Next weekend I will be starting a new chapter in my exchange as I move from my current host family to the next. It will surely prove to be interesting as I transition from living with two traditional baby boomers suffering from empty nest syndrome to a family of free thinkers complete with two host brothers, ages 8 and 19 and a very large dog named Zaba.
As I attempt to pack up the two suitcases worth of belongings I brought with me as well as all of the "stuff" I seem to have acquired in the past five months, I have begun to reflect on many of this years misadventures, the highlights of which I will now share with you:
Three weeks into my stay in Poland, I was riding the tram home with my two fellow Americans "Wisconsin" and "Pennsylvania" when we accidentally boarded the right number tram in the wrong direction. This resulted in us getting lost in what is essentially the "ghetto" at ten o'clock at night. We were stranded for a little over an hour before being rescued by the host father of Pennsylvania. Two months later I was spending the weekend at Pennsylvania's house and in an effort to make mealtime conversation, I attempted to ask her host father (our previous rescuer) if he was tired from his day at work. Instead, I accidentally asked him if he was a pervert. Before going to bed, Pennsylvania's host mom asked us when we would be getting up in the morning, to which we responded around ten. The next day we were up at nine, and decided to head downstairs to make some breakfast, thinking nothing of our previous conversation concerning our wake up time. Upon entering the kitchen, it became clear that we had been wrong to disregard our estimated time of arrival downstairs as we were greeted with the sight of a half-naked and more than slightly disgruntled by our unwelcome presence host mother. After this occurrence, our exchange became rather regulatory, until Pennsylvania and I decided to take a train home together. The entire trip, we had been vigilant about checking the ticker located at the back of the compartment to make sure we didn't miss our stop. This was, however, in vain as the ticker turned out to be broken, which we found out conveniently after we'd missed our station by two stops. Not wanting to get any more lost, we scrambled out of the train and onto the platform and were greeted by communist-era station sign reading Bo?a Wola which translates to "God's Will." After the train left, we scanned the surroundings and quickly realized that we were in the absolute boonies. So far past the sticks that it could only be labeled by ga??zki - "the twigs." Despite this, we remained (relatively) calm and checked the train schedule; we'd have to wait at least 45 minutes for a return train (this did not make for a happy Pennsylvania, who would not stop repeating, "45 minutes!? It's freaking freezing out here!!)" Although at this point we had everything figured out, I decided to give my host father a call, just to let him know what was going on. After thanking me for calling and saying he'd see us at home, he paused before hanging up to say, "Wait - where the hell is Bo?a Wola?" Those words will remain with me forever.
The past five months have been filled with more [mis]adventure than perhaps the entire previous 18 years of my life. I've gotten lost, said the wrong things, and then out of necessity, learned how to deal with it. None of it's been easy, but more often than not it's proved to be a whole lot of fun. In the past five months I've gained surprising amounts of self confidence, common sense, and above all else, an overwhelming sense of independence. All I can say at this point is that I hope I continue to grow and change as a person as I venture into life with my new host family and the final half of my exchange in Poland.
Editor's note:?Maria Sliva is a member of the Houghton Rotary student exchange program.