Summer work abroad in Poland

Poznan main square
The Old Town Square in Poznań, Poland

One day in the summer of 1991, I was hanging out at my university campus bus stop near the student center. The bus stop had numerous flyers advertising various activities. One read “Teach English in Poland through the Local Democracy and the Citizen’s Foundation in Poland.” It said it was a university sponsored trip, and that no experience teaching English as a Second Language was necessary. Hmm. I had never been to Europe at that point. I hadn’t thought about going to Poland before, but it interested me since it was a former communist country. I had studied about communism in high school and university. My studies also focused on China, a country that was still communist. I took the flyer with me and contemplated it.

On a rare visit home to see my parents, I mentioned the flyer to my mom. To my surprise, she was extremely enthusiastic about the idea. Before I knew it, I found myself signing up and with a ticket to Europe paid for by my parents. We flew to Prague, Czech Republic, as a student group, and there I found friends immediately. Our stay in Prague was only two days, but we did a whirlwind tour of the most popular tourist sites, like Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí), the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge (Karlův Most), and other sites. I had never seen such a city before. It was beautiful! Little did I know at that time that I would eventually meet and marry a Praguer, so I would visit Czech Republic several times in the future.

Scenes in Prague, Czech Republic (clockwise from top left): Bridges over the Vltava River, view of Prague Castle from Vltava River, Prague’s Old Town Square

In Prague, we boarded a train at Wilson train station (Wilsonovo nádraží) for the slow trip to our Polish destination of Poznań. The trip was an over nighter and we had to sit the whole time. Our group had a fun time playing games and getting to know each other better, but most eventually caught some shut eye toward the end. The next morning, we arrived in Poznań, and were driven to the student hostel you see in the photo below, topped with the sign “Centra Akumulator Batterie”. Funny story – I thought that was the name of the hostel, and when I told a Polish friend that I lived there, they were quite perplexed. Little did I know it was an advertisement for a car battery. She eventually figured out my confusion with a laugh.

hostel in Poznan

When I checked in at the hostel, the front desk clerk gave me my key for room 11. I was to drop it off there each time I left the building. When I’d pick it up, she told me to ask for “dziesięć jeden” (a real challenge to say), and that she wouldn’t give me the key if I said it in English. So I learned it well. She was a friendly older lady and always smiled each time I saw her.

On the first day, we also went to a beautiful old government building in Poznań where the program heads were located. They gave us instructions on how to teach the classes and what types of materials we could use. The materials would be there to copy whenever we needed them. We even did some practice teaching.

The English instruction I provided was conversational English. Most students could already understand a lot. My six students were mostly young women my age. They turned out to be a fun lot, and I made special friends with two of them. In the beginning, the program was disorganized and had no room for us. You’d find us sitting in a park having our classes. Finally when we got  a room, the instruction became a little more formal, but we still had fun acting out plays and learning about each others’ cultures. From my Polish students, I got the clear impression that there was an optimism in their country at that time. They were very interested in western culture, and were excited about their prospects. These students seemed to have high aspirations for themselves. I was impressed how independent spirited they were, and what a great sense of humor and openness they all seemed to have.

My two Polish friends, Beata and Maria, invited me to places around the city and even to their houses for dinners. [Oh my, the food was delicious!] It was a wonderful way to get to know the Polish people and their culture, and to see how they lived. They would even meet me at my hostel, and join me and my other friends at the local disco where we’d dance up a storm, often with partners we couldn’t even converse with. When you dance, it doesn’t matter. Partying has it’s own international common language.

Milk Bar
A Milk Bar, a cheap place to find some good eats.

