Posts Tagged ‘culture’

One of the reasons I love being in Krakow is because of the ethnicities you meet. Don’t get me wrong, Poland is about a 97% all Polish people. But Krakow is one of the tourist capitals of… Poland? Europe? Let’s say about 90% of people you meet in the Stare Miasto (Old Town) are foreigners, tourists, travelers, etcetera. It’s great.

I come from a country known for its multiculturalism, and that’s true. Canada is incredibly diverse; so diverse, it lacks its own “Canadian” traditions, culture, songs—things that most other countries have. When I’m in Canada, I see a range of racial ethnicities: dark, black, brown, pale, white ~ Russian, East-Indian, Native, Chinese, Filipino—on a daily basis. But a lot of these people with this range of backgrounds have lost what traditions were upheld by their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. People say they’re, for example, Irish. Or Dutch. Or Filipino[1]. But for the most part, that’s just telling people why they have pale skin, or freckles, or blond hair, or beautiful brown skin. (I’m not aiming to be stereotypical here.) For the most part, if there’s any tradition upheld, it’s a bit of the food. A few words of the language. Maybe your uncle knows a song. It’s great, being in Canada, and getting to see a racial mix upon faces but for me, what’s lacking, is the culture. A lot of it gets lost through the generations.
On the other hand, we’ve all met people who live in Canada and despite being a second or third generation away from the “homeland”, English may not be their first language, they know their dances, their songs, their holidays. (As always, I’m speaking from my own observations, nothing that is fact.) When we have community potlucks, they own the floor, they are proud of where they were born, or where grew up, or which nationality they were raised with. People like that do exist.

I saw a really cool post the other day, about what it means to be Canadian.

A Canadian can be English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish,  Russian, or Greek. A Canadian can be Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Arabian, Pakistani or Afghan.  A Canadian may also be a Cree, Metis, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Sioux, or one of the many other tribes known as Native Canadians. 

A Canadian’s religious beliefs range from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islamism, Hinduism, or none. The key difference is that in Canada they are free to worship as each of them chooses.  Whether they have a religion or no religion.

A Canadian lives in one of the most prosperous lands in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which recognize the right of each person to the pursuit of freedom and happiness.

A Canadian is generous and Canadians have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need, never asking a thing in return. 

Canadians welcome the best of everything, the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best services and the best minds. But they also welcome the least – the oppressed, the outcast and the rejected. These are the people who built Canada . 

Canadians are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, can be a Canadian.

I really like the last line. Most things you come across on the internet about Canada, will tell you that the meaning of a being a Canadian is: loving your hockey, drinking your Timmies, slapping that maple syrup onto your pancakes, and saying “Eh.” Though that does quite well describes Canada in a nutshell, I really like how someone took a moment to seriously answer the question. We are not one race, we are not one culture, we are not of the same background, but we are “the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom”. Epic.

So when I say I like Krakow because of the ethnicity you meet; I mean that a little differently than when I say I love Canada because of the range of ethnicity. In Krakow, you mostly meet other travelers. And mostly from other countries in Europe. Some from Asia, a few North-Americans, but mostly Europe. But what I love is how alive these people are. You can truly see that they’re British or Italian or Russian.

The other night, upon finishing our exams, my roommate and I went out for the night. From 8pm to 6am, we went from a cafe to a house party to a bar to roaming the rynek to going back to the first bar to a restaurant to home. In between that time, in one night, I met people from Spain, Italy, Britain, Mexico, China, Russia, Norway, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania, America, and Canada. I actually spent about 75% of the night with 3 Spanish girls and 1 Spanish guy! I learned some dance moves to traditional Spanish songs, took a shot of rum with a Lithuanian, rejected a dance to a Norwegian, disagreed on terms of nationality with a British guy, and was hugged and kissed by a bunch of Belgians[2].

Granted, part of that was because I spent the beginning part of my night at a Couchsurfer’s meet-up, but honestly, more than half of those ethnicities I listed were people I met in the rynek.

So Cheers to Krakow! This is what has made living here a fun time. I’m meeting people from everywhere, having memorable nights with strangers that feel like friends by the time the night is over, embracing the ethnicity, and feel like I am enjoying life.

