News-Banner Article by Kayleen Reusser

Fulbright Scholar Lauren Petersen Completes Year In Poland August 1, 2012

Filed under: newspaper story — kayreusser @ 12:30 pm 
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Lauren Petersen and US Ambassador Feinstein

 “Europe is this huge melting pot of cultures,” said 2007 Bluffton High School graduate Lauren Petersen. “That’s what I wanted to experience as a Fulbright Scholar. I wanted to be immersed in something completely new.”

In June Petersen returned from a year spent as a Fulbright Scholar teaching English to students at Wroclaw University in Wroclaw, Poland. Petersen had applied for the scholarship during her senior year at Ball State University. She received notification of her acceptance into the Fulbright Program in May 2011, the same month she graduated with a degree in Urban Planning and Development.

 

Lauren Petersen with some of her students.

According to the Council for International Exchange of Scholars website (http://www.cies.org/about_fulb.htm), the Fulbright Scholarship is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government designed to increase understanding between people of the United States and people of other countries. Participants are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential in order to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. 

The Fulbright scholarship paid her room and board and salary from September 2011 when she arrived in Poland until May 2012. During the year, she taught English to 20 Polish students who had graduated from college.

“They were fluent in English but desired to increase their conversational knowledge of the language,” she said. Using a syllabus, she challenged the students to think critically and share thoughts about specific subjects, such as their home lives and war and peace. At the end of the year they were required to present a speech on a topic of their choice. “I graded them on their fluency and usage of English,” said Petersen.

Lauren with Andrzej Dakowski, Executive Director of the Polish Fulbright Commission

Although Petersen had taught piano and swim lessons to students one-on-one in the US, she had never managed a large group. She discovered a love for teaching. “My mother is a teacher and I realized that passion she has for it,” she said. “To see the students’ progress made my preparatory work so worth it.”

Outside of the classroom Petersen struggled at times with communication. She had traveled overseas previously for academic and recreational purposes but had never lived in another country.

Assigned a room in student housing of the university, she daily encountered students from other countries, including Spain, Turkey, Germany and France. “I not only had to contend with learning Polish language but other languages as well,” she said.

While trying to befriend those whom she met, Petersen learned enough of the Polish language to order food in a restaurant, travel by bus and purchase food at the supermarket. “Using the Rosetta Stone program helped me much,” she added. Rosetta Stone is a foreign language teaching program.

During the year, Petersen traveled to 18 countries and wrote for an online magazine. She met up with friends from the US who were living abroad. She also assisted the country’s Make A Wish Foundation, the same program of which she had been a part while serving as Miss Central Indiana and other pageant positions in recent years.

“In Poland I worked with a 12-year old boy who wanted to go to the Baltic Sea with his family,” she said. She met with the child’s family and promoted the program within the community.

One of the highlights of her year was working with the consulate of the US Embassy. “Together, we promoted the international exchange program,” she said. “We gave presentations at high schools and the university, encouraging students to study abroad.” She added that one of her future goals is to work for the consulate and ambassador.

Currently, Petersen is interning through the summer with the Indianapolis Colts in the Community Relations Department. She hopes to return to Poland someday. “I met so many wonderful people this past year,” she said. “I absolutely intend to make it back. It was a life-changing experience.”

A HUGE THANK YOU TO KAYLEEN FOR CAPTURING ALL OF MY FULBRIGHT JOURNEY AND SHARING IT WITH MY HOME COMMUNITY! 

WHERE TO GO…FOR A STROLL

My latest article published in Wrocław highlights the city’s beautiful, historic, and serene parks! Check it out here:

http://wroclawuncut.com/2012/07/18/where-to-go-for-a-stroll/

Wrocław has an abundance of beautiful parks and riverside walks in which to enjoy a casual stroll, so we sent Lauren Petersen out to find a few these picturesque locations. Click on the place below to skip straight to the corresponding review:

   

One of the largest, most well known, and frequently visited green spaces in Wrocław is Szczytnicki Park, located east of the Odra River and Plac Grunwaldzki. Throughout the 100 hectares of land, visitors can closely enjoy the approximately 500 species of flora, as the paved paths are lined by various arrangements of shrubs and trees. Other narrower stone paths meander throughout the lush vegetation, while a diversity of unique bridges span the still creeks.