The classes were scheduled such that I sometimes found it difficult to find places to eat. The hostel had a cafeteria, but it was mostly closed when I was available to eat. I ate soy burgers from a local food truck, and made a long walk to a “Milk Bar” near the old town square. I liked the Milk Bar the best because the food was simple, cheap, yummy, and homemade. I’d eat things like stuffed cabbage for dinners and crepes with sugar and lemon juice (naleśniki z cukrem i sokiem cytrynowym) along with hot tea for breakfast. When I couldn’t get anywhere on time for meals, I just didn’t eat. Sometimes a little food store was open, but the most they had were rolls and pickled herring, and such. Occasionally the group would buy kielbasa and cabbage and make it in the hostel. I never went to nice restaurants. I didn’t have the money for it. I did often treat myself to ice cream (lody) at ice cream shops or stands, because unlike restaurants and cafeterias, they seemed to be open and everywhere at all times. It was clear to me that Polish people really love ice cream. They created the most beautiful sundaes I had ever seen with wonderful edible decorations, and even sparklers, on them. It reminded me of the wonderful food I had at both Maria and Beata’s homes, in terms of loving preparation.

Speaking of money, I received a monthly stipend. I was paid in Polish Zloty and I was shocked to see that they paid me what seemed like an exorbitant amount. I forget, but something like one million Zloty, or so. It wasn’t as much as it sounds, believe me, but the pile of money was huge! I found that more than enough to make ends meet and afford weekend trips with my American and Polish friends.

One weekend, some Polish and American friends and I took a train to the beautiful city of Gdańsk. Another, we went to Kraków and visited the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum by bus. The last weekend we took a quick train ride to Berlin, Germany, which was nearby to Poznań. The cities were all beautiful, and had great and popular nightlife. Though the tour through Auschwitz was disturbing and sad, the countryside around it was spectacular. I think on the way there, I saw the most beautiful sunrise ever. It was an overnight trip.

Other cities in Poland (left to right): Gdansk and Krakow

I was sad to leave my Polish friends at the end of the summer, but excited to get back to college. I kept in touch with Beata and Maria for years afterward and even met up with Beata in New York City at one point. Beata became a career woman in Warsaw, while Maria married and had children fairly young. Both seemed to be very happy with their lives.

One accomplishment during the trip that really satisfied me was that I noticed a real improvement in all of my students’ English. They seemed to speak it more confidently and fluently when I left. When I returned to college, I changed my study focus. I abandoned the idea of studying Business, and declared East Asian Languages and Area Studies my major, with English as a minor.

Later in my life, on the way to visiting my husband’s family in Czech Republic and Germany, we passed through Poland. We visited Poznań briefly (and went to the Milk Bar) and enjoyed the countryside. I’m afraid to say that I was unable to connect with Maria. In Poland, we also stumbled upon a charming city called Wrocław. I hope to someday go back again and explore other cities.

Poland is a lovely tourist destination and has wonderfully welcoming citizens. If you can find a chance to study, work, or just travel there, I highly recommend it. My experience teaching for the Local Democracy and the Citizen’s Foundation in Poland is one I’ll never forget.

Local Democracy certificate


49 thoughts on “Summer work abroad in Poland

  1. Nel June 7, 2017 / 5:31 pm

    Aww! Wonderful story! You’ll have to tell us the story of how you met your husband one day! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 7, 2017 / 5:44 pm

      Hi Nel. Actually, I wrote a post about how I met my husband. It was a very romantic story that was supposed to be Day 5 of a Music Challenge post series. I showed it to my husband and he loved it very much, but didn’t want me to share it. He is such a romantic that he said he wants to keep our initial love story secret. That’s just his way. I, on the other hand, would have loved to celebrate and share the story.

      I will put the story in my memoir some day. He’ll just have to accept that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nel June 7, 2017 / 5:55 pm

        I see. Well, when I read that memoir, I’ll see it then 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hussein Allam June 7, 2017 / 8:16 pm

    Your major is calculus wow, it’s complicated major. Lol . However, your story is so magnificent. I believe that Poland that it has an ancient places, as well as nature beauty is limitless, love this country. Thanks to share some of photographs of your country, it is highly amazing and beautiful. God bless! 🌹

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 7, 2017 / 8:21 pm

      Hi Hussein. No, I only took a class in Calculus because I had planned to be a Business major a long time ago. I ended up abandoning that idea and majored in East Asian Languages & Area Studies with a minor in English.

