Most of my time in Poland was spent in the center of Wrocław which is a university town very similar to Ann Arbor. The time I spent there always felt like I was close to home. Instead of my daily stops at the State St. Walgreens, I was stopping in the nearest Zabka. Instead of hanging out in the Diag, I was meeting friends on Wyspa Slodowa. I was taking trams instead of buses and for quiet time, instead of heading to the south stacks in the graduate library, I was heading to the AIESEC Poland office in one of the dorm buildings in town. I began to get very attached to the town because I kept finding more and more ways it felt like being home and this is why in my free time I returned to this city and spent most weekends there with my new friends.
Other towns I stayed in though were very different from Ann Arbor. For my second week in Poland, I stayed in Bolesławiec a much smaller town. The thing that surprised me most was how I could walk from one edge of the town to the other in 45 minutes. The town was truly small, but I never was bored. Time here, seemed to move slower than my days at home or in Wrocław would. I had more time to walk around and explore, spend time in the garden plot that my host family had, play in the park with the host daughter and her dog, and find time to write in the cafe in Bolesławiec city center. These are things I would enjoy doing in Ann Arbor on days when I wasn’t busy with class and homework or rushing to and from meetings. My time in Bolesławiec was a good reminder to take time for myself to do things I really enjoy even when I am back in Ann Arbor.
The biggest difference I noticed, and this isn’t town specific, is how rich the history is and how it continues to shape the way the people in Poland live and what they see everyday. On my first day in Poland, my partner from AIESEC Poland walked me around the main part of Wrocław and we spent 3 hours looking at historic sites, talking about the second World War, and Poland’s independence (they will celebrate 100 years this year). I could begin to recognize which buildings in Poland had been built when they were a communist country as opposed to the buildings that were built before or after as the communist-era buildings were always very “practical” and had little to no decoration and served many people. This is why many people in the city live in flats. During my first week, with my first host family who lived in the suburbs around Wrocław, they took me on a walk around their neighborhood which they called a village and explained to me how vacant it was after the war and that this part of the city once belonged to two other nations, one of which had built the lake in the center of the village.
This stood out to me, because although the US has rich history, the last time the U.S. fought a declared, formal war on its own soil was the civil war in 1865, but in Poland, it has been less than a 100 years since much of the nation was destroyed during WWII and many years after were spent fighting to be a democratic state free from Soviet rule.