By far, the most special quality of the park is the Japanese Garden, which was originally created for the 1913 World’s Fair. Though most of the features were temporary, the garden wasn’t restored to its full splendor until 1994 with help of the Japanese Embassy. The picturesque and exquisitely planned terrain is filled with Japanese architecture and landscaping elements such as a “floating” rock path over the trickling waterfall. Wooden bridges and pavilions float effortlessly above the pond as their reflection flawlessly captures their cultural majesty.

The most prominent characteristic of Szczytnicki Park is Centennial Hall and its adjacent fountains. Completed the same year as the Japanese Garden, the coliseum dome is built of reinforced concrete using similar techniques to the Pantheon in Rome. The landmark glistens like a full pot of gold in the afternoon sun, and was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. The exhibition ground, located in front of this modernist structure, contains the Wrocław Fountain, which is surrounded by an ivy-covered pergola. The one-hectare fountain comes to life through animated daily performances coordinating lights with music. The show is available for viewing from May until the end of October from 10:00-22:00. The dazzling water show lasts from three and half to eighteen minutes including both classical and modern music. Friday and Saturday evenings offer the most spectacular shows with a large audience. During the winter months, the fountain is transformed into an ice skating rink.

The park also contains the St. John of Nepomuk Church, which was built completely of wood at the beginning of the 17th Century. In 1913, the church was moved from Kędzierzyn Koźle to a wooded alcove of the park and presently contains a bookstore and gallery. In stark contrast to the antiquated church is a tapering steel-spire monument that stands almost 100 meters tall. Built in 1948 to commemorate control over the “Regained Territories” after WWII, the spire remains a valuable architectural symbol of Wrocław.

Its English natural style, abundance of flora and fauna, and admired attractions make Szczytnicki Park a delightful destination, regardless of the time of year.   

Located adjacent to the grand, neo-baroque Puppet Theater, Wrocław’s Ogrod Staromiejska, literally “Garden Old Town”, is an absolute must see destination. Situated on approximately two acres, this pre-war urban park is extremely well maintained and manicured; it looks like it could be the scene for a movie.

The park’s centerpiece is a statue of a swan and a little boy, which crowns a large circular fountain, and is surrounded by an elegant seating area. Attached to the Puppet Theater is an expansive terrace and outdoor stage for summer concerts, exhibitions, and other cultural events. A black metal aviary stands in the east side of the garden, usually home to exotic species of birds during the warmer months. Following the winding paths to the north edge of the park, one will come across a gorgeous 19th Century French carousel. The yellow and red canopy crowns a molding filled with vintage paintings of Wrocław. The highlight of the park for younger visitors is the newly built and gated rubber-lined play area with all sorts of trendy toys.

A beautifully ornate wrought iron fence surrounds the property, and though the park is gated and closed during the night, there are no fees to enter. Not only is the park extremely clean, but a full service security staff also keeps it safe during all hours of operation. This gorgeous park is the perfect blend of historical, vibrant, and modern cultural features that makes it a picture-perfect enclave for the young and old at heart.

  

Park Południowy, which translates to South Park, is located in the southern part of the city, as the name suggests. Founded in 1877 by Julus Shottlander, a wealthy Jewish merchant, the park was a gift to the local community. It could easily be dubbed Wrocław’s “Central Park” as it provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life.

Upon entering the park from the southwest, guests are greeted by an alcove of ivy-covered columns, which surround a bronze statue of Chopin that rests on a pedestal of stone steps. The statue commemorates the pianist and his visit to Wrocław in 1830. Meander away from the monument, through the rows of benches, and you will find yourself at the water’s edge of the expansive pond. Surrounded by marshy vegetation, the lake is a popular destination for feeding the friendly ducks and enjoying the white noise of the bubbling fountains. The outdoor café, “Agawe”, offers beautiful views of the breathtaking gardens and expansive lake. There is even an unofficial, designated area on the far side of the lake for sunbathing.

