Meeting in Poland

Interview with Marina Economidou:

1. Marina, you have travelled to Poland with some friends for the Comenius project. Can you explain us what is the Comenius project?

Marina: The Comenius project is a 2-year project in which students from 7 different countries, including Cyprus, have a chance to share their culture and knowledge in order to create and act out a fairytale. This project’s purpose is to bring students from different places together, in order to make new friendships and discover that our only difference is the distance that keeps us apart!

2. How were you selected to take the trip to Poland?

Marina: I was recommended by our English teacher, along with 2 other students: Kleopatra and Nadia. I wasn’t really expecting it though!

3. What exactly happened in Poland?

Marina: Well, before we went to Poland, we had to prepare and present a traditional Cyprus fairytale. When we went there, we had the chance to present it in front of the other students, who had also prepared their fairytale! I must say, that even though each fairytale was different, there were many fairytales that had some common elements. After this process, there was a raffle, in which each country got a number. That number was the order in which the countries would write a part of the fairytale. Outside school, in Poland, our hosts guided us around their small picturesque village, Nieszawa, and took us wherever we wished! It was so fun being with them, even though we’ve never met them before, because we got to know each other really well, and became really good friends! I also have to admit that meeting people from other countries was an amazing experience for me, because we had many common interests and I really enjoyed spending time with them!

4. What have you learned about the culture of our partner countries?

Marina: Each country is unique in its own way! I really learned a lot of things from Poland. For example, they have an incredibly amazing musician called Chopin, whose museum we have visited on the last day! He wrote some amazing pieces which we had the chance to hear and enjoy at his house. Also, I learned that people living in a village know each other really well! All the children in our neighborhood, used to call us to go out with them and play football in the afternoon. Polish people are really friendly and outgoing! They will really get along with you!

5. Do you suggest participation to the Comenius project?

Marina: Of course I do! It’s an amazing experience that everyone should have the chance to live! It’s not only a way to learn new things, or practice your English, but also a way to become a very sociable person, make new friends and see new ways of life. It’s a really good chance to communicate too! I can still remember all those jokes we told to each other, all the humorous situations we got in and the hours sitting in the bus talking to others about random things!

6. Where did you stay in Poland?

Marina: When we were in Poland, we stayed at Veronica’s house (my hostess). I’m saying “we” because I was not the only one in the house. Dörte, a German girl, was also staying with us. Veronica’s mother was really warm and welcoming to us, and always offered us everything they had so we had a pleasant stay. She always prepared traditional Polish dishes for us to experience the Polish culture and at the end of our stay they gave us many presents. Veronica was really friendly and kindly gave me her bed to sleep in. At our free time, she always put on the laptop music I like, and always asked us what we’d like to have for lunch! Her family was so nice and hospitable! They even trusted me to cook traditional Cyprus sausages and “halloumi” for them, without burning the house down into ashes!

7. What can you tell me about the Polish children?

Marina: Polish children are the most open-hearted and outgoing children I have ever met. They enjoy going out and playing in the fields even though it might be raining! They will call you to hang out with them even though they’ve just met you, and they’ll really have fun with you! They really enjoy every moment! Through my experiences, I have to say that they are really kind and hospitable, as I’ve mentioned before, because not only they offer you their room, they also do what you like to do! They are polite and kind!

8. You told me that Polish people adore dogs. How did you found out about that?

Marina: I found that out during our walks in Nieszawa! Every step we took, you could hear dogs barking in the streets! One day, Veronica’s brother came for a visit. We all sat around the table and started having lunch. Then, I saw Bartek (Veronica’s brother), throwing food under the table. I was really curious to see what he was doing, when I heard a growling sound coming from under my chair. I looked down and saw a hungry dog, waiting for food! We all burst into a hysterical laugh when Veronica’s mother almost tripped on the dog while carrying a hot bowl of soup! It was a really humorous story to tell! They don’t only love dogs, they have other pets too! One morning, we woke up and saw a chicken running in the backyard. Also, a neighbor of ours had a cow (!) in a field nearby!

