Day One - the Drive to Poland:
Merry Christmas, everyone! By the time I post this, it will be after Christmas, but at the moment it is the 22nd of December. My host family is amazing for many reasons, but one of them is that their home has so many cultures in it. They are a Polish family, in Hamburg, Germany, in which all but one of the children have gone on exchange to the USA, and my host mom has a passion for Italian cooking. There are cultural influences from all four of those countries in my host family's home, which I find to be great!
But since my host family is from Poland, that means that the majority of their relatives are still in Poland. So we are, as I write this, driving to their grandmother's house, where we will meet up and stay with a large portion of the family.
The problem is that they, for the most part, don't speak English or German (from what I know). And I definitely don't speak Polish. During the car ride, I have spent a little time studying some important words and phrases, but I don't know if I will be able to memorize them. So I am a little nervous about how communicating will go. My host siblings have said that they will help translate for me, but they can't - nor can I expect them to - translate everything for me, which is why I am worried. But I am sure it will go fine. I am under the impression that they are all very nice.
The car ride hasn't been bad though. We had to take two vehicles, because there is so many of us (me, two host sisters, three host brothers, the girlfriend of one of my host brothers, my two host parents, and the dog). We have listened to a lot of music and overall it has been pretty nice.
As I write this, there is only 2 minutes left until we arrive! I will probably pick this up and continue the post later on with how it goes, before going to sleep.
Things went a lot better than I had expected! I was worried (as earlier said), but it was unnecessary. Only the grandmother was there today, and although we can't say much to each other, she is very nice, and we use the language of smiles - as I like to call it - which I hadn't realized until now, but have been having to use it less and less as my German has improved. I don't know when the rest of the relatives are coming, but they're not here yet, which is kind of nice. I am excited to meet them, but it is nice to have a small (well, as small as possible with such a large family (: ) group for the first night.
The evening was really fun. We all had supper (Bread, butter or margarine, and cheese or tomatoes or cold meat), and tea. We also made plans for tomorrow - visiting Marek's parents, and going to Gdansk, a nearby city. I had a lot of fun, and it was a good way to end the day - with good conversation and laughter. Now, with it being 11:36 pm, I think I'll sleep.
I'm writing this the day after.
This was a good day. We all got up on our own and had breakfast (bread and tomatoes or cheese or ham). Then all of us (aside from my host mom and host grandmother) piled into the cars at 11:30 and headed off to my host fathers parents apartment. There, we hung out with the grandparents as well as my host aunt and cousin I met in Denmark. The grandfather was really nice to all of us. He seems like such an alive person, if that makes any sense (it probably doesn't, but it is the only way I can think of to describe him). He was constantly offering everyone drinks and food, and smiling at everyone. At the beginning, he gave everyone a present which was Polish currency. In Poland, the currency goes a long way, so his gift was extremely generous.
Some of my host siblings left a little early to get some pizza, and me, my host dad, and the rest of the host siblings caught up with them later on.
After that, my host father took us all around the city in the family van, giving us a tour (cool!). THen we went back to the house and ate supper - something that I don't know the name of, but is basically a Polish sauerkraut (to me) and potato salad that had other vegetables in it as well, with bread.
After that, me and my host siblings went upstairs and played an assortment of different games. We played a game that I taught them from Canada (Picnic, where one person makes a rule about the type of item a person can bring with them to an imaginary picnic, and the group takes turns guessing what they can bring with them to the picnic, until everyone has figured out the rule). We also played a game called Psychologist, which I can't explain entirely or it would ruin the game, but there is one 'psychologist' (although it is more like detective, really), and everyone else in the group has to pretend to have a common ailment - which is both really simple and really complicated at the same time - and the psychologist needs to guess what it is by asking the others in the group questions. We also played a few other games too. All in all, it was a really fun end to the day.
Today was pretty quiet. It was also Christmas Eve, which is treated as just as important as Christmas Day(s - yes, there are two days of Christmas in Poland, and Germany as well).
I went for a walk through the small city/big town near my house here in Poland this morning, and took a LOT of photos. Then I came back to the house and had breakfast, immediately afterwards going back into the city with my youngest host sister [Note from Jason that is writing this out in blog format: I should really ask my host siblings if they are okay with my using their first names in these posts... it would make this sort of thing a whole lot easier to write]. We went shopping at a local supermarket for some food that we wanted for lunch, and then came back. It was pretty fun, just to hang out with my host sister. I bought (not so) spicy noodles, Passion Fruit flavoured Fanta (side note: it feels weird to call passion fruit that - I had only really learned of passion fruits when I came to Germany, where they are called ((German)) maracuja. It just feels more right. Anyways, that is off topic).
When we got back from shopping, the cousins arrived, and I got to meet them for the first time (they are all very nice). Then all of the kids just hung out together, waiting for Christmas Eve dinner to be ready, getting dressed up for the meal. In Poland, on Christmas Eve, it is tradition that you can not eat meat, but that you can eat fish. So we has a many course meal with a lot of fish. I surprised myself and like a lot of it to some degree (normally I really dislike fish - but it is my policy to always try something once, so I gave the fish a try). After that, we all (well, except for me and my one host brother's German girlfriend who also doesn't speak Polish) sang Polish Christmas carols, and then it was present opening time.
