This week at work was not very eventful, this is partly due to the fact that it was a short week here in Warsaw. Thursday was a holiday which meant no work and I already planned a trip for this weekend, but more on that later. This week, began with an exciting start, at our weekly staff meeting I learned that the staff gets invited to a Fourth of July party at the Ambassador’s residence. The staff mentioned that invites had gone out before President Trump had confirmed his visit to Warsaw for July 6th, making the Fulbright staff wonder if the embassy would be reducing the number of invites. Most of my shortened week was spent working on updating the database, but on Tuesday I had the opportunity to speak with students who are going to be biochemistry fellows on four different campuses across the U.S. I was instructed to answer any questions they had. Most of their questions had to do with traveling, I explained that traveling from state to state in the U.S. is similar to traveling from country to country in Europe. I explained that there are different cultures from state to state and the cost of flying or busing or taking a train is similar from state to state as from country to country. They were also amazed by the size of the country and the fact that there are 4 time zones in the continental US, something that is so normal to me, but is totally foreign to these students. The fact that I have had so many opportunities to interact with Polish students has surprised me in the best possible way. I really enjoy speaking with these students about life in Poland versus life in the U.S.
Now my work at the Commission was not the end of my week, in fact it was the beginning of the most ridiculous travel experience of my life. Two weeks ago, Alyssa, one of the other UofM interns in Warsaw had texted me and asked if I wanted to go to Minsk, Belarus. I sort of shrugged my shoulders and agreed. We decided it was the closest we’d get to Russia in the current political climate. After some research, we determined we didn’t need a visa, since one was only required if the visit was longer than 5 days, we booked a hostel, and bus tickets. So, come Thursday evening we arrived at the bus station and after running around a little bit we found our bus and boarded. Three hours into the trip, at around midnight, we arrived at the border. A man in uniform got on the bus walked up to me, flipped through my passport and handed me and Alyssa slips of paper, for entrance into Belarus. A few minutes later Alyssa and I both had stamps for our exit from Poland. We got back on the bus drove for 10 minutes and arrived at the Belarusian border. Alyssa and I were at the front of the line, but we were quickly told by one of the passengers that the rest of the bus didn’t want to wait for us because Americans needed a visa regardless of the trip length if they weren’t flying into Minsk. We waited until everyone else had stamps in their passports, before approaching the desk. The scary, non-English speaking, Belarusian border control officer looked at, scanned, and stamped our passports, which made us think we were in. That was until he led us to a back room, another stamp, outside, a few minutes where we couldn’t see our passports, and then up to a bus. I was quick to comment that it wasn’t our bus, that’s when Alyssa asked the fatal question, “Is this bus going back to Poland?” and the answer: Yes. We had to wait another 2 hours (it was 4am now) to get back into Poland. Luckily the bus driver took us to the train station and helped us buy tickets back to Warsaw. My parents were happy to hear I was safe despite the issues with our travel, my mom even joked that it would be a good thing to mention in future job interviews. My travel snafu is why Friday I spent most of the day sleeping, followed by hanging out with Alyssa and another intern, Matt, in the evening. Saturday I visited the Polish Army Museum and the National Museum with Alyssa and today was spent catching up on some student org work. I’m looking forward to a whole work week and smooth weekend travel to Sweden, next week!