Poland 2015, A LE Summer

Written by volunteer, Michelle Peters

On one of our walks home from the days lessons, my host-mom took this photo of me, my host sisters, and my host cousins. Since the start, I had been enchanted with my little Polish host-sisters, and life at my host-family’s house only got better when their cousins and aunt arrived from Germany. My Polish-born/German-raised host cousins started attending my English lessons as soon as they arrived, and they quickly joined the ranks with my host-sisters as some of my most loyal and eager students. When we weren’t at the community center for the English lessons, we were in our backyard playing or taking walks around the neighborhood. I also got to spend a great deal of time with my host-aunt. She taught me how to make traditional Polish potato pancakes with the German topping of a tart applesauce. I had gone to Poland hoping to gain an understanding of Polish culture, and by the time I left, I had certainly gained that through my stay with my wonderful Polish host-family, who I still keep in touch with. Much to my surprise, I had even learned a bit about German culture in the process. I think this is a testament to the fact that once you open the door for some cultural exchange there are few limits to what will transpire and what will be gained. I’m immensely grateful to LE for opening that door for me.

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I went to teach for LE in Poland in the summer of 2015. Before arriving, I knew my host-family had a dog as a pet. When I arrived at their house, I was surprised and pleased to see that they also had a chinchilla as a pet. Upon my arrival, my host-sisters came to greet me with hugs and handmade cards. As soon as I had settled in, they promptly brought the chinchilla over so that I could meet it. From then on, we spent a lot of time playing with it both indoors and outdoors. Before arriving at my host-family’s house, I had never seen a chinchilla in person, so I came to associate the novelty of a chinchilla for a pet with Poland. It goes without saying that not all Poles have chinchillas as pets, but given that my host-family did, I couldn’t help but associate the two. The animal displayed on the Polish coat of arms is the white eagle, but the summer spent with my host-family and their peculiar pet has made sure the eagle isn’t the first animal that comes to mind when I think of Poland.

One of my favorite lessons for my class of 4-8 year olds was the one about body parts. We, of course, practiced the vocabulary by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” I noticed that during our rehearsal of the song some students would point at their eyes and ears at different parts of the song. I wanted to ensure that they were really able to distinguish the body parts, so I included an activity where students would take turns labeling body parts by placing post-its with body part names on a classmate or on me. By the time the students had finished labeling my body parts with post-its, I could barely move without risking the loss of the labels –let alone talk. I felt a bit silly having to move the “mouth” post-it to the side so that I could talk them through the activity. It was completely worth it, though. While some of my students had mistakenly or inadvertently pointed at the wrong body parts during the song, they had all succeeded in labeling the body parts on their classmates as well as me. That day, like many others during my time teaching in Poland, I realized the importance of stepping out on a limb. That was the only way to ensure I was doing everything possible to get things across to my students, and their learning was my first priority. If I were to do it all again now, I’d do the same, even if it meant teaching a lesson while my face and body were covered with post-its.

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