On a trip organised by “Workaway,” Clodagh Keech gets the chance to explore Polish life and culture.
When choosing the destination for a much-needed getaway, I imagined sun-soaked beaches with crisp golden sand, poolside drinks and plenty of time to top up my tan. I did not for one second imagine that I would be spending my week with a group of total strangers, in a sports hotel located in the middle of a Polish forest. Instead of a relaxing stay in Puerto de sol, I decided to save a lot of money and embark on a life-changing experience – all within the space of seven days.
I found this Polish program on a site called Workaway. For those of you who have not heard of this site before, Workaway basically enables those travelling to work in exchange for free (yep, that’s right – free) accommodation and food for the duration of their stay. The program itself is called ‘JustSpeak’ and is situated near Poznan, Poland. It called for native English speakers to share their language with Polish professionals who wish to improve their language skills. The accommodation provided was a single room in a countryside hotel, with all meals included. I was intrigued, so I booked the flights, packed my bags, and jetted off to this wonderful country.
I arrived in Poland a couple of days before the program, so I had time to scope out the area. I was lucky enough to have picked the charming city of Poznan as my first taste of this huge country. This beautiful city hosts an array of colourful buildings, quaint taverns, and multiple hostels – well within a low budget price range. I ended up paying €8 a night for a bed in a six-person dorm, €3 for breakfast and, wait for it… €1 for a pint of beer in the local pub. The Retro Hostel, where I was staying, turned out to be the pinnacle of cleanliness. The kitchen and bathrooms were cleaned daily and the hostel itself was situated a stone’s throw from the vibrant centre, referred to by the locals as the ‘Old Town’. This hostel, and another called ‘Tey’, (recommended by other volunteers I met) share excellent reputations, and the greatest location €8 will ever get you.
“The actual program took place about two hours outside Poznan, in a rustic village with just one shop, one hotel, one church and dirt track roads.”
After two days of exploring, it was time to meet up with my fellow ‘Workawayers’. The organiser arranged for all the volunteers to have complimentary dinner at an Italian restaurant in the centre of Poznan. There were nine of us in total, and we were told there would also be eight Polish students. We exchanged stories about our homes (which included Australia, the United Kingdom, the US, the Philippines and, of course, Ireland). Once the meal had ended, we returned to our respective hostels, meeting again the following morning to embark on our shared adventure.
The actual program took place about two hours outside Poznan, in a rustic village with just one shop, one hotel, one church and dirt track roads. The hotel was engulfed by nature – a shimmering lake, dense woodland, and (unfortunately) many insects.
It was so humbling to hear about their personal experiences and how it had affected their lives.
The days were long to say the least, typically beginning at 9am and ending at about 10pm. The ‘teaching’ side of the program turned out to be structured conversations. Each native speaker was handed a prompt card and paired with a Polish student. Each hour, the bell would ring and we would all swap partners. The Polish students were eager to learn and there was such a diverse range of individuals that we all became like one big family by the end of it. I learned so much about Polish culture, history, and values. Most of the students were old enough to have lived through the communist era of Polish history, and so this remained a huge topic of conversation. It was so humbling to hear about their personal experiences and how it had affected their lives.
Along with the structured conversations, organised games were a vital part of the learning experience. Each night, after a hotel-cooked dinner and two free beers, we enjoyed charades, laughter, and fantastic company! Despite the long working days, I found I wanted to stay up late, especially for the night that we spent by the campfire, roasting marshmallows and listening to every song under the sun.
I had a great experience in Poland and cannot wait to return. So many wonderful friendships were formed with both the students and the other teachers. If you are ever considering a visit to Poland, I urge you to drop by Poznan, the people are amazing, the city is inspiring and the accommodation is, like I said, well within the budget of any traveller.