Monday, May 24, 2010

Die einmal im Leben Polen-Reise

[ The once in a lifetime trip through Poland ]

The delay on blog posts has become pretty apparent. In fact, I really didn't know how to approach the blog again. I did no lead in to the events that would take place, and I really hopped on the train with no expectations - not the first time this year.

The event I am talking about was a rather uncomplicated train ticket purchase to Poland, but after crossing the border 3 hours into my 12 hour trip, I had to pinch myself that I was going to be partaking in a groundbreaking event in my life.

Groundbreaking, because the life dream that I wrote about just half a year ago upon returning from my first trip to Poland [ already a landmark event in my life ] was taking shape - Babcia and Adam were coming to visit family in Poland! I worked hard to convince Babcia throughout the year how important it was to me to visit Poland with her, and it was difficult at times to empathize with the normal struggles of daily life over 82 years old, but also encourage her that all the stresses of visiting Europe would be worth it.

Naturally, the trip was overwhelming. I was so excited to see my brother after 10 months - the longest I hadn't seen my best friend since, well, the 18 months between our birthdays - and sharing his first experience in Europe with him was special. There was also the incredible amount of family that we visited - over 15 houses and dozens of relatives from cousins, aunts, uncles, and a slew of prefixes of "first removed" "twice removed" - however, in Poland, we just ignore it, everyone is a Wujek, Ciocia and Cousin. Of course, I have more questions for Babcia now than answers, but what I witnessed and was able to share side by side with my grandmother to learn about my family history is immeasurable.

The visit feels separate from this yearlong experience in Germany however. It was more economical and efficient to make this trip while I was in Europe [ otherwise I guarantee it never would have came together ], but it was difficult at first to mentally adapt to the magnitude of the experience. I have lived now in Germany for 10 months. I speak German daily - maybe not grammatically correct, but the fact is that I have become used to speaking grammatically incorrect German, and resultantly grammatically incorrect English. Coming to Poland I surprised myself and followed dinner conversations in this third foreign language I started to tackle better that I anticipated. I just couldn't string together a Polish sentence of my own to save my life, but listening was what was most important during the trip.

Adapting to Poland is one thing - I have great family there, and wonderful hospitality of my cousins Michał and Kaśka whom I was so excited to see - however, during this experience I had my first "reintroduction" to America with my brother and Babcia around as well. Little things that they normally do caught my attention profoundly. I stuttered my own English, no longer having to enunciate as much like I do with Erasmus friends, yet was caught off guard at the rapidity of my brother's rundown on one years worth of college stories as a freshman.

I hadn't realized what had become normal for me this year, what I had modified to fit into certain situations, and now, I was in a situation where three very different lifestyles were battling for my attention.

I am back in Germany now and admittedly I needed a few days to rebound back. It may have been a short visit, but I came back sharing some Polish chocolates and a shot of Polish Żubrówka with Inge and Andreas unable to get some of my points across in any sensible German. I was exhausted, and on top of lack of sleep making the most of every moment, I had to jump a hurdle of a very unique depression.

This wasn't culture shock, or reverse culture shock. This was - "Where am I now, who am I now, What am I now... What do I do now?". Living abroad requires a bit of interpretation and presentation. You constantly observe, mimic and experiment to master a language and fit into a culture. Before you know it, these tactics to survive become habits. In Poland - amongst the natural emotional impact of standing in the same apartment where Babcia once lived, or digesting the stories of keeping a family together with an ocean dividing them - I was on observational overload - Why are we American? Why am I in Germany? [ not a pessimistic question, but more along the lines of, what do I do now with what I have learned there, including the language], Where do I start to really understand my heritage to its fullest? Am I ready to go back to America?

I was ready to stop blogging. It didn't make sense anymore [ however, I am going to try my best, I gave 10 months of solid effort and enjoyed it, now I have the last two to experience with the same enthusiasm for observation]. While my post for Poland will decidedly be a collage of pictures, my private journal that I have kept on the side here filled up quite a few more pages as I only began to brush the surface on just a small sample of the questions that filled my head as I was in Poland.

So here it stands, my blog post on perhaps one of the most profound events in my life, that I am keeping rather private. Visiting family members, watching Babcia say last physical goodbyes to relatives that will never travel anymore, it all had a great impact on me. Maybe I can joke now and say that I learned a good stone face in Germany - but behind the contemplative facade, I know that what this experience means for me will only begin to reveal itself as time passes. For now, I am back into my current norm of the German lifestyle taking each day as it comes and making the most of it.