Gap year in Europe – Tim’s experience in Poland

Posted on the 4th March 2020

What made you take a gap year in Europe in the first place?

6 months ago, though it feels like much longer, I chose to take a gap year for a whole bunch of different reasons. I’d had a busy & enjoyable, but highly pressured last year of school – so I felt like I needed a break; I’d never really been on any big adventure by myself, so I felt it was time to ‘spread my wings’, so to speak; and most of all, through nobody’s fault – I’d never really done anything particularly different with my life – it was as if I was set on some pre-prescribed course headed for uni, work etc. So, I felt it was time to break out! Although I already knew what I wanted to study and where I wanted to do it, for all these reasons I decided it could wait a year – and so here I am, writing this from across the world – on a trip in Athens, Greece.

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Why Poland?

So I guess you could ask why Poland? Believe it or not, this was actually a question I seemed to get asked everywhere – not just from friends and family in New Zealand, but also once I touched down in the country itself. For me, it was pretty simple – even though I didn’t speak a word of Polish, and had never once visited the country – I’d always dreamed of visiting Europe, and out of the two options I had – the UK or Poland – I think you can guess which one seemed more intriguing, and because of that, for me – more appealing.

Please describe your town to us. And can you describe your placement in detail?

If we talk about inside Poland itself, I was based in Poland’s capital of Warsaw, or Warszawa (Var-Shav-a) in Polish. Crazy I know, Polish gets likes that. Warsaw was a great city for me to live in – not only did it have the buzz and hum of any major city, but also plenty of cool cultural hotspots to scope out and experience. On top of that, being the capital, it was really easy to catch bus, train or flight connections when travelling within or even outside Poland. In Warsaw, I taught at a school called Warsaw 77, or Bolesław Prus. It was a lively central city high school – less like the open plan, field-inclusive schools of NZ and a little more two storey, High School Musical-esque. Certainly cool to walk into everyday.

What are some examples of the duties you performed there?

Each day at Prus,  I ran lessons with 4-5 different classes of students ranging from ages 13 to 18. Now it might sound a little daunting, but believe me when I say – having the freedom to create, teach, and see your lessons working in real life is a totally rewarding experience – one I imagine I might not get again, provided I don’t become a teacher, of course. At Prus it was great, because as long as Maggie (the other volunteer I was there with) and I got the kids speaking and interacting in English, we had free reign to create whatever lessons we wanted. This meant I got the chance to run all and any kinds of classes I could think of with my students – Debates, Research lessons, Skits and Drama, I did most of it – all in English, of course. Sure, sometimes the teaching could become a little repetitive, but that’s part of any job I suppose. All in all, I really enjoyed my duties while volunteering at Prus, I had a great time.

Can you describe your accommodation? Your host family?

Now of course I didn’t live inside the school while doing this teaching! I was lucky enough to be placed with an amazing host family in Warsaw while I taught there. While living in another family’s home did take a week or so to adjust to, my 5 months in Poland without a doubt wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if I hadn’t been there. I had my own room, plenty of access to food and internet – but most importantly, my host family looked after me like one of their own; constantly feeding me more than I needed, taking me with them on vacations around Poland, even occasionally waking me up (yikes) when I couldn’t quite hear my alarm some mornings. In return I tried my best to be a part of their life – I cooked dinner around once a week, did the vacuuming on occasion, and of course talked to them as much as I could, so they could practice their English – something they want you for in the first place! They truly are lovely people and I won’t hesitate to stay in contact with them once I leave Europe.

How did you cope with the big differences between Poland and home?

Obviously, there were big differences between my home in Warsaw, Poland, and my one in Hamilton, NZ. However, I honestly didn’t see these as obstacles – these big differences – like another language, more people, ease of travel – these were the places I feel as if I learned the most from, and gained the most experience from while adjusting to them. Sure, you’re always a little afraid of change. But take it from me, once you’re over here, most differences are just that – just differences, and cool ones to.

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What do you think has been your favourite moment/ best thing that happened to you whilst there?

Something I’m bound to be asked when I return home – and one which I should probably address here – is highlights – favourite moments, times, or places. It’s obviously quite hard to pick out a single moment in 6 months of an amazing experience, but for me there’s two stand-outs: One – the travel; being across the other side of the world in Europe, not only seeing, tasting and breathing in different cultures, but actually living in one. And two, a more obscure one – on occassion, sitting in a classroom, having taught my lesson- and overhearing one, two, maybe three students not just using the English I taught them, but putting it into practice – using it in conversation, laughing about it, having real fun with it. That’s reward enough in itself, really.

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Can you give examples of any personal development you may have noticed during your time there?

If I think about the ways in which I’ve grown over here, what I’ve been taught or have realised while in Europe, it’s certainly an area I could fill with some text. So, I’ll keep it simple – everything, and I mean everything – has been a new sensation over here – travelling on my own, dealing with a different language every day, wrapping up for -18° cold – it was all new, and I, like all my fellow volunteers in Poland – adjusted to it.  Because of that, I feel as if I’ve grown several years in experience, in only a few, seemingly short months – it’s an odd feeling really, but a great one to have, for sure.

What are your future plans, and how do you think your volunteering experience might help?

In the future, I hope to study something in the field of International Relations and Commerce in Wellington. While of course I can’t link the two directly, I do have a hunch being over here – living in, experiencing and seeing all kinds of different cultures – may help me in this area. Besides that, I think the travel experience and personal growth I’ve been lucky enough to gain will obviously help me in anything I choose to do next – not to mention I now feel fully ready to settle back into the groove and tackle Uni!

Finally, why should others consider heading to Poland with Lattitude?

So I guess to sum up, why should you consider coming to Poland on your own possible gap year? Well if I haven’t already made it clear, I think it’s an incredible, once-in-a lifetime experience you should definitely jump onto if you can. Not only does the programme in and of itself offer so many great opportunities and memories, but simply being over here in Europe, in exciting and challenging Poland – man, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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