Tales from the Wizards: Emily’s First Month in Krakow
This past February, Emily decided to leave her comfortable life in Seattle, USA and moved to Krakow to teach English with English Wizards. A month into her new life in Poland, Emily discusses the ups and downs of living in Krakow.
The Polish language – I’m still learning! 🙂
One month ago, I stepped off a plane in Krakow, Poland
Well actually…I stepped off a plane in San Francisco, another one in London, and then a grumpy, sleep deprived, slightly terrified me actually arrived in Kraków.
So, why am I here? Here’s the backstory…
Eight months ago, I stood at Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport and cried in front of the security gate. I knew it was time to move on, but walking past that barrier marked a finality I wasn’t ready for. Madrid, and so many people there, will forever hold a place in my heart. The next seven months in Seattle were full of friends, family, and reconnecting with the real world. I love my city, and I have every intention of moving back to attend graduate school.
The thing is, I wanted one more adventure.
So why did I end up in Poland? I actually travelled to Krakow last April as one of my first solo trips. The first day was a disaster. Then I made a friend. That person introduced me to more people, and before I left, I had five friends and a deep love for the city.
I’m a history lover, and this is a city that is the definition of history. I vividly recall standing on Stradomska Street in the Old Town and thinking, “I could see myself here.” I brushed the crazy thought aside soon after, but (clearly) it stuck.
The beautiful medieval streets of Krakow’s Old Town
Fast forward to September, and I’m back in Seattle browsing some travel listings in my free time. For no reason really, I was just bored. Then I stumbled across a teaching program called English Wizards. They were looking for teachers in Krakow and could accept Americans. “No way,” I thought to myself.
So I applied.
“Just for fun” I told myself.
A few days later, English Wizards invited me to a Skype interview, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
I knew I wanted to be in Kraków. The city is a gem. It is both a living organism and a fossil. It is vibrant, surprisingly small, and a testament to Poland’s turbulent history. Krakow’s Old Town dates back to the 13th Century. Over time it was built on top of itself. So those empty windows four levels below ground of that hopping Spaghetti place? That was once the street level occupied by Poles in 1257. Clearly, this is my kind of place.
Immediately I was urging to get out. I still had my electric toothbrush with a European plug from Spain and I had yet to dig the miscellaneous euro coins out of my wallet.
Did I really need a better reason to move back to Europe?
Krakow’s magnificent Market Square in the heart of the Old Town
In the month since I arrived things have been a wild blur of excitement and of course work. I spend my mornings teaching English online to students in China. Luckily, I love my students. They are young and their English is limited, and yet they make me laugh every day. Mark, (eight years old) refuses to let me end the lesson until he crushes me in a game of tic-tac-toe. Vinnie, (nine years old) does a little happy dance every time I send him a virtual gold star.
In the afternoons I teach classes to Polish children. I spend a lot of time showing my little six year-old students how to say “three” instead of “tree.”
“Stick your tongue out when you say it Szymon!”
I was most nervous about feeling isolated when I arrived. I made it my mission to make friends, so I swallowed my pride and posted a friend ad on an international women’s travel page.
I received sixty-three comments and went on upwards of fourteen friend dates. I’ve met some awesome American expats as well as some Polish and international friends. Then a week later I caught a lucky break.
English Wizards hosted an orientation scavenger hunt in the Old Town for their new teachers. They said it would also be open to the public so we could meet locals as well. I had no plans that afternoon and decided to show up.
I was sorted into a group and we began our expedition to find our seven clues hidden around the city. I am not really one for competition, but I had a blast chatting one-on-one with the Spaniards, Ukrainians, and Italians of my group in turn. We spent two hours trekking from one end of the city to the other. We deciphered clues and asked the wrong person for our clue more than once. In the end, we came in last place. I didn’t care, I found this hilarious.
For one clue, we had to find the “number three” that was “just past the third lamp post on your left.” This particular corner had at least twenty-six lamp posts and there was no number three. What to do? Take a cute selfie with our own number three!
Papelitos! And an awesome new group of friends? Yes please!
My newly made scavenger hunt friends invited me to dinner at one of their homes that night. When I regretfully mentioned that I already had dinner plans they reminded me that Spaniards eat at 9pm. They told me they were going to play “papelitos.”
“THAT’S MY FAVORITE GAME!!”
I couldn’t be more excited. Papelitos is a game where everyone writes something down on a piece of paper and then each team has to describe the written word in one round, describe it with one word in another round, and act it out in the third round.
My uncles taught me how to play this game (which we called “celebrity”) in New York one summer when I was fifteen. I have since strongly encouraged my friends to play it with me at every possible opportunity. I knew I would feel right at home.
I had a blast that night. There were only a few cultural things that tripped us up. Someone said, “oh, the site where you look for job postings” to which someone shouted, “LEENK-ED-EEN!” “What?” I asked. “OH, you mean LinkedIn!?” One of my group members described Thailand as, “an island in Asia, I think.” I laughed so much that I don’t think he will soon forget the geographic status of Thailand.
Krakow sometimes feels like a mini-United Nations. Such a whirlwind of cultures and people from every corner of the world!
The next day, a Portuguese man I’d met off a Facebook group invited me to coffee that week. “Is this a date?” I thought. But it actually ended up being quite fun! Anyone who can talk with me about history, politics, and not ask me about hobbies is doing great.
I invited him to go to a history museum with me that weekend. He was such a trooper and made it through every exhibit with me in two hours without getting bored!
Afterwards I suggested we grab dinner. I of course forgot that Portuguese people also eat dinner at 9pm so I had a snack and patiently waited until we met his friends for pizza at the (more reasonable?) allotted dinner time.
The next day happened to be his birthday, so the weekend of fun continued. He invited me to lunch with sixteen of his closest friends (lol). The huge table was full of people from every inch of Europe and beyond.
I love these international interactions; I never would have guessed Krakow would be such an international city! These are settings where I am pushed to reexamine my world view, ask questions, and explain things about myself and my country.
This is really where I thrive, and where I belong.
I couldn’t be happier in my new home.
Adjusting to life in a new country always has highs and lows. There are days when I am thriving, and days when I am just surviving. That’s what it’s like adjusting to a new home.
* * * * *
It’s been over a month now, and my Polish is still abhorrent. It took me three weeks to figure out why everyone kept saying “Dzień dobry” (good day) and I didn’t know that it was two separate words until I Google Translated it just now in order to not screw up this blog post. I am, however, a wizard at the grocery store. I can ask for granaty, chleb, mleko, ser i gruszki, like a pro.
All in all, there are days when I am thriving and days when I am just surviving. This is what it’s like to live in a foreign country. There are days when I find tofu at the grocery store and days when I get on the tram going in the wrong direction. Despite my lovely new friends and community, I still feel lonely at times. Feeling lonely is tough, but I know it takes more than one month to feel settled in a new city, let alone on a new continent.
Yet there is so much about this city I love and not for one minute do I ever regret my decision to move here.
This is the first post in our “Tales from the Wizards” series where our Wizards take over the blog and share their stories of life in Poland.
If you want to keep up with Emily’s journey as an English Wizard in Krakow, you can read more on her personal travel blog.
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