      I don’t live in Poland, but I visited there many years ago. I live in the U.S.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hussein Allam June 7, 2017 / 8:48 pm

        Oh I see, you know Arabic language,🙂?! I believe that you Live in the US. Based on in our previous conversation in your latest posts. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 7, 2017 / 9:06 pm

        Hi Hussein. I’m sorry if I am confusing you. I studied about all of East Asia (i.e. China, Japan, Korea, etc.), but only studied Mandarin Chinese in detail.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hussein Allam June 7, 2017 / 9:19 pm

        It is ok, no confusion is there once you are explained it to me in detail about yours. However, That’s the most difficult languages to be learned. Are you doing it perfectly?!

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 7, 2017 / 9:24 pm

        I used to speak almost fluent Mandarin Chinese, but regret that I have forgotten many words (particularly written words) because of years of not using it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hussein Allam June 7, 2017 / 9:36 pm

        While you are not practising it, for sure. You will forget it, environment where you stay , it plays its role for granting the language and widen your vocals. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Erin W June 7, 2017 / 10:07 pm

    Thank you for this description of your time in Poland. It gives me a good flavor of your experiences there and the towns. For me, teaching English to non-native speakers (ESL/EFL) has been the most rewarding of my life and wish I could afford the time to do so again. For 5 years, I volunteered through a literacy center and a university in US to tutor immigrants and refugees even though I did not have a teaching degree. It’s the kind of work that is so needed, anyone will accept you as long as you don’t expect to be paid. I did not have a child to support then. But I do remember I had one teen student from Poland who had moved to the US with her dad after her mother passed young. The moment I mentioned having German ancestry, she looked pale as a ghost. I now of course understand why. But my family was on the same side of the destruction by the German govt as hers. I have since visited one concentration camp in Germany, and especially for those of us with ancestors who perished, I always say it is the most powerful experience of my life. Even more powerful than any birth or death. The camp museum I was able to visit was actually of one that my great uncle’s unit liberated after he escaped Germany to work with the US Army. I do hope my daughter gets to go. We are biting our nails to find out why the delay in her paperwork.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 7, 2017 / 10:21 pm

      Erin, thank you so much for sharing about your teaching experience and the history of your student’s and your families. I am also glad you emphasized how powerful of an experience it is to see places of such horrifying history as concentration camps. When I visited Auschwitz I remember being completely quiet the whole time. Most people were. As hard as it is to see such evidence, it is important to know what must not happen again in the future.

      I do hope your daughter gets to go. Such experiences are extreme growth experiences. I was very fortunate that my parents helped me take advantage of my Poland opportunity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erin W June 7, 2017 / 11:33 pm

        I got chills that you commented about SILENCE. Exactly the response I remember most, since while I was there an entire group of middle-school students was there and I was stunned they were completely silent. It’s as if silence is the only possible response to the presence of those not there. I will try to follow your blog more, because I like your writings. I just start following too many blogs : )

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 8, 2017 / 12:41 am

        Thank you, Erin, and thank you for bringing up this important topic.


    • updownflight June 16, 2017 / 1:07 pm

      Thank you, lifetrips. Poland is a beautiful country. I hope people will consider visiting there some day. I certainly hope to go back again in the future in conjunction with visiting my husband’s family in Germany and Czech Republic.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. zlotybaby August 8, 2017 / 6:17 pm

    Nice post. Was hoping for a bit more comments on Polish people 😊 crepes with sugar and lemon juice -> naleśniki z cukrem i sokiem cytrynowym.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight August 8, 2017 / 6:25 pm

      I really wish I had been housed with a Polish family instead of with other Americans in a hostel. That would have given me more exposure to the Polish people and culture. The time I spent in classes teaching conversation did expose me to some views of my students. I will try to incorporate a little bit more of that in my post at your suggestion.