By Ioanna Louka & Michalis Fieros

Trip to Poland- by Kleopatra Olympiou

About seven months ago I was enjoying my summer holidays, completely clueless and certainly not knowing that I was going to be part of the Comenius project. Then one day, out of the blue, my mum came up to me and announced that I had the opportunity to visit Poland with two friends of mine –Marina and Nadia, accompanied by one or two teachers. It really was a surprise; at the beginning there was some confusion about the trip, its purpose and the way we had been chosen to represent the Writing Team, the ones who were supposed to write, along with the help of others, Cyprus’s part of ‘The Magic Touch’, but all was explained to us by Mrs. Solomides at a meeting in early August.
Soon enough we got past any obstacles of misunderstanding and confusion; we had to prepare ourselves for the trip, and that meant we had to get to work and learn about traditional Cypriot fairytales. Our trip was scheduled for 21st to 25th of September 2011, in Nieszawa, a little town located in the centre of Poland.
School had only lasted a couple of weeks and then off we went, to Poland, a country none of us had visited before. On Wednesday the 21st, exactly at midnight, we gathered outside of the English School and headed to the airport in a mini bus. None of us had been able to sleep before the flight; we were way too excited for that.
Arriving at the airport at such a time in the morning, we found it almost deserted and silent; it gave us all a feeling of conspiracy, of escaping, since everyone else would be at school in a few hours and we would be flying to Warsaw, the capital of Poland.
We slept our way through the flight; then woke up to find ourselves in Warsaw Chopin Airport. We were lucky -we arrived there early in the morning and thus had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city of Warsaw; and so we did.
In that first day, we visited the old city of Warsaw, Telimena Café (where Chopin used to play piano to his friends), Warsaw’s Hard Rock Café, and walked along the most crowded streets so we’d have an image of what the city looked like. We then set off to go back to the airport where we’d meet the Comenius people who were going to be arriving from all 5 countries: Italy, Finland, Turkey, Lithuania and Germany.
By night we were all at our host homes with the families that were going to host us in Plebanka, a small town near Nieszawa.
On Thursday the 22nd we woke up early in the morning; then we had to drive for a while to get to Nieszawa. Still a bit sleepy, I was looking out of the car window absent-mindedly, but soon my attention returned to what I was seeing and my brain focused on the endless fields of green that lay before my eyes… Jona, the German girl who was being hosted along with me, wasn’t impressed; for Germany is equally green to Poland. But I was deeply amused- layers and layers of green gave way to the next ones, and the next ones, until they reached the horizon.
Before I had time to really register what I was seeing, we were in Nieszawa. We approached the river bank, parked the car and spent a few minutes in silence, admiring the misty morning’s reflection on the calm surface of the water. Everything was reflected perfectly; reality had been copied into its quivering version. Again, I was in awe.
Soon enough we were at the school, where we were joined by our teachers and the rest of the Comenius people. It was a happy place to be at; lots of children were running about, eyeing us curiously, playing basketball and football games. Looking at them made us smile. We then walked a little in the town, and finally arrived at a museum. After being given a tour around it, a concert took place- Aleksander Kamedulski, a Polish baritone, sang for us. We were all astounded, for he had a vast talent, and to think that he was only 17 was mind blowing.
We then walked to the local church, which was built in the 17th century, and continued our walk until we reached the river Wisla. It was very different now, at noon- the sun was very bright and it shone across the water, disabling any reflections and blinding our eyes. We went round the river on a ferry boat and then, tired as we were, set out to go back to our homes where we would spend the afternoon.
Marina’s host home was on the same street as mine, so our hosts arranged for the 6 of us (Marina, our hosts, the two German girls and I) to go to a volleyball court and play volley. None of us was exceptionally talented at playing volley but we still managed to have fun. This experience made us understand how peaceful and quiet a life in Nieszawa is… Children from around the neighborhood passed us by and greeted our hosts cheerfully; cars were only occasional; everything was a bit cold and chilly and a tickling breeze was messing our hair; that afternoon was like a sneak peek into our hosts’ daily lives.
On Friday the 23rd, we drove again to the school in Nieszawa first thing in the morning. This time I was prepared and I let my eyes embrace the vastness of the green nature around me.
We entered the school and were divided into three teams; we then spent some time introducing ourselves and playing ice-breaking games. There was a bit of delay in our workshops so we only had time to do those and then we set off to visit the salt factory in Ciechocinek: a very interesting visit indeed. We had a tour in the factory- where we met some very friendly spiders- and then returned to our homes, since the whole trip to Ciechocinek by bus had taken quite some time.
