This week at my internship, one of my coworkers asked me if i was experiencing any culture shock during my time in Poland. Her question stumped me, as I realized that I haven’t really been viewing my experiences as much different than my experiences at home. Warsaw is a very modern city with lots of stores and restaurants similar to those in cities in the States, and so living here hasn’t shocked me all that much. Of course, being in a place where I can’t understand what is being said 95% of the time is much different, and I think that is what has been the most challenging for me. At this point in my internship, I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to it.
Outside of the language barrier, it’s taken me some time to adjust to the food here – much of it is very heavy, and I’m not used to eating so much bread and potatoes! Also, I’m looking forward to having air conditioning again in a few weeks, as it has definitely been an adjustment not having any AC in 90 degree weather.
August 15th is a national holiday here in Poland – the Assumption of Mary. With having the day off, I decided to take a long weekend and travel to Kraków and Zakopane (in fact, I’m writing this on the bus to Zakopane now!). Kraków was a really beautiful and vibrant city, and I can understand now what people say in how Kraków and Warsaw are different. Kraków certainly looks and feels much older than Warsaw, as it wasn’t destroyed during the war like Warsaw was.
As odd as it is to say, I think the best part of my trip to Kraków was my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Initially, I didn’t think I could handle visiting the camp, but after visiting Berlin and Warsaw and learning about all of the history, I felt it necessary to experience Auschwitz while I was in the area. I lucked out actually, as I was able to accompany Lizzy and her family on a private tour with a personal connection of Lizzy’s mom who works at the museum. Seeing Auschwitz was incredibly powerful, and I honestly don’t have the words to describe it. Despite my physical and emotional exhaustion at the end of the day, I left glad that I went. I feel much more educated about the horrors that occurred during the Holocaust, and the experience left me thinking hard about humanity.
I enjoyed visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines, Kraków’s Old Town, and Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter). I definitely hope to come back to Kraków someday – there is much more to explore.