Posts Tagged With: travel

My Favorite Places in Poland

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So this may come as a shock, but back in the summer I completed my teaching contract and subsequently decided to return to my homeland, aka the Great White North!

I regret not posting as much about my time in Poland as I would have liked, though I did touch on the city I was living in, which was Radom. IMHO, it wasn’t exactly ‘top’ of my favorites list. So now I’m going to focus on some of my favorite Polish locales I encountered during my time there. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit these places!

Warsaw

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Ah, good old Warsaw, or Warszawa as it is called in Polish. The capital and often the starting point to any Polish travels. Since Warsaw was a two-hour bus ride from Radom, I was there A LOT! Like almost every weekend. Because of the frequency of buses between Radom and the capital, it was the perfect day trip. Now most people I met said they preferred Krakow over Warsaw (Poles included), but Warsaw held a special place in my heart. It has great restaurants, chic coffee houses and a growing craft beer scene! My favorite place happened to be the Old Town. I was dating a Polish girl, who lived in Warsaw, and we had our second date there (great romantic spot FYI).

There was always something going there all year. And if you’re a fan of green spaces, there’s this neat park in the south end of the city. I like to call it Poland’s version of Central Park but on a smaller scale. I will always remember all the times I spent in Warsaw.

Toruń

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Now your average tourist wouldn’t think to include Toruń (pronounced ‘tor-in‘) in their travel plans. And I think that’s a shame! This little medieval town, located about a two-hour train ride from Warsaw, is actually the birth place of Nicolaus Copernicus. You will hear his name a lot there. In fact, there is a statue of him near the main cathedral in the center of town. I only visited Toruń once on a weekend trip, but it was well worth the journey and money! I met some locals there in a bar and ended up dancing with them in a nightclub! When you visit some of the lesser known places in Poland, it is really easy to get noticed by the locals!

I definitely recommend stopping by Toruń if Poland is on your travel bucket list!

 

Zakopane

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Pronounced ‘zak-o-pa-nay‘. This little town, which lies in the extreme south of Poland, is dubbed the Winter Capital of Poland. Polish winter enthusiasts flock to this town during the winter months, especially during Christmas and the first week of February (kids have a break from school during this time). Because it is nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, it provides opportunities for skiing and winter hiking. Of course, Zakopane is a great place to visit all year round; summer hikers would love the opportunities here. However, many Poles will tell you that to truly experience the richness of Zakopane, you must visit it during winter. And that’s exactly what I did! One chilly, snowy weekend in February, I made the trip here. Being a winter enthusiast myself, I had to. I did a mini hike through the national park that straddles the Tatra Mountains, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable Polish experiences for me!

Another interesting thing about this town is the folklore. It isn’t long before you notice the locals wearing traditional clothing, especially the staff at restaurants and hotels. It almost felt as I was in a Polish version of Bavaria. Zakopane is also famous for its cheese-filled pastries. No trip here is complete without sampling one!

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Be forewarned: the closest airport is Krakow, so the only practical way of getting there without renting a car is bus. You can catch one from Krakow, which takes three hours. There is one from Warsaw as well, BUT add five hours to the journey. Since that bus stops in Krakow anyway, it’s better to just start from there unless you’re a fan of long bus rides.

 

Honorable mentions go to Krakow and Wrocław. The former is especially wonderful during Christmas when the main square becomes a giant Christmas market. The latter is a neat university city, offering a authentic taste of Poland. But I think I have bombarded you enough with information already.

Sadly, I didn’t make it to Gdansk or Auschwitz. I was not able to include either in any weekend trips, nor was I able to extend my time in Poland after the teaching contract. So many things to do, so little time! However, I may not be living in Poland now but it doesn’t mean I won’t ever be back.

So with this I close the chapter on my posts about Poland. The experience there was one of the best in my life and changed me forever. Will I go back to teach abroad? Perhaps. But this moment, I am happy on home soil.

If Poland is on your travel radar, be sure to include the places I have mentioned. If Poland isn’t on your bucket list, well…maybe you should consider it!

 

Categories: My Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Town Called Radom

 

I thought I would talk about this town I have been living in for the past nine months: Radom. Since last September, I have been teaching English to children and adults in this small city of about 200,000 inhabitants. Radom is located 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Warsaw. To be honest, it is nothing to look at in terms of touristic appeal. It is considered a working class town where a lot of locals actually commute to Warsaw for work. In fact, my Polish friends in Warsaw – and other Poles I’ve met in my travels – ask me, “Why are you in Radom?” “Well, I know it’s not the prettiest place,” says I, “but what’s the big deal?”

“The city is cursed,” they tell me. Cursed? At first, I had no idea what they were talking about, but later I learned that Radom staged a revolution against the communist government in 1976. As a result, the government stopped supporting the city, leaving most Poles believing the city is cursed.

But in all honesty, Radom isn’t all that bad. The cost of living is much cheaper than that of the bigger Polish cities, it has a lovely high street full of cafes, restaurants and bars. There is also a huge shopping center where most of the locals congregate on weekends. It has a bus and train station where I can be in Warsaw or Krakow in under three hours.

So how did you end up in Radom?