That was really cool, because the youngest cousin handed out the gifts to everyone, who would take it from her and then open them. After a point, it got really quick, so I was not able to see my host siblings reactions to what I gave them as they opened their gifts, but it was still a nice time.
I'm very happy, not only with the gifts I was given (which were all very thoughtful - and some of which I had actually been needing), but also with the moment in general. After that, the whole family played a game where you pick a famous person and everyone says to one person who they are, who writes down these names and then reads out the list two times to the entire room, and then everyone guesses who is who. When you guess someone correctly, they have to join into a group with you, and you work together to continue guessing the other people. The first round, I went with Emily Dickinson - and that was not entirely smart of me, because I think I am one of the only book/writer geek-y people in the room, so the connection was immediate, and I was one of the first people guessed. The next time, though, I went with a more anonymous choice - Bob Marley. This time, I think I was among the last third of everyone to be guessed, so I was quite happy with that success.
Now I am writing this.
Today was a great day - and, it was also Christmas Day! I was really worried that I would be sad - and maybe this is a bad thing, but I wasn't. Today I went for a walk in the morning. I had only intended for it to be an hour or so, but it accidentally lasted for two or three hours. My host family had started to worry for me (which is actually very nice of them), and my host mother called me, and I went back home to eat a late breakfast (which was more like lunch, since it was almost one in the afternoon). I think they were partially worried because, although I do enjoy going for walks, a lot of the time when I go on a walk it is because I am sad, worried, angry, or confused, and need to clear out my head. But I had simply lost track of time, not really thinking at all, taking a lot of pictures of what I was seeing on my walk.
We had earlier spoken about what the plans for the afternoon were, which were to go to a beach nearby on a peninsula in North Poland. The cool thing about this peninsula is that part of it belongs to Poland, and the tip of it belongs to Russia. So when we went to the beach there later on that day, I got the closest I have ever been to Russia. Once we had driven the vehicles to the road near the beach, we wandered some trails in order to find our way to the beach. In doing so, we also hiked through a really nice forest. The colour of the green trees and the stark contrast with the reddish brown dirt was beautiful. After that, we emerged from the forest onto the beach - and the beach was beautiful. We took a lot of photographs of each other and the beach there, and we searched for (and found!!) amber in the sand of the beach - so I now have Polish Amber!
Once we all decided we were finished at the beach, we headed back to the car. My host uncle and I were a little slower than everyone else, since we were talking with each other (he speaks English!) and we lagged behind. We accidentally took a wrong turn somewhere along the line and ended up a little bit lost, but in the end all was good. Our detour was actually a really beautiful one, and I think by the time we caught up with the others by the road, they had only waited ten minutes for us - so we could not have been that lost. Then we headed back to the house, and ate a ginormous Christmas Dinner with duck (my first time eating it. I don't really know what I think of it, to be truthful) and chicken and potatoes (and more) and a dessert of many cakes and many cookies. Towards the end of the dinner, my parents called from Canada, and we got to wish each other a Merry Christmas and talk for about five minutes, which was really nice.
Later on, all of the people who don't have children (I don't know how else to put it - there are so many of us, and only a few of us were actually kids) went upstairs and hung out, listening to music and playing a fun game galled Werewolves.
So I had an amazing Christmas - but in Poland (and Germany) there are two days of Christmas, so I have another one tomorrow!
Today was also a pretty good day. Despite writing a daily journal, though, I hadn't realized just how fast the days were going by. Today we all slept in until fairly late (I know I needed it) and had brunch. After that, we said goodbye temporarily to the cousins and their parents, who went back to their home, and went to my host dad's parents house. We visited with family there, and ate cake and oranges. It was very nice. The grandfather was, just like last time, very nice and exuberant. He couldn't really talk to me (and I could not really talk to him either) so every once in a while when he walked by me he would ruffle my hair or something along the lines. The family get-together was almost entirely in Polish, so I will be honest and say that I got a little bored, but everyone was very nice. Some of my host siblings were also bored, so we made a quick run to a corner store. When we came back, we said our goodbyes and went to the home of the cousins for supper, which was great. But it was during this meal that I was suddenly reminded that my host family and I are heading back to Hamburg at eight in the morning tomorrow.
After the meal, we headed back to my host mom's mother's house, and began packing. Then I hung out for a while with some of my host siblings, and now I am going to catch some sleep - it's 10:15 pm, I'm tired, and there is a lot to do tomorrow in the morning.
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And that is it for the journal! I didn't really write anything about the car ride the next day because not too much happened - we drove. I always enjoy long car rides though, so it did not bother me at all.
Now I am going to just skip a few days - which mostly involve accidentally staying up late and then sleeping in (well, as much as I can sleep in - eight a.m. is usually the latest) the next day.
It is late now, so like I said at the beginning of this post, I will make another post tomorrow. I am having trouble getting the pictures from my phone onto my computer right now (technology is never seeming to act in my favour, isn't it?) anyways, and I am thinking that this post is probably already long enough. I am really tired, so please forgive this post of any spelling errors or word choice errors (or so on), as I did not get the chance to look over it once more before posting - and I really want to post it today.
I hope you guys all had just as great of a Christmas season and New Year as I did!
Talk to you soon,