In the afternoon, we visited a shopping mall- but we all know what shopping malls are like, therefore there is no need for a description of it, is there? The only queer thing is, that everyone from the Comenius project appeared to be there, yet I was later told that the visit to the mall was not scheduled: it was our hosts’ option to take us there.
Saturday came: our last day in Nieszawa. We got in our teams again but we had to re-introduce everyone because a teacher was added to our team who was not there on Friday. Not much later, we took the bus and visited Torun: a small town near Ciechocinek, which is one of the oldest cities in Poland. We had a tour around the whole town, and we visited the old city fortifications, the Leaning Tower which we had much fun trying to defy by keeping our balance stable, the fountain with the frogs and other beautiful landmarks.
Arriving back at the school, we had to say goodbye to our Lithuanian friends; they would be the first to leave, while we’d get to see everyone else the following morning, in the bus to Warsaw. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy but it was compulsory; so we muttered goodbyes and hugged each other and fought our tears back and went back home.
On Sunday morning we woke up very early; our bus would leave Nieszawa at 6 o’ clock. Mist covered everything with its mysterious cloak, and we watched the sunrise from the bus- it was beautiful. We then arrived at Warsaw Chopin Airport and we had to part with our friends… That was when the crying started. I have to admit I was the first to give in to my tears- then followed Marina, and even Nadia, whose crying is very occasional. We had already bid the Comenius people farewell when we burst into tears, so we tried to hide the fact that we were crying…We failed to do so. But how could we hold our tears back now that the dream was almost over?
Somehow we managed to get a grip on ourselves and retain our composure, and so we had to decide what we would do for the remaining day- our flight, you see, was late at night. With a little help from the tourist information office of the airport, we decided that we would take a mini bus and visit Chopin’s house, outside Warsaw.
Chopin’s actual house is not so impressive as its garden is: the house is embraced by many kinds of colourful vegetation and plants, a little lake, a buzzing variety of insects, little frogs jumping above and below the surface of the water, benches scattered across the yard and people strolling alongside the lake, chatting cheerfully while children cherish throwing pebbles in the lake and little birds’ chirping tinkles in the mind.
We were lucky enough to be there on the last day of the summer season and so we had the great opportunity to listen to a piano concert of Chopin’s music. The pianist was hidden in the house and we were all sitting outside, in the yard- I believe I won’t be proven wrong if I say that we all imagined Chopin playing. The notes seemed to flow in the air around us, and somehow I had a feeling I knew Chopin, just because of listening to his music and seeing the place he lived at.
We then took the bus again and returned to Warsaw. It was only noon, after all, so we had lunch in the old city of Warsaw, right in the middle of the most crowded square, and then walked a bit; it was the day of the Warsaw Marathon and most roads were inaccessible to cars, so we could choose our route freely.
Soon enough we ran out of time, and we had to go back to the airport once more; and so we did. We then had our last minute visit to the duty free section of the airport. By that time, Marina, Nadia and I were so tired that we were in that hysterical mood where everything appears funny and worth giggling about. We had discovered that 1 euro is approximately 4 zlotys, and therefore 1 cent of a zloty is equal to 0.025% of a euro. We were laughing hysterically, so much that our bellies ached and we couldn’t breathe properly, because Marina had given me 1 zloty cent and of course I couldn’t give her change in euros- so you must be able to realise in what sort of condition we were.
Before we even had time to stop laughing it was boarding time. We were about to leave. We swallowed down our melancholy for leaving Poland, and took that step over the tiny gap between the plane and the tube connecting it to the airport. It was a small step practically, but a huge step mentally.
As we watched Poland distance itself below us through the tiny plane windows, with our eyelids heavy and our eyes dry, we knew that this trip was something completely amazing. Something not many have the opportunity to experience. Something which involved a lot of travelling and lots of buses and a big variety of faces- blonde ones, darker ones, Mediterranean ones, blue eyed ones- and sights. Something with fascinating views, absurd laughter, questioning looks and colourful (!) soups. Comparisons, knowledge, imagination, reflections on the water, big fat grins, strangers becoming friends, volleyball games, museums, abrupt glee and sorrowful goodbyes.
We had completed the chapter about Poland in the book of life; nothing else was to be written. I am still quite protective over the memories of our trip, for I treasure every single moment I remember of it, and I love all the 1500 pictures we took- looking at them fills me with nostalgia. But turning the page, we knew that the next chapters’ story had changed because of that little, short, five-day long chapter about Poland, and so had we. And that is how we will always carry our memories with us, because they are now part of who we are.

