Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Lately, I’ve been having this overwhelming feeling that I love life, and not just here in Krakow, but my life as a whole; and that I’m going to always feel this alive[1]. And I like that, because it means that it doesn’t matter where I am and how far away I am from the familiar,  I can always find that feeling. Simply glancing back at old photographs brings joy to my heart. Maybe tears to my eyes, too (rarely). I just feel so lucky to have lived the life I have and so blessed with all the amazing people in it. But it’s not just remembering the past and being thankful for it. It’s living in the present, enjoying where I am, who I’m meeting, what I’m doing, and not worrying about the past or future.

I’ve been finding less and less time to blog. I had an urge to write a week and a half ago, I remember, right after the start of the second semester. But by the time I got home (I went and had coffee with new friends), did some chores, did my homework, and sat down by my laptop to write, my exhaustion was worthy of passing out—and I did.

I do feel a lot more exhausted lately, though. I think it’s just because it’s the start of the new semester. I remember when last semester started, and I was a fresh fish in the sea of Poland (haha), and how exhausting it was beginning to relearn this crazy language. Now, after a much needed three week semester break, mind utterly relaxed, I think starting the process all over again did the same thing. Semester 2 is more difficult. I moved up from a B1 level to B2. Theoretically, when we’re done B2 we’re supposed to be at the speaking level of a born and raised Pole. I don’t think that’ll come to happen, but I think (hope!) I’ll be a lot closer. Grammar just got a lot more complicated (and I was already having difficulties before), we’re increasing are vocabulary at a much faster pace than before (there’s so much more memorization than last semester[2]), reading much harder texts, and writing longer lengths. But, I am enjoying it, despite the work. I just love learning, yep.

Also, to my great satisfaction, I am doing a Literature course this semester! I’ve always been interested in Literature, but I’ve never had an opportunity to really study it yet—it was canceled in highschool because there wasn’t enough interest (just me and 5 other kids in a school of 500!) and this is my first year in uni[3], so! The literature is obviously Polish literature. The first class was incredibly intimidating, half of the students were C1s! ß Real Poles. :O It was really intimidating being in a class with them, and I’m not trying to make it sound like they’re another species. But when we did a writing response to a satire piece we read—I just felt like their creative writing is probably as good in Polish as mine is in English. And my Polish writing is pathetic—I’m still missing too many descriptive words not used in everyday speech, but used in writing. These things come with time, I think. Either way, I still really enjoyed the reading, the metaphors, the exercises, and this new way of thinking. I haven’t had any creative-language classes here yet, just straight-forward, analytical stuff.

The next class we started poetry! Was the Polish language made for poetry? Because I love it. I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, I’ve always had a hard time understanding it, and never very good at writing it. But I think I’m falling in love. Maybe doing poetry in another language is more constructive for me? Or maybe I’ve just been missing out on a creative-thinking class and my mind is revived from whatever I get. I’m not sure what it is. But I delved into some English poems today (of my own will!), and I feel like I’m seeing poetry with a whole new eye. (This is after one poetry class. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.)

So that’s the small update on school. We’re only a week and a half into the new semester, so I don’t have too much to say as of yet. Just an optimistic outlook that usually accompanies the start of something new with me. Before the semester started, I was definitely not looking forward to it: going through the same process, all over again!? It was terrible enough as it was. (I was not a fan of my teacher last semester). But this semester—I love all my teachers and every new student (mostly Americans this semester!) is delightful. I’ve met so many new people and have manage to have an excellent conversation with almost all of them. So this semester is looking up.

Righto! So, I have officially avoided homework for four hours. Time to really get to work now. Good day to you!


Ah, also it’s my younger sister’s birthday today! Shout out to Nell, happy birthday! 16! Can’t believe it!

[1] Old age isn’t gonna hold me back!

[2] I felt like last semester was more of a review for me, whereas in this semester I will actually be learning a lot more.

[3] Uni—a shortcut for university. I’ve gotten used to saying it because my friend Jessica from England does, apparently they always say uni rather than university, which I always said.