Patterned stone walkways and dirt trails create an extensive network of winding paths throughout the approximately 22.5 hectare park. When one comes to a cross point, it’s difficult to decide which way to go next, as each path provides for incredible and delectable scenery. Clusters of lavender rhododendrons serve as centerpieces for the exquisitely landscaped paths. The towering trees provide large areas of shade and the richness of the sap seeps into the pollen filled air.

Plenty of wooden benches provide the perfect destination to rest, people watch, and take in the majesty of the surroundings. Some of the most magnificently singing birds spend their days showcasing their skills to the park’s visitors. For the most scenic views of the park’s happenings, be sure to visit the ornate iron bridge that spans the creek, or check out the pond’s observation platform lined by a decorative stone column railing.

Children can play as much as their little heart’s desire in the fenced-in area filled with jungle gyms, swings, slides, and toys; or they can run free in the enormous grass fields. It’s also very commonplace to see a slew of young mothers pushing strollers and corralling toddlers around. For a more rigorous hike, trek up the park’s large hill to reach a beautiful gazebo that soars towards the sky from the railway embankment.

Each area of this park offers many uses whether it’s a gentle stroll through the tree-lined paths, an afternoon of reading and relaxing on a bench, or an open field for sports and recreation. The landscape architecture of Park Południowy proves to be timeless as this Wrocław gem will always be a valued community gift.

Old Town Promenade, known locally as Promenada Staromiejska, is a tree-lined walkway surrounding Wrocław’s old town moat. The greenbelt was created during the early 19th Century after the city’s fortification walls were destroyed. Each part of the walking avenue is full of character, but the most important aspect of the promenade is how it threads a myriad number of Wrocław’s historical and cultural destinations together.

For instance, the park connects the former defense structures, Ceglarski Bastion and Hill Partisan, which offer unrivaled views of the Odra River and Cathedral Island, as well as the Old Town District, respectively. However, it is important to note that the restoration of Ceglarski Bastion will not be complete until June 2012 and Hill Partisan is still in desperate need of a renovation. Rising above Most Skargi, is a stunning white and yellow crescent-shaped outdoor arcade, which dates from a 19th Century redevelopment and was created for public recreational use. Interestingly enough, during World War II, the underground bunkers of Hill Partisan were used as hidden Nazi Headquarters. After the war, the catacombs accommodated a museum, and a couple decades later, it housed a few bars. Today, unfortunately, some of the area along this part of the promenade is neglected without care, littered with bottles, and spoiled by nonsensical graffiti.

Old Town Promenade has made it on the list of registered monuments of Wrocław, further emphasizing its importance as a connector route for local attractions. While visiting the park you can easily access John Paul II Square, The Academy of Music, The Puppet Theater and Opera, The Museum of Architecture, The Academy of Fine Arts, The Racławice Panorama, and The National Museum. Near Galeria Dominikanska is Oławska Gateway, which is no normal subterranean pedestrian passage. A relic of the 13th Century gateway to the city, it contains the original fortification walls, a cannon, and a miniature model of the Oławska gates and towers. While meandering throughout the trails of this extensive park, it is interesting to consider how well the paths blend into the surrounding environment whether adjacent to a modern mall, a historical theater, a lively road, or a calm river tributary. Daily activities here include walking, running, biking, meeting, socializing, picnicking, and fishing, among others. Towards the northeast part of the promenade, as it merges into Park Słowackiego, the boulevards become lined with up to three, or even four, rows of large trees, while statues and memorials of all different types scattered about commemorate the city’s vibrant past.

While the expansive park finds its strength in joining numerous destinations, its lack of events, the odd dirty spot, and crumbling structures cannot be overlooked. As one of the most visited pedestrian trails and parks in the city, Promenada Staromiejska is nonetheless rife with cultural, architectural, and historical heritage.

Uncut would like to say thanks to Lauren Petersen for her fantastic contributions, and to Marta Dyner for helping to select the locations in this review.

