the last flight, which was only two hours and over land, this flight would last 9 hours and 20 minutes and take us all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, back to the land of our families.

Because this flight was in the middle of the day and because of the drastic time change (-7 hours), I thought that trying to stay awake for most of the flight would be a good idea. After all, when we came to Poland, the flight was at night and I slept the whole time, and my body was (for the most part) already on Poland time when we arrived. This was my philosophy for this trip. However, staying awake as well as entertained on a 9 hour and 20 minute flight is not necessarily as simple as it seems. This flight definitely seemed much longer than the flight coming to Europe — but the main reason for that is I slept for at least four hours of the flight to Europe, not to mention that the other flight was actually two hours shorter. (I’m not sure why that is…something about a tailwind? Or a headwind? I’m not a pilot, so I’m not really sure.)

The difficulty of my endeavor was significantly lightened, however, because of the type of plane we were flying. We were fortunate to be flying on a 777 on this leg of the journey. Although not as large as a 747, the 777 boasts a feature that seems to be very well-accepted by the under-20 crowd: television screens in the back of every seat. :)

There were about ten channels that showed films in continuous loops throughout the flight, as well as one channel that played a couple of television shows, and one channel which showed a map of our progress. I think I might have actually enjoyed the map channel the most, if only because it was different every time you turned it on. I watched us fly over Germany, a teeny tiny bit of Denmark, the UK, Iceland, Greenland, very cold parts of the Atlantic, and finally Canada and the USA. I got pretty excited as we were nearing the US, because Iowa gradually made it’s way onto the map. “We’re almost home! We’re almost home!” I kept saying to Gretchen, who was sitting beside me.

We landed in Chicago around 3:00 pm Central Standard Time. Although it might seem as though only four hours had passed, don’t be fooled – remember the 7 hour time difference. In Chicago, we went through another passport check (and stamp! Yes!) and security screening. We also had to retrieve our checked bags to take them through customs. This was a new experience for me, as we had virtually no customs check to go through when we arrived in Frankfurt or Warsaw at the beginning of our trip. Here, we had to declare what items we brought into the United States, how much they were worth, whether or not we came in contact with any livestock while overseas, the purpose of our trip, etc. We all passed the test of the customs people and made it to our next departure gate with about 30 minutes to spare.

I really enjoyed turning my phone on in the Chicago airport and recieveing many “Welcome Home!” messages from friends and family. For the past month, I had only turned my phone on to take a few pictures — my phone is not equipped with a SIM card slot, and there was no service in Europe, rendering my phone useless as a means of communication. Thus, receiving messages of welcome as well as talking to my parents again was a very nice change.

Our flight back to Cedar Rapids ended up being delayed for close to an hour because they were having trouble collecting all of the luggage from the international flight and bringing it to the plane.  I kind of felt like apologizing to the other people on the plane who were only flying domestically, since it was our luggage that was causing the delay. The pilot handled the situation extremely well. He came on over the intercom and you could tell by his voice that he was very, very sorry about the whole situation. I didn’t mind waiting around so much, but I was a little bit impatient to be home. However, we did eventually take off. I had a window seat on this flight (my first that day), and it was very comforting to see the gravel roads and enormous fields of Iowa once again. Before you could say “I’m coming home to Iowa and I’m very happy even though I’ve been having a wonderful time in Poland for the past month” three times fast, we were beginning our decent into Cedar Rapids.

I think we were all glad to see our parents again, and they to see us.

The past two weeks have been very…uneventful. And nice. I’ve been able to reconnect with almost all of my Iowa family and friends again. My time-change-adjustment tactic worked pretty well, although I did take multiple naps the first few days after coming home. I’ve been reading quite a bit, as well as relaxing in the pond and hanging out with friends. Bonfires have become at least a bi-weekly occurrence.