Read Full Post »

Polish! Where do I stand with you these days?  It’s been a while since I mentioned it, and I have been meaning to! Though the post I would have written two weeks ago is considerably different than the one I write today.

At the beginning of my trip, I saw immediate results. I was overall happy with how fast words came back to me, how I could suddenly make whole sentences, and avoid the words “A little, a lot, good, maybe, yes, no, either or.” Seriously that is what the base of what my communication depended on. You’d be surprised how much you can get by with just those.

Past initial improvement… well it’s been trying. Everyone knows I am not a patient person. And I was afraid, even before I came to Poland, that my patience would be put to the test. When I would not be able to call the words to mind, to respond how or say what I wanted to, could I fight my frustration that, before my arrival, usually had the upper hand?

I think I’ve fared well. I will not say I have a lot of patience, but more than before. But I had my first breakdown. It took three months, but it happened. The pressures just caught up to me. Let me back up a bit, and start from the beginning.

A few weeks ago, I finally came to terms with my accent. The fact that I have one, when I didn’t as a kid, really bothered me. I hated how locals could instantly pick me out as foreigner. In a strange way, I felt more Polish in Canada than I did here. Because Polish is my entire ethnicity, 100%, it was easy to say I was Polish in Canada when there was no one to challenge that. I always said I couldn’t speak Polish, but I was still proud of my heritage. Once I got to Poland, I felt like my entire family derived from Canada. Everyone identified me more with Canada, despite my ethnicity. They asked me questions about Canada, they spoke English to me if they knew how, people in my class even called me Joanna after I introduced myself as Asia. It felt like people were trying to block out my learning. And as I said, everyone[1] noticed the accent. Negatively. But as I thought more about it, I liked being a foreigner. I like how everyone thinks Canada is this great, wild, foreign place. (I won’t lie, I like the extra attention.) I liked how my accent shows the work I’m putting in to even learning this language. And after the initial bad response, a couple people said they liked my accent. So. I came to terms with my accent.

On to something more personal. I’m not the same person. When I was in Canada, I was a very loud, blunt person. I was not shy, I liked saying what first came into my mind. And I was confident. And I didn’t so much care what people thought about what I said. But here. Especially at first, I didn’t have the same confidence I did in English, more-so with the negative reactions to my accent. Even after that, I was lacking the quick thinking to come up with words to speak my mind before the moment passed. And I realized, recently, that instead of speaking my mind, furthermore, that instead of showing my frustration that I can’t speak my mind, I just don’t speak. Or vent. Or mumble English profanities under my breath. I am just more quiet than I used to be. I am a subdued version of Joanna. I feel like when people meet me, they only meet a very small part of me, because the other part of me doesn’t know how to be in Polish. And that makes me sad.

Something else. I understand a lot more than I did. A plus! Really, my understanding of new words has grown tremendously. But I feel what I understand and what I know how to say, are on completely unequal levels! What I know how to say, past the initial success, hasn’t been improving as fast. Or much at all.

Returning to the telling of my breakdown. Just as the rising action in a plot is set off by the initial spark, one small thing set me off. My friends made fun of my accent. No, normally when I say something ridiculous, or off, or just totally wrong, I laugh along with them, and learn from the mistake. But I don’t know. Maybe I was in the wrong state of mind, recently having realized that I am a different person, that exact night realizing I just don’t speak my mind like I would like to. Or maybe it was just time for a breakdown. But when they imitated my words for the eleventh time, I snapped. And I booked it out of the room. When I get really angry I cry[2], and I don’t like to do that in front of people. Back home, when I would get worked up about something, I would leave the house, go for a walk, maybe smoke a cigar, listen to loud music, and chill in the forest ten minutes away. I always found a quiet place away from people. And I relaxed.

But there is no fucking place like that here. I don’t have an entire forest at my feet, I don’t even have an isolated alleyway between buildings. I don’t have a private room. I didn’t have a place to go. So I went to the closest people-less place I could think of—the kitchen balcony, and closed the door. One small, empty, open space, three stories up was a private as I could get. And there it was that I broke down. And I will tell you why.

