“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” -Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

After being in Poland for a little over two months, I could not have found a more befitting mantra for my time spent here.

The Journey to Poland

I felt anxious, excited, and every emotion in between when leaving Indiana and my loved ones. All the comfort and necessities of home were packed into six suitcases and with a few last minute rearrangements at the airport check-in to meet the 50 pound maximum allotment for each bag, I was heading down the terminal with my mother’s last words resonating in my mind: “The world is yours my darling!”

My mind was running on overdrive the entire trip, as I wanted to make sure every detail of my travel arrangements would work out smoothly and I would make it to the hotel for orientation on time. There were a few points of anxiety when it came to retrieving boarding passes, going through security and customs, trying to locate the correct terminals, and making it to the plane on time; but these points of adversity only made the journey that much more worth it. Because of the amount of luggage I brought with me to prepare for my year abroad, I was even more concerned with how I was going to scrounge up each piece after the flight into Warsaw and into a taxi to the hotel, without knowing much Polish at all.

However, as is with most journeys I embark on, I met some of the most helpful and kind people. For instance, on my flight from Chicago the gentleman sitting behind me generously offered to lift my carry-ons into the overhead bin for me. To my surprise (and just another example of how small this world is), the same man sat next to me on my final flight into Poland. He shared that he was going home to visit his family who lived in Warsaw and how he had a daughter who studied at Ball State University! He was even kindhearted enough that he helped me load up my luggage onto a cart from the baggage claim, pushed it out of the airport, and ordered a taxi for me. His character and compassion, which blessed my journey abroad, offered the reassurance that no matter where I travel, I would always be in good hands.

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go!

Fulbright Orientation

Before arriving to Poland, I had only been in contact with some of the fellow Fulbright Scholars through email and Facebook, so I was eager to meet each of them in person and get to know their stories.

The first day of our ten-day orientation started at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw where we all had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and to meet one another. Immediately, I was impressed by the intelligence, passion, and experiences of my colleagues. Though each of us came from different schools, cities, and educational backgrounds, we had all been selected for very specific reasons to come to Poland as cultural ambassadors. Later that day we met at Ambassador Lee Feinstein’s residence to meet with past Fulbright Scholars and employees of the U.S. Embassy and Fulbright Commission. As the Ambassador Feinstein welcomed us to his home, he told us: “Being a Fulbright Scholar, will always be a part of who you are.” At that moment, the weight of his words hit me even more so than ever as the smile on my face and the amount of gratitude in my heart could have reached all the way from Warsaw, Poland to Indianapolis, Indiana.

Past and present Fulbright Scholars at Ambassador Feinstein's residence

The second day we left for Wrocław, Poland, which coincidentally, would be the host city of our main orientation and also my new hometown for the year! I could not have been more thankful for the location because we were actually assigned to hotel rooms in the very dorm I would be living and I had a little over a week of seeing and exploring the city with the help of guided tours, local students, and Fulbrighters that had already been to the city before!

Although every single detail of the journey thus far seemed to have come together perfectly, there was a large part of me that felt like the rookie on the Fulbright team. I was one of the only players who didn’t speak Polish, which made comprehending the fast-paced language lessons and making connections with others quite difficult. I was surrounded by teammates who attended the most prestigious schools in the U.S. and who had plans to continue research for the Doctoral Degrees while in Poland. The team’s lineup was filled with some of the most impressive statistics that would undoubtedly ensure a winning record of accomplishments for the year. As any athlete would do, I recalled the advise of one of my most beloved coaches and mentors, Rick Mettler, and found inspiration through adversity.

The words of the late Steve Jobs in his 2005 commencement speech to Stanford would serve perfectly as a foundation for my game plan:

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

At the conclusion of our ten-day orientation at the University of Wrocław and after being immersed in the culture and history of Poland with the fellow Fulbright Scholars, I felt confident that I was prepared to embark on the rest of my journey with this new perspective in mind.

 Creative Ventures

I’ve always embraced my freethinking and creative spirit, and while living in Europe it has allowed me to enjoy events of daily life in their entire splendor.

Making friends: Most 23 years olds would not consider living in a dorm and sharing a room with a complete stranger halfway across the world ideal. However, I could not have asked for a more perfect living and learning situation in my life right now. I absolutely adore my roommate Isabel, who is from Sevilla, Spain, as we have become instant best friends. Our two flat mates, Nush and Asli are from Turkey, and some of the most sweetest and considerate friends I have ever met. Most students who live in my dorm, OŁÓWEK (which is Polish for “pencil”), are Erasmus students, which means they are from European Union countries and they are studying abroad for a year. Meeting friends from so many diverse countries has allowed me to become more culturally aware as I learn about their backgrounds, share meals with them, listen to their music, celebrate their holidays and customs, and share moments of our lives together.

My beautiful roommates! Asli, Nush, and Isabel!