Home Sweet Home

20 hours of traveling, 7 bags, 9 months, 20 students, 18 countries, 34 cities, and countless moments shared with friends and family, I am finally home!

7 bags made easy with the help of some great friends and a nice porter at the airport!

While trying my best to wrap my mind around all the magical experiences encountered while living abroad, there is one quote that comes to mind when summarizing my journey. I discovered this quote when I was in the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, which overlooks Notre Dame and the Seine River in Paris. The second floor of the quaint shop is filled with notes written by visitors from across the world covering walls and reading nooks. I chose to write on the back of my Eiffel Tower ticket the message: “Be Extraordinary.” I took my note and replaced it with one that was folded in thirds dangling above my head. As, I opened the note, grinning ear to ear, I read:

“For that is hoped for, for all that is dreamed, may your life’s journey be joined with others and may peace and blessings be yours all the days of your life. May the desires of your heart be recognized and fulfilled.”

I couldn’t think of a more befitting and perfect mantra to describe my Fulbright experience!

These next few days will be filled with unpacking, laundry, catching up on sleep, visiting as many friends and family as possible, before I start packing again! This Saturday, I’ll be driving to Fort Wayne, as I will be serving as a Voting Delegate at the Indiana Democrat Convention, and then will be heading south that evening for Indiana State University. I am excited to once again be serving as a counselor for the week of Hoosier Girls’ State, an organization that has been close to my heart since I attended as a delegate in 2006.

How wonderful it is continuing to immerse myself in learning opportunities where I can better comprehend and appreciate my role as a responsible citizen.

Blessed be,

Lauren

Polish Adventures

I’ve saved my favorite country for last—Poland! With the help of many organized trips through student groups, Erasmus networks, and the Fulbright Orientation I as able to experience Poland at its full splendor.

Warsaw:

Warsaw was the most visited city I traveled to, mainly because of Fulbright conferences, presentations, and ceremonies. Each time I experienced the city, I would always notice something new and felt much more directionally oriented when exploring. The Old Town District in Warsaw was my favorite place to visit, regardless of the time of year. It was always filled with an undeniable energy and offered amazing views of the city. There was also a favorite restaurant in the Rynek area where I enjoyed the most delicious pierogi ever!

Spring in Warsaw

I hope I can make pierogi that tastes this good someday!

Krakow:

One of the best things about visiting Krakow three times was getting to see the marvelous city at three different seasons of the year. The first trip was towards the end of summer with a group of Erasmus students and we had an absolute blast exploring the city during the evenings and learning about the city’s historical background during our day tours. The second trip was again with another group of Erasmus friends during the middle of November. I spent one afternoon walking around the entire greenbelt of the city, which had turned into a golden oasis, as the autumn colors were so brilliant. During this visit, I was so excited to meet up with my friend Sofie and her brother-in-law Brady for the evening. I knew Sofie from my time as an intern at the Indiana State House as she was serving as a Legislative Assistant. Currently, her husband, Brett, is working at the U.S. Consulate in Krakow and Brady is studying at Jagiellonian University. It was so wonderful to spend time with them and hear about their Polish adventures and how they were adjusting to the change of culture and living. After visiting the city for a final time this past spring, I finally realized what my favorite part of the city was: the market hall. Each time I went to Krakow, I made sure to visit the market building in the middle of the Rynek, which is the largest medieval market square in all of Europe. Not only did I spend a part of each trip in the market hall admiring all the items for sale, but I bought some great gifts for my family here too!

Never to old to frolic in the leaves

Monstrous medieval market hall

Oswiecim:

I’ve always had a strong interest in World War II, and even more specifically the Holocaust, but visiting the concentration camps piqued my interests in that part of history even more. On a cold and rainy October afternoon my tour group visited both Auschwitz and Birkenau and experienced such an eerily peacefulness as we saw showcases filled with piles of shoes and suitcases, entered the living bunkers and bath houses, and even walked through the gas chambers. I would highly suggest that anyone who visits Poland and is interested in learning more about this part of history to absolutely visit the concentration camps and embrace the message of turning memory into action.