I was mad because I thought I had come to terms with my accent. Apparently I hadn’t. I was mad that I was finally having a breakdown. That no one saw the effort I was putting in to learning the language. That no one saw my improvement. Troche, troszeczke, moze, bardzo, wszystko jedno, tak, nie, dobrze, prosze, dziekuje = that is everything I could say confidently when I first arrived. That no one understood the pressure I was under: that every member in my family is expecting me to be fluent, that they’re all judging my improvement per every visit, that after never having any experience reading or writing in Polish in my life, I am now expected to read, understand, and write my own highschool level texts. That I have been really fucking struggling moving to a place, unable to communicate effectively, and that I have an accent because I haven’t spoken Polish in five years, and even then that was minimal! And that I’m not the fucking same person.

Sorry for swearing. That was a true rhythmic rant there, no restraints on language. Alas, the first breakdown. An angry, crying mess of realizing the difficulties of moving to a new country, into a different culture and accepting a different language.

Anywho, I get over things really fast, and the next day I was fine and dandy and cheerful, with a little niggling headache. We are all allowed breakdowns. And they are normal. Back to happy things!

I am reading Harry Potter! In Polish, I might add. Truthfully, I have missed Harry Potter tremendously. Harry Potter is the series of my childhood. And it felt comfortable to go back to it, and start my Polish-reading-infantry with it. The first fifteen or so pages, were incredibly slow to read. But afterwards, I adjusted to my new pace, perhaps picked it up a bit, and am happy to say I am almost done reading it in a few hours time dedication!

Recently I’ve been thinking about writing small blogposts, or maybe just a couple paragraphs, in Polish. Even in stream-of-conscience format, practice for real life ;) Polish comes to me best when I am listening, well enough when I am writing, but when I am speaking… there is not much there. Reading I think is already helping, but writing outside of school, my own thoughts, might show a bigger improvement….

On a last note. Moving to Poland for a year (granted it’s only been three months) has made me more-so realize I don’t want to live here in the future. Or stay here. I love the culture, the history, I really do. But the people (not the youth, I love the youth, but the elders) are different.

A topic for a different blog post.

Cheers! ;)


P.S. I really want to see the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It came out the day after I left Canada. And is not appearing in Poland, likely because the book never made it into Polish print either, and a big percentage of this movie’s fans are the book fans… and Emma Watson fans. So I’ll delight myself by making akin titles.

[1] Alright. Not everyone. Everyone except old ladies on the tram. Seriously, they ask me for directions, they rant to me about their daily problems, they don’t see the foreigner.

[2] When I get really sad, I look really angry. It’s this weird backwards thing.

Read Full Post »

“Polish has a thousand unnecessary rules.” A statement my sister seconds ago repeated to me; I do not think this is true, but I don’t blame anyone trying to find claims in this either.[1] When I was going about being reintroduced to my family a few weeks earlier and answering their questions of my study of interest, I always replied “Jęnsyk Polski”. (The Polish language.) This was met by many with widened eyes and a tightening of the face. Sometimes some slight teeth gritting. Kind of an ominous you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-getting-yourself-into look. When my seven-year-old third cousin was asked what he thought of that, he furiously shook his head. And his twelve-year-old older brother looked as if he could not imagine something so awful: going to school for just Polish language classes. As they are both in elementary classes they are also starting to experience the extensive grammar rules of Polish they are required to learn and excel in. Students in their class dread Polish class as much as many of us British Columbia kids hated taking the French course taught by a teacher who seemed to only be a lesson ahead of us at a time[2]. So what I’m saying is, it’s difficult. Polish is a really difficult language, one of the hardest. And I’m not just saying that from a confused student’s standpoint. This is in plenty of sources across the internet, murmured among linguists, bragged about by teachers that teach it, and assured by my family who has survived those classes long ago.

So what have I gotten myself into exactly?