      The time I spent with my Polish friends with their families was limited. The time at dance clubs and travels just didn’t give me sufficient exposure. You’re too busy exploring and…getting a little drunk.

      Liked by 1 person

      • zlotybaby August 8, 2017 / 8:39 pm

        Hahaha, yes I’m sure that a student experience involved quite a bit of getting drunk 😉 You were there during interesting times, just after the old system ended. It must have been a completely different world for an American.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight August 8, 2017 / 9:16 pm

        What you wrote about being drunk was true.

        Yes, there were clearly a lot of changes going on in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia (as it was then) at that time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • zlotybaby August 9, 2017 / 4:15 am

        That’s true Czechoslovakia was only dissolved in the end of 1992. It may surprise you but many South Africans still refer to it by its old name. I always try to correct them but not always get a good reaction to my attempts 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight August 9, 2017 / 10:08 am

        It was such a fun name to say. Czech Republic just isn’t that fun.

        Did you know that they want to change the name again? They are thinking about Czechia, but my husband and I prefer Cesko (I don’t have diacritics), pronounced llike Czesko. That is actually what Czechs call it for short.

        Liked by 1 person

      • zlotybaby August 9, 2017 / 3:45 pm

        No, I didn’t know about the planned name change. It’s “Czechy” in Polish, no one really uses the full name (for now at least). I guess American also don’t say “I come from the United States of America” often.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight August 9, 2017 / 4:00 pm

        That’s true about not saying the full country names. The shorting of Czech Republic, however, is causing some pretty heated debates there.


    • updownflight August 8, 2017 / 8:03 pm

      Zlotybaby, I just wanted to thank you again for your suggestions about my post. I have added more information about the wonderful Polish people I met, and even corrected the Polish words for the crepes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • zlotybaby August 8, 2017 / 8:40 pm

        I will check out the changes, I’m glad that my suggestions were useful 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight August 23, 2017 / 11:46 pm

      Thank you, Beata. Thanks, too, for listing the link to your Polish language course. I hope anyone interested in Polish will find it here.

      Actually, I’m starting to learn more Czech. My husband is Czech. We might move there in a few years. He tells me it will be a very difficult language to learn. Now all I know are a few dozen nouns, verbs, and adjectives. He tells me the grammar is a killer. Is Polish grammar difficult?

      Liked by 1 person

      • beataaleksiejuk August 24, 2017 / 8:24 am

        Polish and Czech (also Slovakian) are the most similar for each other. I have never learn Czech, but they are from the same language family and they have a lot of similar words, sentence structures, gramma etc. (In TV and YT i listened native Czechs and this is true) We can even understand each other when we talk -Polish person in Polish – Czech in Czech language… Even few words we will not know rest will as similar that is it no problem to comunicate and understand what the person want to say 🙂 I have never spoke with Czech people but I spoke with Slovakian girl and we used our languages – we knew what we said – just sometimes there were doubts ! For foreigners yes it is quite difficult. But everything possible. I know people who were able to do it and they speak polish now 🙂


      • updownflight August 26, 2017 / 7:59 pm

        Hi Beata. I’m sorry one of your comments ended up in my spam folder accidentally, so I’m only seeing it now. I have heard that people from Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia can sort of understand a lot of the other languages. I had a friend named Krystyjana who spoke Polish (her mom was Polish) and we traveled to Prague together. She spoke in Polish there, and they indeed understood her.

        Liked by 1 person

      • beataaleksiejuk August 27, 2017 / 12:43 pm

        This story sound really great ! 🙂 Travels always bring you always new adventures and possibility to know people 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • beataaleksiejuk August 27, 2017 / 2:38 pm

        Btw if you like travels I invite to subscribe to my blog. I publish there about trips. Seccion of language suppport I just started 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pooja Thapliyal October 14, 2017 / 6:30 am

    Sounds like a great experience. Its great that you took this opportunity. Nicely penned !

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight October 14, 2017 / 1:45 pm

      Thanks so much! I am lucky I got to go back then. It was my first trip abroad inspiring many others.


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