The main entrance says “Work Will Set You Free” 

The entrance point for the concentration camp, which served as a “selection point” 

Eerily beautiful sunset over Birkenau

Świdnica:

Of all the dozens of churches I visited these past nine months, the one I loved most is right here in Lower Silesia in the town of Świdnica. “The Church of Peace”, which has been distinguished as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is amazing not just because of its magnificent structure, but also because of the rules governing its construction. In 1648, the Roman Catholic governance allowed the Evangelical church to be built outside of the city fortifications, but it had to be completed within one year. Furthermore, the only supplies that could be used were wood, clay, and straw; the structure could also not have a steeple or church bells. Despite these harsh regulations, the house of worship boasts amazing architectural features and some of the most ornate woodwork I have ever seen.

No nails were originally used in the construction

Awestruck by the interior; the ceiling painting alone took 4 years to finish even though the church was built in 1 year. 

Gdansk: 

Though it was unseasonably cold for April, this city on the Baltic Sea was quite charming. I enjoyed seeing how much the city relied on the sea and its ports for its industry and even how that trickled over into their daily culture. Though Gdansk saw much destruction during World War II, many of the main sites were rebuilt to their original splendor. However, hundreds of grain bins and mills were never rebuilt, but the ones that are have been converted into uses such as upscale restaurants and hotels!

Gdansk Port

Old grain storage building converted into a fancy hotel

 Gdynia and Sopot:

A day trip to Gdansk’s sister towns, Gydnia and Sopot, was accompanied by upsurges of rain, hail, snow, and sunshine. While in Gydnia we got to climb aboard the Dar Pomorza Boat Museum and visit the wonderful sea side aquarium. It was nice being able to feel like a kid again and even pet some of the fish and make faces at them while they swam in their tanks. Once our bus arrived in Sopot, I was already chilled to the bone and the incessant snow outside lead me to choose to stay on the bus and warm up. I was able to admire much of the city through the bus window and snowflakes, and even caught a glimpse of the “Crooked House”!

All hands on deck!

Suwalki:

After sleeping through the night on a charter bus as our tour group headed back from the Baltic Countries, we stopped in the northern Polish town of Suwalki for the day. As we walked through the parks, ate some amazing (and cheap) ice cream, and sat in the outdoor patio enjoying our lunch, I felt as if I was at home in Bluffton, Indiana! The town had one main road running through it with only a handful of stoplights. The main attractions of the quaint town are its lake and the Czarna Hańcza River. As we cooked out and played cards next to the lake, it was as if Bluffton and the River Greenway were serving as the host for our evening BBQ. I love these little reminders that home is never far away!

Watching the kiddos splash in the fountain as we enjoyed our ice cream

Stunning sunset while at our BBQ

Polski how wonderful you have been! Dziękuję bardzo : )

Lauren

Trips to Germany!

With Germany as our neighbor to the east, I had plenty of opportunities to visit the marvelous and very organized country. Below are the highlights from  the six German cities I visited!

Dresden:

My Fulbright friend, Cynthia, joined me on a trip to Dresden, as it was our first stop before we ventured to Prague to celebrate Halloween. Though we had to get up extremely early after arriving to the city the night before, it was surreal exploring the unbelievably quiet city as it was covered in a thick blanket of flog.

Frankfurt:

I was excited to visit Frankfurt because it had a true “metropolitan” sense about it, especially being the home of the European Central Bank. More than anything, I was anxious to see skyscrapers! What was so neat about this city was the juxtaposition created by the modern business district, serving as a host for the most historic and bustling Christmas Market!

My first Christmas Market experience, of dozens

Never too young to ride the carousel

Ludwigshafen:

On this trip to Germany, my Spanish friend, Alberto, accompanied me and we spent a few days visiting his friend Alfredo in the cozy town of Ludwigshafen. Once again, I fell in love with the cheerful Christmas Markets, especially the main one in the town, which had a giant Ferris wheel right next to the Rhine River. One evening, the three of us attempted to make Spanish churros; to our surprise, they turned out tasting wonderfully!