I can’t help but like the challenge. I do like a challenge. I’m not all too fond of the work, study, and repetition that comes with it, but it’s the end result I have in mind that I can only hope to achieve one day. Even after the completion of my two-semester courses, I’ll still be a long way’s away. But perhaps a few steps closer and a little more straightened out. I want to be fluent in Polish. Fluent as in, have a large vocabulary, speak without grammatical error, speak confidently, write well, read well, think in Polish. I don’t want to struggle for words, to get conjugations confused and to not understand the hundred or so grammatical terms that were thrown at me today that I’ve never heard in my life. I want Polish to be a breeze. And after each grammar class (I’ve now had three), I feel like I’m just on the edge. On the edge of so much more. There is so much I don’t know, so much I was never aware of, being brought up learning Polish by ear much as one learns an instrument by ear. I don’t know what notes I’m playing, I sometimes don’t know if the note exists, but it sounds right, and I’m going with it. I can’t read music, but I can learn, and the learning process will go a little bit smoother for me.

All my teachers, most of them with decades of experience, seem fairly confident we will walk out a great deal better than when we walked in. My grammar teacher today said we are here to understand the language and to learn to speak without errors. He said this is pleasant to Poles, to all native citizens of an area, to hear a foreigner speak accurately. It’s easier to be around, more pleasant to converse with. A little bit of error, sure they can let that slip, they can correct you. But when you’re tripping over error upon error; it’s just unpleasant. I’m sure everyone has had experiences with a foreigner (or maybe even someone living in the area for years) where you just can’t communicate fully. My teacher said speaking with a foreigner who has correct grammar just has a nice “taste”, in his attempt to explain it. And I think I get it. I’ve talked with many foreigners, the place I come from being quite multicultural, and with many exchange students. The better your English is, the more I enjoy speaking with you[3]. It’s respectable, too, I think.

Wow, is learning a language ever hard though. Here I am having these thoughts, with barely a grasp on the physical language at hand, an immeasurable ocean of knowledge to learn ahead of me. I really do feel like I’ve just breeched the shallow end of the pool[4]. Things are about to get much more complicated. I see the students that are taking their very first language courses in Polish, I hear their small, jumbled sentences, and only feel that much more in awe because they’re starting from base zero. I have some intuitional feeling of what sounds right and wrong. They, however, have nothing. Pretty impressive.

On to a different, mostly unrelated topic: family. Last Sunday I spent the better part of my day at my great aunt’s house (the only close family I have in Krakow), going through our family photos, some of these photos having reached beyond 100 years old, talking about the history of our family, the different connections that there are, the lines and lineages sprawling in different directions. I saw photos where everyone photographed is no longer living except for my aunt and grandma, being the youngest of their generation. I asked about the kids, grandkids, great grandkids of those photographed, where they are, what they’re doing, who what when where why, astonished and fascinated by all this existing information I’ve never heard of. Again, I was left feeling like I was just touching on something. Like I know a tiny fraction of the family I have, and not just in Poland! The wars spread my family apart to all corners of the Earth. India, Africa, Siberia, England, New Zealand, Toronto—wow! I was a little mindblown. A lot of my family that was moved and sent out to different parts of the world returned to Poland afterwards. But some stayed. Some put down their roots. Granted, these relatives are no longer a close as they once were, third cousins and further so. Nevertheless, family.  I want to contact some of them before my Europe trip next year. Get to meet some of them, bring connections back to life[5].

I heard war story after war story, of family being slaughtered, of my great aunt going fifteen years not knowing whether or not her brother was alive, of another great aunt marrying her husband a day before he was situated, of yet another great aunt[6] being involuntarily sent to Siberia, of my great grandparents (teachers) educating youth in secret, of Jews being helped and hidden, and many, many occasions of people having to leave everything behind. And I have family that has lived through all this, that remembers it, that lived in an entirely different place and time than the one they live in now.[7] I was in awe. Again, I feel like I’ve just touched on something, I am on the edge. There is so much more to find out, and I have a whole year to do it. To learn everyone’s names and stories by heart. To record this and track this and remember.

I know the idea is a small one, but I think a family reunion would be something very worthwhile, and I want to arrange it.


[1] I realize a fair portion of this content of this blog is going to be me talking about (sometimes ranting) about the Polish language and my progress in it. Just a further head’s up in case you haven’t gotten that memo yet.