As nice as it is to be home, I do miss quite a few things about Poland.Here’s just a few of the main things:

  • My host family. I really enjoyed getting to know the Długozewki family and I miss being able to talk with them on  a daily basis. If you’re reading this — thank you again, so very much, for opening your home to me!!
  • Hearing people speak Polish (or simply any language that isn’t English). Even though I understood almost no Polish (or German, for that matter), it was nice hearing bilingual people speak. It was also pretty fun to try to figure out what people’s conversations were about, and trying to pick up new vocabulary words here and there.
  • The food. Although I love knowing the names and ingredients of everything I eat here at home, I do miss the types of foods we ate in Poland. I think part of that is because there are many Polish foods (like pierogi, żurek, nalesńiki and black currant juice, just to name a few) that aren’t widely available here in America. To help with this withdrawal, I’ve been eating black currant jam at least once a day, and I attempted to make sweet pierogis with strawberry sauce the other day. It’s not quite the same, but it’s similar.
  • City living. I love how quiet it is here on the farm, but I do miss living in large cities. It was so nice being able to walk wherever we went, not having to drive long distances to get anywhere.

Well, that’s about it for today. I want to thank you all for all of the prayers and encouragement on this trip, as well as for simply supporting me by reading this blog! It’s been fun to be able to share my travels with you. Maybe I’ll write some more soon…who knows!




Final days in Poland

Krakow, like Warsaw, was incredibly busy!

Much of our time was spent in workshops. Teresa Woicjk, Ph.D, was the facilitator of most of these workshops. Much of what we learned had to do with leadership and community service, but we also discussed Thaddeus Kosciusko (the Polish hero of the American Revolutionary War, who designed the fortifications at West Point and Saratoga) and Jan Ignacy Paderewski (renowned Polish concert pianist and former Prime Minister of Poland).

The most important part of our Krakow workshops involved creating community service projects. Each American student group teamed up with their corresponding group of Polish students (for example, we IMS students were teamed with our host siblings from Łódź). Each group had to come up with a project that would serve the Polish host community, write a proposal letter, and create a presentation to tell the other groups about their proposed project. For all of this, we had approximately eight hours! (I am under the impression that the group(s) that wrote the best proposal will receive a grant from the Kosciusko Foundation with which to implement the program in the Polish host community.) Although this process was rather harried and a bit stressful, I actually found it to be almost fun. I’ve never written a proposal letter before, and I think this experience will really benefit me in the future.

Of course, we did quite a bit of sightseeing in Krakow as well.

Unlike Warsaw, very little of Krakow was destroyed during World War II. Thus, many of the buildings there are not only beautiful, but also extremely old.

The first place we visited was Jagiellonian University (say it with me – Yag-yuh-loan-ee-un).

This university was established way back in the 14th Century, making it one of the oldest institutes of higher education in Eastern Europe. It was the alma mater of many of history’s great minds, including Nicolas Copernicus and Pope Jan Paweł II (John Paul II to all you non-Polish speakers).

Our next stop was Krakow’s main market square, also known as the Rynek.

This square is one of the main tourist destinations in the city of Krakow, making it an excellent place to find souvenirs. The Sukiennice, or Cloth Hall, held dozens of vendors selling everything from t-shirts and keychains to icons and crucifixes to old-looking swords and traditional Polish clothing. And of course, you can’t talk about Polish souvenirs without mentioning amber. This precious stone is actually ancient tree resin which has become fossilized, and is found in many deposits in and around Poland. For this reason, amber jewelry is plentiful and fairly inexpensive — a tourist’s dream! (Yes, I did get a few pieces of amber jewelry…it’s quite pretty.)

But of course, there’s much more to see on the Rynek than just souvenirs. St. Mary’s Basilica stands at the corner of the square. It is from here that every hour, on the hour, a trumpeter from the Krakow fire department plays the Hejnał (pronounced “Hey now”). This five-note melody ends abruptly, as if someone interrupted the trumpeter. Legend says that the reason the melody stops short is that, in the 13th Century, a trumpeter began to play the Hejnał when he saw Tartar troops coming to invade the city. However, before he could finish playing the tune, he was shot by an enemy arrow. Although this tale is fairly implausible, it still makes for a good story.