It was too cold to ride to the top : (

It took a few times of trial and error before the churro strategy was mastered

Karlsruhe:

I’ll always remember Karlsruhe as the host city to my first ever European football match. Although it took most of the game for Alberto and Alfred to explain the rules and tactics used by each team, it was nonetheless enjoyable to be a part of.

Go team go!

Mannheim:

While my family was spending the day after Thanksgiving decorating our home for the holidays and listening to Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music, I was riding on a steamroller with Alberto and Alfredo on our way to Mannheim! I loved that it was another one of life’s perfectly coincidental moments! While there, we toured the famous Mannheim Castle, and of course, more Christmas Markets where we stayed warm by drinking Glühwein, spicy mulled wine!

In March, while on a tram party across my city, I met Christian, a student who was from Berlin, but had studied a semester abroad in Wroclaw and was visiting for the week. He offered to let me know when I wanted to visit as he could serve as my local tour guide. Berlin had always been at the top of my “To Visit” lists not just because it is quite close to Wroclaw, but of its political history. In May, I reached out to Christian and took him up on his offer. Ironically, he was going to be in my city that same week and offered to drive me back to Berlin for the weekend! To make the trip even better, we stayed at the amazing hotel chain, at which he interns, for an extremely reduced rate. The hotel catered towards artists and musicians and guests could even order guitar room service! While Christian was at work, I slept in, ate the most amazing and fresh hotel breakfasts, and explored the local districts. One evening we even took a five-hour bike ride throughout the city! I had no idea of the breadth at which the city was defined by its art culture—from painted murals on the Berlin Wall, the statue filled parks, and the prevalence of film studios.

The amazing artwork on the old Berlin Wall outside our hotel along the river

Berlin Wall, East Side Gallery with Christian

While Christian was at work,I worked on student grades with this amazing view from the hotel

Cruising through downtown Berlin on our bike ride

Lauren

Next stop…Slovakia! Why Not?

Traveling to Slovakia was never on my original European itinerary, but that’s what happens when you befriend a complete stranger and decide to stay behind in Budapest a few days after your friends head back to Poland. Going for the gusto has been one of the many joys of such a lenient schedule while living here!

The evening before leaving Budapest, Jeff and I sat down to look at his Bible of a European travel book to decide what our next destination would be. Jeff was supposed to be in Prague two days later to meet his brother-in-law who was flying over from the states. Within a matter of minutes, and pinpointing on a map a city halfway between Prague and Budapest on a main rail line, we chose to make a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia.

View from the Bratislava Castle

After arriving the next morning, we explored the capital city, hiked up to the castle to take in the amazing views, and wandered through the Old Town District before getting lunch. The city was surprisingly quiet, but was delightful with its combination of medieval and modern architecture, bridges, and monuments.

Quaint Old Town square

Though we were only in the city for four hours, we were able to see all the main attractions before catching a four-hour train ride to Prague through the beautiful countryside. While Jeff got to sit in first class munching on Kit-Kats (complements of his month-long Euro Rail Pass) I slept peacefully most of the way cozied up in second class. Nonetheless, it was a perfect midway layover on our little European excursion.

To sum it up, Bratislava was: pristine, pleasant, quiet

What a blast!

Lauren

Buda + Pest

Before meeting my friends Stephanie and Brian, who live in Budapest, I didn’t know much about the country of Hungary, besides that it had a funny name.

After learning more about it’s rich history as two separate cities Buda and Pest, hearing about the must see ruin pubs, and finding out about the therapeutic thermal baths, I knew a visit to Budapest would be a must! Fortunately, there was a student-lead group, the Erasmus Student Network, which was coordinating a trip to the city for three days in late March. After more than twelve hours on a hot and crammed bus, we finally made it to our hostel and were welcomed to the lively city!

We spent the first night of our trip exploring the ancient ruin pubs that were full of character and random decorations and spent the next full day on a tour of the city. It was really neat to ride on the first ever subway system (in continental Europe) throughout the city too, since it was so old!

