We departed from Mallow at dawn on our great Polish adventure. Our entourage included 30 students and 3 teachers. We were all very excited to have been chosen to participate in the Erasmus Programme, and were eager to get started. We flew from Shannon airport to Wisla, and from there we went by coach to Dąbrowa Górnicza, where we were soon settled in our accommodation. After some light refreshments, it was off to bed as we were starting early next day.
After a hearty breakfast, we were escorted by our Polish hosts to the TNZ school where we would be completing the bulk of our work experience. The school itself was very large and I thought that it would take a few days to be able to navigate around without getting completely lost. We were introduced to the various staff members and I then settled in to my role in the administration office. I completed some light administration work; printing, filing, etc. but was a bit lost at times as my Polish language skills were very basic and my comprehension was also poor, but thankfully our hosts had very good English and were very helpful.
Upon arrival at the school, I was invited to sit in on some of the classes to get a feel for how the students in Poland are educated. This was really interesting and I was surprised at how relaxed some of the teaching methods were, which went against what I had thought would be the case. I think I was learning that Polish education methods were a lot closer to our own than I had imagined. Following this I completed assigned admin duties. In the evening we had a local history tour.
It was Fat Thursday in Poland, on arrival at work I was presented with donuts to eat. I was assigned a number of different duties. The task each day are getting more challenging and I am liking it. I feel I am settling in well to the role. In the afternoon I attending a polish language course. In the evening we all went to Katowice for an ice-hockey match. The match saw Katowice playing Kraków. I had never seen an ice-hockey match before and it was amazingly fast and tough. The locals were eating sunflower seeds and drinking beer (really cheap in Poland), and we even joined in on some of the chants. Katowice won 2-1 thanks to some great saves from their Canadian goalkeeper.
I was busy for day in the administration office filing and printing. In the evening we went to Kraków.
This was my final day of week 1 work placement, I was assigned a database duty which I enjoyed as it was to do with numbers. In the school today at break time I had the opportunity to attend a rehearsal for the Irish Day concert being held next week. The all-girl band were excellent and blasted out some Nirvana and The Cranberries (a nod to their Irish guests). The facilities in the school are excellent – a huge concert hall, a swimming pool, volleyball/basketball court and indoor soccer, as well as a well stocked tuck shop and cafeteria. I think we were all very impressed with the school overall.
Today Auschwitz. It also happened to be the coldest day of our entire trip at -20 degrees Celsius. I won’t dwell too much on the trip, but I will say that it was one of the most profound experiences of my entire life. A few of us also went on the second part of the tour to Birkenau, which was about ten minutes away by bus. This is where the trains would arrive with the prisoners on board. I have never been more cold in my life, but hardly noticed such was my sadness at the whole experience.
This was the start of week 2 and I attended my work placement at 8am as the college was having an information session and I had to sort photocopying. In the afternoon there was a cultural trip to katowice.
Work began at 8am again today as I was finishing earlier than normal to attend a company visit. There trip to the Saint-Goban windscreen factory arranged for today. The factory itself is only a short bus ride from our accommodation. Upon entering the factory we were directed to a large conference room and given special socks and shoes, as well as hi-viz vests and goggles. Then we had an induction which covered health and safety at the factory – the most important bit was to stay inside the pathways red lines. We then toured the different departments in the factory. The factory itself is enormous and has hundreds of employees. They manufacture windscreens for Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes among others. It was amazing to see the glass being shaped and tested over and over before being passed by quality control. We then went back to the conference room for lunch and a powerpoint presentation on the Internet of Things which was very interesting and we got to learn quite a lot about manufacturing and technology.
Today at work I was busy putting brochure together and enveloping promotional flyers for the college. In the evening we were given an I.T. course on database and programming.
Our host school was buzzing today getting prepared for tomorrow’s Irish Day. It was wonderful to see how much work they were putting in to our trip to make us feel welcome and make new friends. After work we visited the Culture Palace in the city to learn more about its history and culture. Our tour guides English was excellent and he gave lots of detail about all the rooms we toured and the auditorium used for concerts. We also visited a few churches, and were amazed at how devoutly Catholic the majority of Polish people are. In the evening time we visited the local palace.
Upon our arrival to the school today I was amazed at how much green our hosts had managed to put around the hallways and reception. As this was my last work day I had a one to one meeting with my supervisor. It was a great experience and had its challenges. The language barrier was difficult at first but I think I embraced it well.
After work Irish day kicked off. We had a soccer match Ireland v Poland which we narrowly lost. I was in goals, and admittedly it wasn’t my finest hour! I think I made up for that poor performance in the volleyball match which we won, so overall a draw wasn’t a bad result. After the sports, we went to the concert hall, where we were treated to a great couple of hours music and dancing. I think the Polish love singing and dancing as much as we Irish do!
I didn’t know there is a desert in Poland, but there is, and that’s where we headed to today. Błędów is the location of Europe’s only desert and it was amazing even covered in snow. It stretched all around as far as the eye could see and was so still and peaceful. After an hours walk, we then got back on the tour bus and headed to a nearby farmhouse where we were treated to a wonderful lunch in a heated barn, followed by horse rides and a traditional Polish sausage barbeque.
Today was our last day with our Polish hosts and they certainly went all out, treating us to a beautiful dinner with all the trimmings. This was attended by all student participants, the headmaster and a selection of teachers from the TNZ and a representative from Erasmus. We received our certificates after the dinner and then went for a final few hours of bowling at our hotel. I couldn’t believe the two weeks had gone by so quickly and was sad to be leaving such an amazing country. I think we all learnt an awful lot from our amazing Erasmus trip, and I would go on another one in a heartbeat.
Day 15: Hometime
This was a trip of a life time and was privilidged to be picked. The trip showed me what life is like in Poland and what it is like to work in a foreign country. The cultral experinces was amazing and shocking, with Auschwitz being the cultual higlight.