One of the best things about living in the Erasmus dormitory is that every night, there is always something to do! As the central hub for socializing in the city, however, some nights are more difficult than others to fall asleep because of the ongoing parties throughout the building and at the bars/clubs across the street. I’ve always been a fan of sleeping with my window open to allow the breeze in at night, but to drown out the noise my roommate and I found it best to close the windows at night. To make up for the lost air circulation in the room, I decided to buy a fan, which would prove to be a feat within itself! The first trip to the store I thought I had found the best and cheapest solution only to realize when I made it back to my room, I had actually bought a space heater. After replacing the heater and purchasing the only fan left in the entire store, I was excited to get back to my room and have one of the best night’s sleep in quite some time. To make the process even more interesting, the directions for how to put the fan together were in Polish, there were a few missing pieces, and I had no access to tools to put the contraption together! Nonetheless, after an undisclosed amount of time later, the fan was up and running and there were only a few extra pieces left!

Cooking and Eating: I’ve always prided myself on being a good eater and always much more enjoyed licking the spoon and snacking on ingredients while my mom or sister did the cooking and baking. Since living in the residence halls for four years and having access to three meals a day, seven days a week with the swipe of my I.D., I never really had to fend for myself when it came to food. My first trip to the grocery here was quite overwhelming because all the products and packaging were written in Polish! I stuck with the essentials and what I knew for the first week: fruits, vegetables, breads, pastas, and pesto sauce. However, after doing the research and coming up with weekly grocery lists in both English and Polish I have found one of my sanctuaries is in the kitchen of our little flat in the dorm. While it’s only equipped with a sink, small fridge, and two hot plates, my weekly menus are anything but bland! I delight in my time on Tuesday mornings that I spend researching different meals before heading to the store. My Turkish roommates have also been so helpful with showing me how to ad-lib with certain ingredients and how to make the food extra flavorful!

My first traditional Turkish meal with my flat mates and friends!

Indulging in local cuisine has always been a passion of mine, no matter where I travel. I’m not a picky eater by any means, but there are a few ingredients that are far from my favorite: cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, eggs, and beets. Unbeknown to me, these just happen to be the five most popular components in traditional polish dishes. I was determined, however, to try every dish that I was served whether it was during the catered meals during orientation, celebration meals at the homes of my Polish friends, and out at local restaurants. To my surprise, I have enjoyed most every meal while in Poland; my absolute favorite is the popular pierogi–fried dumplings usually filled with potatoes and cheese, meat, or cabbage!

One of the first weekends in Poland, I was invited by my friend Gosia to go home to celebrate her mother's birthday with her and her family. This picture shows the first course of a traditional Polish celebratory meal!

Delicious pierogi at a traditional Polish restaurant!

Exploring the City:  Wrocław, I believe, is the most beautiful city in Poland. To share each moment with me, I brought along a friend—Roley Poley. My miniature friend is a hand-painted gnome from Germany and he fits perfectly in my purse! I learned of the over 100+ gnome statues sprinkled across the city and thought finding a friend like Roley would be the perfect little replica and travel companion. The gnome/dwarf/little person statues started appearing around the city as a political movement to protest Communism in 2001. It was quite the creative endeavor by the citizens of the “Orange Alternative” as they would run around dressed up like gnomes and paint gnome graffiti rather than overtly rebel against Communist regime. To Roley and me, it’s become a little game to meet as many of his friends as possible on our daily jaunts. Roley-Poley even gets the opportunity to be a tourist with me too as we travel across Europe; I just love seeing the world from his perspective too! Be sure to follow his adventure and befriend him on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002988488070

Roley-Poley and his best friend, Pierogi Gnome in front of a milk bar!

The view from my balcony on the sixth floor offers the most spectacular vantage points of the entire city and the sunsets here are the most beautiful I have ever seen. The church steeples in the landscape dot the horizon and are like little pushpins marking a map, depicting destinations of interest. On my way to class or afternoon jaunts, I love exploring new paths that allow me the opportunity to experience the city from so many different perspectives. Discovering the perfect spot in a hidden park to overlook the river, finding the coziest cafés that offer the best people watching, and getting off the tram or bus just because I see something that intrigues me allow may days to be filled with unexpected enchantment!

Incredible view of the sunset from our balcony!

Learning: Because I won’t start teaching English until next semester, I have been able to spend much of my time taking classes through the university as well as working on projects for the English Department. I have Polish Language classes twice a week and it’s been such a neat experience for me since the last language I learned was Japanese from 6th grade through sophomore year of high school. Polish is very tough to learn but it is quite a rewarding experience, especially when it comes into use in daily conversation! Another class I am taking is called “Power and Education” within the department of Pedagogy. The professor reminds me of one of my favorite high school teachers, Ms. Kreigh, and our professor inspires us each class with how to be more critical thinkers. I was also delighted to see that the university would be offering the class “The Process of Suburbanization.” I’ve been able to use so much of what I have gained through my experience in the Urban Planning Department at Ball State to foster comparative perspectives of suburban development throughout the world.

Now that I am fully immersed in this extraordinary journey, I cannot wait to explore more creative ventures such as traveling, reading, researching, painting, and blogging more consistently : )

Joyously,

Lauren

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