Erasmus friends on the trip

That night most of our group bought tickets to go on an adult boat trip down the Danube (aka a booze cruise). While on the cruise, I was floating from group to group, meeting people and came across Jeff, a fellow American. We got to talking and I learned about his incredible life! He was just about to graduate from med school at Johns Hopkins and was exploring Europe for a month by himself before starting his residency.

The next day my group had a free day so Jeff and I decided to explore more of the city together. We had a delicious lunch (I ordered a pasta filled with pumpkin and spinach topped with goat cheese) and I did my best to show him the condensed version of the tour I had the previous day. We ended the afternoon with some savory gelato (red current flavor for me) while over looking the Danube and made our way to the old town market were we feasted like kings on traditional Hungarian cuisine!

Perfect riverside treat complete with jazz music from the street performer in the background

Sharing our delicious meal with the best homemade lemonade ever

That night, we met up with my friends Brian and Stephanie at another ruin pub and were later introduced to their friends Kaitlyn and Adam. We spent the evening bar hopping from one tavern to the next talking and dancing and partaking in Hungarian socializing at its finest.

Brian, Stephanie, Jeff, me, Kaitlyn, and Adam

The on Sunday, the group I came with was leaving for Poland and I decided to stay a few days longer and travel more with Jeff—just because I could! We had a perfect Sunday relaxing in the thermal spas (which were more or less over-glorified American swimming pools), having snacks in the park, and visiting more of the stunning city.

What was originally a three-day excursion, ended up turning into a week-long adventure just because of friends met along the way! I was so happy to spend more time with Brian and Stephanie and overjoyed to have met three wonderful new friends while on the trip!

Amazing view from the castle hill

Budapest you were: enchanting, lively, lovable

What a treat of a trip!

Lauren

“A little more knowledge, a little more reason and a little more compassion.”

“Acts of kindness like this show the meaning of American sensitivity.” Trying his best to express his gratitude on behalf of the St. Brother Albert Aid Society, Olek’s words meant so much, as it was such a blessing to help an organization that gives so much to others.

Throughout the past month, I had collected clothes, shoes, and kitchen/ housing supplies to give to the St. Brother Albert Aid Society, an organization providing homeless shelters throughout Wroclaw. Fulbright friends and fellow students in my dormitory generously gave items for the collection.

All the donations

After contacting the organization, the technical administrator, Olek, graciously offered to pick up the items and provide me with a tour of their facilities. I was able to spend over three hours today learning about the operations, visiting both the women’s and men’s shelters, and even enjoying a delicious bigos dinner with Olek and the director of the society, Darek.

With the director, Darek, at the beautifully landscaped shelter

Before leaving the women’s shelter, I received a gift of thanks on behalf of the society of a beautiful clay angel that was handmade and painted by the residents of the shelter.

Such a neat gift received by the women/children’s shelter

While at the men’s shelter, it was so amazing to see how they had separate spaces for a wood workshop and an artist studio where the residents could create and find respite. I was also able to meet one of the artists and visit his atelier where he was creating a clay statue of an angel, which would be a gift for potential sponsors. The organization also runs the “Cinema Albert Productions” and creates movies promoting awareness about homelessness. Throughout the afternoon, I met many of the actors and talked with Darek, who also produces the movies, about their upcoming film event on June 16th. The presentation will be highlighting their newest production “The Man Who Has Not Seen the Sea.” Here is the link for the trailer:

Olek and Darek also shared their appreciation by giving me an autograph copy of their most recent film production entitled “The Downtrodden”.

I wish I knew more than just “dziękuję bardzo” (thank you very much) to express how touching it was to receive such thoughtful gifts and to have the opportunity to learn about the altruistic legacy that defines the St. Brother Albert Aid Society.

Here’s to sharing “‘a little more knowledge, a little more reason and a little more compassion” on behalf of Senator Fulbright’s vision.