It all started over a year ago when I was living in Ottawa. I was unhappy with my current situation and looking for a new job. I had a mutual friend who was teaching English in Radom, and suggested that I apply to the school, which he was teaching at. I did a little research on the city, mainly relying on Wikipedia. My friend was blunt. He told me the city wasn’t much to look at, and that life there can get boring really quickly. Nonetheless, I applied for a job, had an interview with the director a week later. Another week later, I was offered the job, and promptly accepted it.

What do you do there in your spare time?

Wind down from a long week, walk around town, work on my novel in a café, and go to the gym. Most weekends, I travel around Poland and during the holidays I travel around Europe.

Anything you particularly don’t like?

At the time of writing, the city doesn’t have an airport (well it does but there are no flights in operation). So if I need to fly somewhere, I have to use Warsaw Chopin Airport, which means carefully timing logistics so I can make my flight. The city is beautiful in the summer months, but during the winter it’s a ghost town where many bars and restaurants close early. What really irks me is that during the winter months it gets dark at 3pm! It’s also not great looking at the many apartment blocks in the city.

How do the locals perceive foreigners?

Some are genuinely curious about them, others wonder why I am even there. I have even be told once, “We don’t want you in our town!” I simply took that with a grain of salt. I have come to accept these negative opinions, but I also remember that I am here providing an invaluable service.

What do you like best about it?

I can walk everywhere. In fact, it only takes me five minutes to walk from my apartment to work. I wouldn’t have this if I lived in Warsaw or Krakow.

Would you recommend other foreigners to follow your path?

Radom, for me, will challenge even the most seasoned of travelers. One must be fully independent and able to entertain themselves. They will also have to be able to sacrifice certain creature comforts like Starbucks. At the time of writing, there isn’t one in the city. However, there is McDonalds and Pizza Hut.

One thing that foreigners would find interesting is that Pope John Paull II once visited Radom and prayed at the intersection of the place where the revolution took place. Kind of nice if you are a history buff. And Pope John Paul II is revered here (he was Polish himself).

Just to be clear, I am not criticizing Radom. I am simply sharing my reflections on my time here. I am glad I came because it has made me stronger professionally and personally. I now feel a greater sense of gratitude for my own country and community. This is something that so many of my countrymen take for granted. Perhaps Radom will grow and maybe become a booming metropolis like Krakow or Warsaw.

 

Categories: Life | Tags: , ,

Unravelling the Myths of Teaching Abroad

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I used to think teaching English abroad was relatively easy. But after talking to colleagues who had taught in Korea, China and Dubai to name a few, I realized this was not the case. I have been teaching English in Poland for six months now, and I can clearly say teaching abroad is no duck walk. You basically have to work as hard as if you were working in your home country. If you’re considering teaching abroad, you may want to read on and find out the truth about some of the myths you may or may not have heard about.

1. Teaching English Overseas Means having conversations in English with the students. Definitely not the case. You have to plan lessons, be able to teach grammar points and vocabulary as well as listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. You have to prepare dynamic and engaging lessons that cater to different learning styles. You may be having conversations some of the time, but this is assuming the students’ proficiency level is high enough to do so. In short, teaching is way more than just having conversations with students. Conversations simply won’t cut it.

2. You don’t work a lot of hours. This depends on the country you are working in, but generally you can expect to teach 20-24 hours a week, plus lesson planning and administration. This can add up to 40 hours easily, which is pretty much a typical working schedule at home. Be prepared to spend a lot of hours in the school. If this is not what you were expecting, you should definitely reconsider it before embarking on a teaching position overseas.

3. Teaching isn’t all that difficult. You may be a native English speaker but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach it. Are you prepared to teach the differences between John has been to London versus John has gone to London? You will need to be clued up on grammar points before walking into a class. If you have never taught before, I would definitely recommend investing in taking a CELTA or TEFL course. Both will give you the tools you need to be able to teach grammar, vocabulary and receptive skills.

4. I will be able to save money. This is not the case. In fact, it’s a good idea to go to your chosen country with money saved up for initial expenses. You will find that you will be breaking even most of the time. With me, I find that I am breaking even because I like to spend my money on travel during my time off.

5. I will be able to live like a tourist and travel all the time. Living like a tourist, not really. You will have to go to work, pay bills, get sick, buy groceries, clean your apartment, etc. Life is life wherever you go, only this time you will be dealing with culture shock, language barrier and adjusting to different rules. As for travelling, this depends on where you are. If you are working in a place where it is super easy to travel around, then you will be able to travel. I am in a city 100 kilometers from Warsaw, which is not easy to get travel to other parts of Poland. I need at least four days off if I want to go up to Gdansk. However, I have been able to travel to other parts of Europe during my holidays. Speaking of holidays, you can use these to travel. And you can expect to have lots of holidays, especially if you are teaching in Europe.
So hopefully, this has cleared the air into some of the common myths about teaching English abroad. I am not by any means trying to put you off. I just think you should know what you are getting into. If you have realistic expectations and understand what teaching is all about, I’m sure you will have a great experience. It has been one of the best experiences I have done, even though it has been very challenging at the same time. Do your homework, get certified as a teacher, and understand that you will not get rich by teaching abroad. Also understand that you will have to work hard as a teacher and commit to your students.

Categories: Life in Poland | Tags: , , , , ,

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