We also had the chance to go inside of St. Mary’s Basilica. This was actually my first cathedral visit in Poland; thus, I was nearly blown away by the fabulously intricate decorations. Front and center in the church is a dazzling altarpiece built in the 15th Century by Wit Stwosz, a German artist.

I apologize for the blurriness of this photo...

The altarpiece is actually a triptych, meaning that it is comprised of three pieces, two of which fold out to reveal the inner decorations. We had the privilege of attending the ceremonial opening of the triptych. A nun opened the huge doors to reveal Wit Stwosz’s depiction of the death of the Virgin Mary. Although I’m not familiar with that story, I was still able to appreciate the art. Life-sized wooden statues of Mary and many other people made up the center of the triptych. It was truly an amazing sight

On our second day in Krakow, between workshops, we visited Wawel Castle. This gorgeous palace is situated on top of a hill along the Vistula river, providing excellent views of the city. Besides touring the main palace building, we also briefly saw the inside of Wawel Cathedral (where Pope John Paul II offered his first Mass), as well as toured St. Leonard’s Crypt, beneath the castle itself. In the crypt we visited the tombs of Thaddeus Kosciusko (where we laid a wreath, sang the Polish and American national anthems, and said an Our Father) and Lech & Maria Kacznski (the former president and his wife).

On Sunday we traveled south of Krakow about 10 km to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the Middle Ages through 1996, salt was commercially harvested from these mines; now, they mainly serve as a (quite exciting) tourist attraction.

After climbing down 54 flights of steps, our tour guide led us through tunnels excavated by miners. Many of the tunnels were surprisingly old – I think the oldest one we visited was excavated in 1666!

Because it often took so long for miners to return to the surface, they carved several chapels down inside the mine itself so that they could service their religious needs without returning to the surface of the earth. These chapels were beautiful, complete with soaring ceilings, statues of saints and and altar at the front — all carved out of salt. It was amazing.

After our tour, we had the privilege of eating lunch down in one of the caverns of the mine. The room we ate in was absolutely enormous!  The food was good, too.

And that, my friends, is a summation of our final days in Poland — July 1st through 4th. Sorry it took me so long to get this posted! I’m working on a couple of more summary posts right now, so I promise that this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me. :)



Getting to know you, Part 6 – Taylor (me)

Name: Taylor Fulton
Age : 17
Favorite movie: White Christmas or The Princess Bride
Currently reading: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Who is your host sibling? Monika
Do your host parents speak English? Yes
What have been your favorite experiences so far? Getting to know so many new people (who are all so kind!), getting my passport stamped in Frankfurt, and simply being able to see Europe firsthand.
What are you most looking forward to seeing while in Poland? Zelazowa Wola, Frederic Chopin’s birthplace.

What is your favorite Polish phrase to say and why? “Trochę rozumiem po polsku,” [I understand a little Polish], because whenever I say it, people tend to smile, and three times people have told me that my accent is good.
Up to this point, what has been your favorite Polish food? Sweet pierogies, and (of course) ice cream.
What is one thing you’d love to bring home from Poland but can’t? My host family, and all of the new friends I’ve made. Oh, and the gorgeous old brick buildings.
What will you miss most about Poland? The people, the food, and walking everywhere. And being surrounded by so much history!!
What is your favorite (English) word?  Antidisestablishmentarianism
What is your dream career? Something where I could spread the Gospel, help people and be somehow involved in medicine while still being able to read a lot and spend time with my family. :)
If you had a theme song, what would it be? Eyes by Stellar Kart

Getting to know you, Part 5 – Marcus

Name: Marcus Miller
Age :  ??
Favorite movie:   Remember the Titans or Hoosiers
Currently reading:  “Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift because I finished all other books I brought with me.”
Who is your host sibling? Anjelika
Do your host parents speak English?  host father – no,  host mother – a little

What has/have been your favorite experience(s) so far?   the Jewish tour of Lodz
What are you most looking forward to seeing/doing while in Poland?  “Just excited about the whole trip”
What is your favorite Polish phrase to say and why?   ”głumpka” (stuffed cabbage) -” I just think it sounds neat”

Up to this point, what has been your favorite Polish food?  a soup Anjelika’s mother made one day
What is one thing you’d love to bring home from Poland but can’t?   “one of those cute little cars” [Smart cars]
What will you miss most about Poland?  ??
What is your favorite (English) word?   ”I’m always amazed by the word awkward…it’s spelled awkwardly.”

