With the help of the Santander Fund, I spent 3 weeks volunteering across Poland. The friends I made, the confidence I gained and my desire to return to Poland already make it clear that this has been a defining trip for me in every sense.
Oddly, Poland was not a destination that I had previously considered visiting. I wanted to teach English abroad and obtain a TEFL qualification, and I stumbled across Poland as a country that could facilitate this. In the weeks preceding my trip, I was so anxious and apprehensive that I felt dread and almost regret for having arranged it. This would be my first experience of solo-travelling, and I worried about getting lost and being unable to communicate with the locals. I feared that the 210 hours of volunteering I was to complete would be too intense and challenging for me to cope with. I convinced myself that I would be lonely and homesick before I had even departed. These hyperbolic concerns were, of course, in vain.
I immediately fell in love with Krakow’s beautiful and historic old town
Whilst I did have a few homesick days, I found that I had new best friends who were there to comfort me. I was shocked by how quickly I formed close bonds with other native speakers and Polish participants.
A cruise around Lake Niegocin, north-east Poland, with new friends
I was volunteering at English immersion camps in the Polish countryside, so I didn’t have to worry too much about getting lost and not speaking the language. However, one of my biggest challenges and frequent humiliations was my pronunciation of Polish words. One hotel that I stayed in was called Modrzewiowe Wzgórze (I still can’t say it). Here, I was introduced to Polish cuisine, which often includes sweet main meals. I’m still not convinced by apple and cinnamon pasta or plum-filled dumplings, but there’s a first time for everything!
Teaching children in Modrzewiowe Wzgórze, south-east Poland
I was shocked by how economically developed and westernised Poland is, despite only gaining its independence from the USSR in 1989. It was also remarkable to visit Warsaw and the Warsaw Uprising Museum, where I learned of the bravery and resilience of the city’s inhabitants during the Second World War. Warsaw was entirely destroyed, with its ‘old town’ rebuilt after 1945.
Warsaw’s ‘old’ town
Although I am missing pierogi (Polish dumplings), Disco polo (google it if you dare) and the wonderful friends that I made, I am unbelievably grateful for the experience that I had. I am already planning to return to Krakow and Wroclaw to visit my mentees and see the sights that I missed. I would recommend Poland to anyone and I am delighted that I chose to visit this beautiful country.
Our team may or may not have come last in the group quiz