Today marks the halfway point. Exactly five months ago, I left Canada—and finally Krakow is starting to feel like home. However, in another five months, I will be on a plane back to Canada, my homeland. I have no idea how I’ll feel then.


[1] Okay, for the reference, all Filipino people I’ve met DO uphold their traditions. Go Fili! <– I do not know if that’s a thing… probably not.

[2] No joke on that one! They adored me like I was Mary.


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I’m glad I came to Poland.

That is basically the past week’s thoughts summed up. I can’t say exactly what it is, but I have been quite happy this past week. Cheerful, skipping, singing-songs-aloud, random bouts of happiness –kind of happy.

I feel like my perspectives are starting to change. Perspectives… of life? I’m not sure. I suddenly feel more whole, closer to that person I am. I’m not sure how to describe it.

In class the other day, my amazing grammar teacher didn’t teach. That wasn’t the plan. We just got off topic, and talked and talked about how our (the students) countries differentiated, what the politics were like, universities, families, etc. I think what separates a good teacher from a great teacher is a teacher that allows that. To drop the plan for the day and let the students converse about serious matters.
One girl is from Belarus and talked about the dictator there and their life under him, how they’re scared to go on the streets when it’s late, how there aren’t opportunities, how he prevents them from increasing their living standards, how they can’t discuss his dictatorship, how they can’t even say his name on the phone without the conversation being monitored. She got really fired up when talking about it because it is a very personal issue that upsets her. Some of the other students were shocked, others were close to tears. She left Belarus for a better education and for her freedoms. I think this class was really productive because the students and the teacher got to understand each other on a new level[1].
Later we got on the topic of racism, and being an observer to other cultures, I explained where I lived and the prejudice that exists on Natives and just how it frustrates me how my family here look at them like they’re inferior, and all the same. They’re not. They are a living part of our society, intermingled like everyone else. Others yet have incredibly beautiful cultures and the damage that was done to them in the past hasn’t completely died down, as racism is still incredibly alive. Some people were surprised how intermingled the area where I live is. In one class alone, there is a mix of all races. Portuguese, Chinese, Native, South African, Filipino, Columbian, American, Polish, to name a few. My teacher said it’s a good thing to grow up in a place surrounded by culture. I know I didn’t really notice it as a kid, but looking back, I am thankful. As a kid, you see everyone as one and the same. But when you get older, you see the differences in history, ethnicity, and culture. I remember going to community potlucks and how filled with tradition those were. Dances, songs, food from all cultures. I even remember being about seven and dressing up in traditional Polish dress. I don’t remember what we did, maybe dance or sing, but I do remember the experience.
And then, languages. We talked about how languages connect people. My teacher told us a story about a dinner he had at a friend’s house. His friend’s daughter was raised by her parents, one bilingual, one trilingual. She was about eight years old and knew four languages. He said, how without a hint, she walked up to the Spanish family and started speaking to them in Spanish. The French guests- in French. Italian guests- Italian. And she walked up to him, before he said a word, and she spoke to him in Polish. He said he was amazed that this girl just had a feel for language.
An observation about Poland, and I guess the rest of Europe, is that many people here are bilingual. Especially these days, it is fairly common for a person to be fluent in two languages, or three (English often being one of these). Where I live, unless you’re the emigrant, most people I know only know one language. But there is so much to gain with another language. After our conversation, I just feel so thankful that I understand Polish. Yeah, I wish my parents could have taught me  how to read and write, and I wish I had taken more interest in it as a kid. But I am so thankful that I’ve retained as much as I have and that I am here continuing the learning process.
I also regret not taking my French classes seriously. I know a majority of the time I didn’t have a very good teacher, but if I had put it in some honest effort, I really could have come out of the French program better than I did. I understood all six tenses. After that? With practice, reading, speaking, and expanding the vocabulary; I wasn’t that far away from getting a hold on the language. So I’m thinking, maybe I’ll return to it. I know it feels like I’ve forgotten nearly everything—but you know what? I felt that way with Polish too. And I am amazed with how much I remembered, how I can easily converse, yes with difficulties recalling words, but understand the majority of what it being said.