What is your dream career?  Teaching at IMS, or being a diplomat
If you had a theme song, what would it be? combination of Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and Beethoven’s 6th


Taylor requested, via email, that we provide a short update regarding Krakow. At the moment, they have very little free time and very limited internet access. Here is a short summary of the focus of their time in this great city…..

The final phase of the US Poland Parliamentary Exchange program occurs in Krakow. The US students will again be reunited with their Polish host ’siblings’, with the main focus of their time spent on a Community Service Project Competition. This competition is sponsored by the Kosciuszko Foundation  “The students will create and write a competitive Community Service Project Proposal that includes school and/or community volunteers to be implemented in the Polish host community for the benefit of the community.”

The Krakow schedule is extremely full, consisting largely of workshops to implement this program.

Coincidentally, also occurring in Krakow this weekend is  the celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Community of Democracy. This celebration includes a gathering of Foreign Affairs Ministers from around the world that will attend the High Level Democracy Meeting to discuss current challenges to democracy. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is among the featured guests, along with representatives from 75 countries.

This amazing experience is nearing it’s end. The students are scheduled to depart Krakow and return to the USA on the 5th. This is sure to be bittersweet as they must again say goodbye to their host siblings, and the wonderful country of Poland.

Thank you for visiting Taylor’s blog. I am confident she will provide more details/photos on her visit to Krakow soon.

Happy 4th of July weekend!


(The photos are from Warsaw earlier this week…We have not received any uploads from Krakow due to the busy schedule)


Getting to know you, Part 4 – Amanda


Name: Amanda Bartel
Age : 16
Favorite movie: How to Train Your Dragon
Currently reading: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Who is your host sibling? Misia
Do your host parents speak English? Yes
What has/have been your favorite experience(s) so far? Meeting new people and getting to tell them about Iowa
What are you most looking forward to seeing while in Poland? All of the palaces.
What is your favorite Polish phrase to say and why?  

My favorite Polish word to say is pociąg (train…pronounced similarly to pa-chunk) because it’s fun to say.

Up to this point, what has been your favorite Polish food? Pierogi with cottage cheese.
What is one thing you’d love to bring home from Poland but can’t? The auditorium at the school, because it’s so pretty and we don’t have anything like it at home.

What will you miss most about Poland? Sonija. [Our coordinator.] Enough said.
What is your favorite (English) word? Bubble.
What is your dream career? Landing the part of Galinda in Broadway’s musical Wicked.
If you had a theme song, what would it be? Must be Dreaming by Frou Frou

Getting to know you, Part 3 – Jess

Name: Jess Miller
Age : 16 (while in Poland)
Favorite movie: Remember the Titans
Currently reading: Ophelia
Who is your host sibling? Amel
Do your host parents speak English? No

What has/have been your favorite experience(s) so far? Ice cream trips
What are you most looking forward to seeing/doing while in Poland? All of us dancing at our private dance lesson, because that will be funny to watch. :)
What is your favorite Polish phrase to say and why? “Przeprasham” [excuse me/I’m sorry] or “Nie” [no], because I feel really cool.
Up to this point, what has been your favorite Polish food? Ptasie mlecke – they’re chocolate candies
What is one thing you’d love to bring home from Poland but can’t? Magda [a really kind girl at school], because she’s really cool, or the Manufaktura
What will you miss most about Poland? Walking around so much.
What is your favorite (English) word?  Giggle
What is your dream career? Doing service projects in a pleasantly warm climate (preferably near the beach)
If you had a theme song, what would it be?  ??