Kleopatra Olympiou
P.S. A piece of advice for those who are yet to travel? Keep a travel diary. If I hadn’t done so, these 2100 words you have read would be reduced to a much, much smaller number.

Interview with Kleopatra Olympiou about her trip to Poland (By Michalis Fieros and Ioanna Louca)

1. Kleopatra, you have travelled to Poland with some friends for the Comenius project. Can you explain to us what is the Comenius project?
Kleopatra: The Comenius project is a project which aims to bring together students from different countries in Europe. In this particular project which we’re all a part of, the countries participating are Cyprus, the Aland Islands, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Germany and Lithuania.
2. How were you selected to go to the trip in Poland?
Kleopatra: The first trip was dedicated to the writing of a fairytale and students who are fluent in English and would be enthusiastic and committed to the project were selected to attend the first meeting in Poland. I’m honoured to have been selected.
3. What exactly happened in Poland?
Kleopatra: First of all, the trip was a great opportunity to get to know better ourselves, as well as our teachers. Apart from meeting new people, Nadia, Marina and I strengthened our friendship with common experiences. Then of course, we made friends with people from the other countries, as we realised that in fact, we all have many things in common, even though we lead in many aspects a quite different lifestyle.
4. What did you learn about the culture of our partner countries?
Kleopatra: I learned about the small details of my host’s everyday life. In Plebanca, the village we were hosted in, children gather in the neighbourhood’s volleyball court and play; bypassing cars are so few that they rarely have to worry about safety. They seemed to be bonded tightly with each other, and, even though they’re almost the same age as us, they’re still enjoying some sort of childhood, compared to our responsibilities and lives. The Lithuanians made me realise how much we have compared to what others have, and made me grateful for living the life I have lived. When studying the faces of the students, we found that the Italians look more like us Cypriots than perhaps the Germans, since we’re both Mediterranean people.
5. Do you suggest participation to the Comenius project?
Kleopatra: Absolutely! These trips are life-changing. Wasting this chance would be foolish; the Comenius project really DOES bring people together. And even if someone doesn’t travel somewhere, and they just host someone, they still have the chance to experience a bonding with someone from another country. So, that’s a yes.
6. Where did you stay in Poland?
Kleopatra: I was hosted by a 13-year-old girl named Natalia, in a small village near Nieszawa, called Plebanca.
7. What can you tell me about the Polish children?
Kleopatra: Polish children might not have the same education we have, but they’re as good-willing and hospitable as a person can be. They have tried very much to make us feel comfortable and very eagerly provided us with anything needed.
8. In the past you told us that Polish people adore dogs. How did you find out about that?
Kleopatra: Yep. When walking in the streets of Nieszawa, we could see a big variety of dogs in the yards. Polish people seemed very fond of dogs; my host family owned a little dog as well, and they treated it with much love and care. It was beautiful to see them express their love to an animal, and it overcame the language limits Natalia’s parents had. The language of love is universal, and they didn’t need to speak English for me to understand how much they loved their dog and children.

 By Michalis Fieros and Ioanna Louca

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