Today, I realized, I can suddenly read Polish a lot faster. It honestly feels like it happened in a day, but that I’m nearing a good tempo. Before I struggled with understanding long sentences as a whole because I was struggling with the reading and pronunciation of individual (incredibly long) words. And of course that hasn’t stopped, but it suddenly got a lot better. When speaking on the phone with my dad the other day, he said what really helped him when learning English was reading, even when he thought he didn’t understand. Reading and reading and reading. I need to find me some Polish blogs!

I know my head is still spinning in Grammar class, that in Ortographia I still make frequent punctuation errors, and that as a whole it doesn’t feel like I’ve learned that much, but when I see in little steps how I’ve progressed, I feel really accomplished. And really hopeful. I keep thinking, I’m getting a grasp on this. Finally.

On another note. I love my roommates! I know we don’t know each other super well yet. But when you both wake up at 3am and end up talking for an hour, with way too many loud laughs and a nice refreshing break on the balcony, things feel good. Marcelina, the girl living with me, is hilarious. A really sweet, nice, good-humoured character. And the guy next door, Michal, just a great, nice guy. Super chill. (He is currently roommate-less, but no one really minds). I had drinks with him and a friend the other night, and had way too much fun[2], likely because it was the first social thing I’ve done, but still fun. For the record, my Polish is incredibly improved when I am drunk.

ALSO. IT SNOWED. This may have made an extreme contribution to how happy I’ve been lately. Suddenly the cold isn’t so bad. I don’t know exactly what it is about snow, but it seriously brightens my day. The feel of snowflakes brushing my cheeks and dampening my hair, that crunch underneath my Converse[3], the frost coating the leaves, seeing the stare miasto covered in snow—love it! Snow just transforms surroundings. And you can feel the change in atmosphere. So far, nearly everyone I’ve talked to, is complaining about the snow here. I think they secretly love it. The warmth of buildings just got a lot better. Bundling up in our thick coats, tuques, mittens, is a warming feeling. It’s the coziness of winter! And with that coziness is soon to come my birthday, and Christmas. I’m not particularly fond of my birthday, but I love the holiday season. And New Year’s. And skiing! And seeing my dad at Christmas!

Oh how excited I am for the things to come!

The soundtrack of the last few days[4]:

Sticks & Stones – Jonsi

Illmerica – Wolfgang Gartner

Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons

Grey Gardens – Rachel Portman

Follow Me – Muse

You – Nils Frahm

Alive Again – Matt Maher

I really need some more Polish songs! Any suggestions? Throw ‘em!


[1] And, you know, we conversed heavily in Polish.

[2] and way too much wódka.

[3] I really need to get myself some winter boots.

[4] I said I would do this every now and then :)

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Here I am sitting in a train. Now this is a European train, not the shitty VIA rail variety. Dorothy and I have our own personal carriage, with wide stance seats, comfy head rests, and a ton of extra room. Our own carriage. Harry-Potter-esque. I need to reread that series, but for another time.

I don’t think I’ve talked much about what I’ve done here. I haven’t done too many touristy things because I have the whole year for that. I’ve been spending more time with family and “re-meeting” everyone. And it’s been great. I’ve missed out on the whole extended family thing my entire life, as it is just my parents and my sisters living in Canada.  99% of everyone else is still living in Poland[1]. I’ve never had the care and support and interest of other family, and never really managed to uphold connections because of the distance and language barrier. And now, as I’m reintroducing myself to everyone, it feels so nice. Everyone is so kind, caring, and really interested in what I am doing. They’ve attacked my sister and I with questions and questions about Canada and our intentions in Poland and what are lives look like, etcetera.