Lauren

I AMsterdam

There’s a certain kind of culture that defines Europe’s discount airlines. Whether its because of how many people can be packed into the plane like sardines, or an effect of languages from across the world which are omnipresent throughout the flight, or whether its because the flights can be as cheap as one Euro (though I was never fortunate enough to find such a great deal for my excursions), there is an undeniable sense of high-flying culture.

This extends to the well roundedness of the roles each steward/stewardess plays during the voyage. They serve as waiters/waitresses trotting the aisles offering the finest selection of frozen finger foods onboard, as well as, garbage collectors and rule enforcers. I always thought the flight attendants’ lives were quite glamorous, until I flew the discount airlines here and noticed how their responsibilities even expanded to being salesmen/women. While on board, passengers are subject to a constant bombarding of sales pitches for items such as toys for kids, smokeless cigarettes, and perfume. One can even purchase limited addition lottery tickets! Although I have never heard anyone exclaim they had won “big money” during a flight, what better way to test one’s luck than while flying thousands of feet in the air?

Despite all the factors mentioned above that defines this unique culture, my favorite part of any journey comes once the plane has landed. For all on-time flights, Ryanair celebrates with an announcement that begins with a trumpet playing a charge anthem and ends with the passengers erupting in applaud and laughter—it’s quite the spectacle.

It goes a little something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmRrQw4Us9o

When flying WizzAir for the first time on my way to Amsterdam, I was a bit saddened that they didn’t partake in a similar joyous ending as Ryanair provides for its customers. Nonetheless, I still applauded silently that we had landed safely at the Eindhoven Airport. On this trip, I would be meeting, once again, my three guy friends which are studying in Italy: Antone, Mike, and Neil, and would also be joined by their friend Chez. Antone would be there the first two day and would be leaving just as Mike, Neil, and Chez would be getting into town, so I was happy it worked out I could see all three of them.

Loading the WizzAir Plane from Wroclaw to Eindhoven

I took a two-hour train ride from Eindhoven to Amsterdam and was so delighted to see how peaceful and stunning the countryside was. The entire stretch of the journey I watched locals riding their bikes with wicker baskets down the long roads filled with books or items from the local market and saw such well kept homes, each with a large, manicured garden. It was so impressive to see how well and healthy the people of the Netherlands lived both in the countryside and city.

This was, by far, one of the most relaxing trips! We spent our days nestled in cafes and coffee shops and walked up and down the canals.

“The Bulldog” -the original coffee shop in Amsterdam

The leaning brick houses with large windows and steep staircases were all so different in splendor despite sharing the same structural features.

One of my favorite buildings which was part of the university

The canals were lined with magnificent houseboats and fishing dinghies which sandwiched the reflection of the setting sun.

Amazing sunsets over the canals

To my surprise, the restaurant food was actually quite lackluster in Amsterdam, besides one meal we had while at an Indian restaurant. I ordered a mango chicken salad and it was very spicy but so flavorful! One evening, while the boys gave into a dare to ride a carnival ride that looked way too dangerous and nauseating for me, I partook in a warm waffle covered in chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and powdered sugar. I joyfully ate my dessert while the boys screamed and flailed like little girls on their spinning ride, spinning over the city. The next evening we went back to the carnival and I ordered another, this time with white fudge!

The boys rode the tall, spinning swing on the left. Yikes!

The infamous Red Light District was definitely a main draw for tourists and locals, but it seemed to fit right in with the city’s laissez-faire ideology. The highlight of the trip was renting bikes for an afternoon and getting lost in Amsterdam! Without any certain destination we rode through parks, alongside the sea, across plenty of bridges, and finally made it back to return the bikes just before the shop closed!

Meandering throughout the parks on our bikes, just like the locals!

Resting our legs for a photo opportunity.

Before leaving for the airport, I spent a few hours exploring the town of Eindhoven. I was so impressed with its modern twist of architecture on my bus ride into the city that I wanted to see more! I was expecting to see a lot more windmills though, but was happy to be amazed by such neat buildings in both cities!

Definitely had to do a double take at this spaceship building, but got the camera out in time to snag a picture from the bus

The Netherlands/Holland in three words: provocative, charming, unpretentious

Holla for Holland!

Lauren

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