[2] The French Immersion program is great. But taking French as a second language here, a notion pushed on my teachers and parents as hoping their kid will have more prospects to off and a greater selection in universities, is pitiful.

[3] I myself being quite the grammar Nazi at times, find it frustrating to hear grammatical errors in regular use which people can never seem to improve on, no matter how many times corrected.

[4] Pretty sure I’ve used a deep-water metaphor before. My bad.

[5] There’s a whole side of my family, my dead grandpa’s 6 siblings and their relations that isolated my grandpa’s side of the family because of his involvement in Communism.

[6] There are a lot of women in my family.

[7] Those who lived during the second world war—few remain. But I’m also referring to the cold war, another great war that was very real for some and is well remembered.

Read Full Post »

I like to make a lot of lists. I realized this when my best friend went to California and brought me back a book of lists to make (which I really appreciated, by the way[1]). Recently I started a couple of new lists, such as Polish words that I come across that look unpronounceable to English speakers, in my opinion anyways. Some of the words on that list are also some I have a bit of trouble with but that is mostly to do with the length and amount of syllables in some of these words! Historycznoliterackich. Eight syllables. More than five—gets a little hard to read when the word is that long. And words like these aren’t like antidisestablishmentarianism, another long word. A lot of these lengthy Polish words are in common use. And Polish people speak fast. Understand why it’s a little difficult to keep up sometimes. I’ll share the words with almost no vowels –list[2] once I have a bit more on there. I only started it yesterday.

So it’s been three days of my classes now. It’s become obvious that I’ve had no training in writing, that is spelling, and reading. I think I’ll catch on soon enough but it’s frustrating not being level with where I’m at in other areas. The good thing about Polish is, for the most part, it’s spelled like it sounds. There are a few variations, but Spell-It-Out is a good policy[3]. Next week I’m going to start attending an extra course for spelling and expanding vocabulary, probably the two things I need most. I’m excited for it. Spelling and vocabulary are two of my favourite things and I can’t wait to start developing that in my second language.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s being surrounded by other people that make frequent grammatical mistakes or not being surrounded by my grammatically-excellent Polish family but I feel like my communication (speaking to others –skills) just got a bit worse. Seriously. Or maybe it’s because I’m more aware of the grammar mistakes I previously made and because of all the new things that have been thrown at me in a very little amount of time. Soon I’ll grasp it, but right now, it is all too confusing. Everyone keeps telling me things will get better, this is only the beginning, but it is frustrating. People who know me, know I get frustrated easily. I’m often uptight. And I don’t like not being able to express myself.

Frustrating more so is the few girls in my class I started to talk and hang out with[4]. Their first language is Russian. They all speak English and are learning Polish. I’d prefer to have conversations with them in Polish because 1) we’re practicing our criteria and 2) I understand their Polish a hell of a lot better than I understand their severe accents, grammatical errors, and loopy sentence structure in English. They really don’t like speaking Polish outside of class when they know I speak and understand English. (At least two of them don’t. I think I can work with the third girl :P) And part of this is because they also want to better their English, which I understand, it just doesn’t match up with my own intentions and does not make our conversing any easier. Sigh. Maybe we can arrange back-to-back days of Polish then English, I don’t know. Or I can hang out with others in the group that I think I am slowly starting to like more….

I think this has been a frustration/venting post… with a slightly more negative tone than typical- optimistic-Joanna post? Likely because today was not a good day and I haven’t really shared my negative thoughts yet. I really didn’t enjoy my classes and the assignments my teacher gave us today. Not much learning, not much repetition, not much of anything.

Dorothy wants sleep. I want food. Goodnight.


To end this on a positive note, will add a photo of the lovely plaza (at sunset) I get to see nearly every day.


[1] I said by the by there. Was that ever a thing?

[2] This is synonymous with the list of words that look unpronounceable to English speakers.

[3] Unlike for English. Seriously. Spelling it out can seriously fuck you over.

[4] Don’t worry, they’re all pretty sweet and super friendly, but communication is just a frequent problem.

Read Full Post »