Yesterday we had rather an amusing conversation about the “Indians”. Excuse my family, but that is really the Polish word for Natives/First Nations/Aboriginals. It doesn’t have the same negative connotation it does in English. But their questions were outrageous. Horrible yet hilarious. “Do they live on reserves?” “Do they live with your society?” “Do they speak English or their Native languages?” “Do they go to school with you?” “Do they wear their cultural clothes?” It went on and on. Strictly speaking, it is understandable that they had no idea. The last time my older relatives saw a history text book, not much had been updated since the colonial seizure and initiation of reserves they had heard about in Canada, Australia, and America (and communication between some of these tribes and colonies was still developing). They really had no idea how much it has progressed since then[2].  Similarly, they asked if Blacks and Asians also lived in Canada.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say many Polish people are a bit racist. In Poland, 98% of the people that live there have 100% Polish ethnicity. It is not the multicultural place Canada is. Their upbringing is a very one-sided, one-culture view and they don’t really understand the appreciate for culture I have. A lot of my family members have been asking why I decided to come to Poland, what good will that do me -kind-of thing. Will it somehow benefit me? How is English not better? They don’t understand why I came here. For the culture. In Canada, in a place that has a variety of ethnicities, culture is something recognized and identified with. People are asked what their backgrounds are. And it is normal to say just Canadian, many of my friends are. Because some people honestly have 145 years of a Canadian background and may have Scottish and French roots, or something. But when it’s something else more recent, you identify more strongly with that, and want to have that connection. One of my good friends  moved from Panema when she was 8. She has lost most of her Spanish, but wants to go back as well to retain it. Her culture. My parents are both from Poland. My friend’s parents are from China. And it’s easy to lose that connection once you moved to Canada and get assimilated into English speaking place, like me. My Polish was practically nonexistent. But I don’t want to lose my heritage. So that’s why I came back. When my Polish catches up to my English, I’ll better explain that to my family. But what I’m saying is they don’t have that appreciation and understanding because that’s all they’ve ever been raised of. The whole of Poland is almost entirely the same. Polish after Polish heritage. Not many mixes.

On another note, I am really starting to miss Terrace! Not just the people but the mountains. Poland is pretty flat… occasionally some far-off distant hills, but yeah. My family says Poland does have mountains. I have seen these ‘mountains’. They are not mountains. Terrace has mountains. Poland does not. It is definitely more of an agricultural place. When driving out of town, you just pass pastures upon pastures. Lots of corn fields.

Hmm other then going paragliding[3], going to this plaza[4], having my first legal drink, and going to a water fountain / light show, that’s about it! The drinking age is nonexistent in Poland…you have to be 18 to buy alcohol, but you can be caught with alcohol at any age and it’s fine. After my cousin ordered us shots of nut vodka (a flavour we don’t have in Canada, it was really good!) I bought a drink called Sex on the Beach.[5] And on Friday I might go clubbing! I love being legal!
The water / lights show was actually really sweet. Clippits of songs played for about a minute long and this giant fountain spewed out water at different intervals to go with the beat. Different coloured lights were shone, colouring the jets of water, and further supporting the beats and flow of the music. It was so cool. Sometimes they also project movies onto a surface of the water fountain (I hear they also do this in Disneyland) and yeah. I think that would be a pretty sweet job, to coordinate the different parts of the fountain to move to the beats of the music. I think my favourite was a dubstep song. Soo legit with the water and lights. Yeah.

Next Sunday, I’ll be driving to Krakow where I will reside for the next 9 months, go to school, and party and what not. I am pretty excited. I really miss having a group of friends and people to hang out with, so I’m excited to meet new people and put down some roots. I’m also excited because this is a new beginning. Once I finally get to my dorm and get set up in my room, I’ll feel more at  home with where I’m at, and can just start exploring. And have time to Skype with friends! Can’t wait! Things will just get better.  I have a hopeful outlook on this place.


[1] I recently learned my third cousin is studying in England. That’s the only other out-of-Poland connection I know of.

[2] Although I don’t think you can necessarily count the loss of so much culture as progress, but speaking from their point of view

[3] My uncle is a paraglider. Flyer, trainer, and driver, who knew! So he took us out a couple times each. Super fun. The goal is to stay in the air as long as possible by flying into “wind tunnels” which just take you higher and higher and maintaining  the height. It didn’t feel too hard. I could definitely see myself getting into it in the future given the opportunity.

[4] A old square surrounded by old-fashioned buildings, a fountain, cobblestones streets, horse carriages, totally what you picture when you think of Europe, and I really regret not having my camera on me! So beautiful. I will definitely get pictures next time in Wroclaw.

[5] Saw the name. Had to get it. People that know me well… you know why.

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