Bastille Day in Paris 2015

Every year on July 14, France celebrates Bastille Day – or La Fête nationale. It is a day which commemorates the storming of Bastille on July 14, 1789 during the French Revolution. I happened to be in Paris with my parents during this national celebration.

This is my second time in Paris. My first trip was five years ago during a French study tour with my university. Now I have finally returned to one of the most romantic cities in all of Europe, and I got to experience with my parents who got to see this stunning city for the first time.

The downside to visiting Paris during Bastille Day is that almost everything is closed, but there are plenty of alternative activities that a visitor can do. All the museums were closed, but at least the courtyards in the Louvre were open. Several cafes and restaurants were open to relax and enjoy a tasty meal. The place we – and a lot of other tourists – spent the most of the afternoon was at Sacre-Coeur. We climbed all 300 steps to the top of the cathedral and into the dome. From the very top I could see part of the holiday parade and hear the marching band below. The best part, by far, was the panoramic view below.

Eventually we made our way to the bridge near the Eiffel Tower and waited about two hours until the firework show began. It felt like the 4th of July back in the United States, trying to stake out the best view of the fireworks. As annoying as it was to wait and wait, I just had to look in front of me and remind myself that I am staring straight at the Eiffel Tower. This is not something I see everyday or should take for granted. When the firework show began, I was at the edge of the bridge with no one in front of me with a clear view of the fireworks shooting out of the Eiffel Tower.

I have always enjoyed a good firework show, and it felt very much like any show I would see back in the states for our Independence Day. However, there is a clear difference – we were in Paris and the Eiffel Tower was central to the show itself. This is France’s day to celebrate, and I am here to celebrate with them. This is not to make up for any loss I might have felt when July the 4th came and went while I was in Europe. Instead, I chose to reflect on how France has impacted the rest of the world and why Bastille Day is a holiday to celebrate even if you are not French.

Seeing Lady Liberty on the bridge behind me is one such reminder, at least for other Americans. The Statue of Liberty in New York is such an iconic figure that we tend to forget that it was a present from France. Thinking back on our Independence Day, Americans should remember an important Frenchman who greatly impacted the Revolutionary War in America – Marquis de Lafayette. What country came to America’s aid during that war? France!

Throughout the years, France and French culture is important around the world. Many book, movies, and music are inspired by this incredible culture. The language is spoken in several countries around the world and visiting Paris is most people’s bucket list. Bastille Day is a day for France to celebrate, and as a visitor, I am honored to witness this dazzling celebration of unity.

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Dziękuję i do widzenia Polski – Thank You and Goodbye, Poland

As of June 26, I completed my contract with Oxford Centre in Bielsko-Biala, Poland. I can hardly believe that ten months have quickly flown by and the time has come for me to say thank you and goodbye to Poland. I am not leaving Europe yet, just Poland. For the last two weeks, I have been preparing myself for leaving, but now I can hardly believe that the time has come.

Oxford Centre Primary School

Oxford Centre runs two different schools, the primary school and the language school. As a Native English Teacher, I was expected to work for both. The primary school required more work. After all, this was a private school for grades 1-6, specializing in English language skills that replaced the typical public school in Poland. This private school is also very small with under 100 children enrolled. As a teacher, you get to know all of the children very well by the end of the year. Now that I have reached the end, I can look back and see how much the children have grown both physically and academically. I worked with the first grade children the most and they grown a lot in the last year. They had started out with almost no English. Now that they are comfortable with me, they try to talk to me with their basic English skills even though there is a lot of learning left for this age. Still, they have a good start and I am proud of them. Another activity that I was asked to run was a singing club for an extra curricular class. At first there was a Polish teacher running the class, but then she left half way through the year. They tried to find another Polish teacher to take it over, but then someone suggested that I run the class since I have been known for singing during my lessons. I agreed to it even though I am not a professional. The class turned out to be really fun. It was a group of girls from grades 3-5 and we sang songs from Frozen as well as Taylor Swift and Rihanna (clean versions). For the end of the year program, my girls sang “We Found Love” by Rihanna and it turned out well. They knew all the words and sang with a smile. By the end of the year, a group of 4th grade girls who were in my singing class gave me a card and hugged me. They told me not to go back to America and that they loved singing with me every Friday. My eyes got misty then.

Oxford Centre Language School

In the evenings, I taught for the Oxford language school. I gave lessons once a week for various groups. My youngest group was a class made up of three girls who were 4 and 5 years old. My oldest group was an upper-intermediate group with teenagers who were 16 and 17 years old. On top of that, I taught a beginner adult one-on-one. I have also gotten to knows all these children and teenagers, and enjoyed teaching them. Yes, there were moments when they did not want to pay attention because it was around 5 pm on a school night and their parents forced them to go to English lessons. Still, I tried to find ways to make classes fun as well as constructive. I had a lot of ups and downs, but over all, I will miss the kids. I also taught a few one-on-ones with a few kids. I have a private lessons with an 8 year old girl as well as an 11 year old. The 8 year old loved anything to do with Disney princesses and chocolate, and I successfully got the 11 year old girl hooked on Anne of Green Gables (there is an abridged story for ESL learners that was perfect for her!) These lessons were home visits, which were located right next to the mountains. For my 11-year-old, I taught lessons every Wednesday in her bedroom with a gorgeous mountain view.

The Pharmacist

Over half-way through the year, I picked up a private lesson that wasn’t arranged by the school. In the middle of winter, I came down with a nasty cold. I try to avoid going to the pharmacy, but it got to the point where I couldn’t properly function without the help of Sudafed. After work, I went to the nearby pharmacy and tried my best to ask for cold medicine. The pharmacist realized I spoke English. After I told him where I was from and what I was doing in Poland (I got asked that all the time), he asked if he could meet with me once a week so that he could practice his English. Since I wanted more ESL adult experience, I agreed to it. Later, I learned that he wanted to work in London and had connections for pharmaceutical work there, but he was told that he needed to practice his English first. He wanted lessons twice a week, but because I did not have the time, I introduced him to my British colleague and he practiced with both of us every week. I asked him if it was confusing for him to practice with both an American and British teacher, but he seemed lessons from both of us. Lessons with him were very relaxed and enjoyable. I also learned a lot about Polish culture from him and how Poland has changed in the last 20 or more years.

Sfera and the Cafes

The downside for working for Oxford Centre (both primary and language school) was that there were days where I was scheduled to work as early as 8:15 in the morning and as late as 7:45 in the evening. Since my contract was for 30 teaching hours and 10 hours of prep, I had random two hour gaps throughout my day. Usually I would work on lesson planning, grading, and whatnot, but a lot of the time i would want to get out of the building. Near the school was a mall that we called the Sfera. It had two coffee shops that I was a frequent customer of – Coffee Heaven and So Coffee. It was a nice place to go whenever you have that awkward midday break and get some work done (or check Facebook without shame). The baristas who worked there got to know me. They would let me order in Polish, but if they were in the mood they would try to chat with me in English. There was one barista around my age who would ask me English related questions and try to get mini lesson out of me as she made my mocha. As for the rest, they were always friendly and welcoming. I am going to miss those baristas.

Kościół Adwentystów Dnia Siódmego – The Seventh-day Adventist Church

Most Saturdays, I was able to attend the SDA church in Bielsko-Biala. There was a single woman from the church who was willing to pick me up in front of my apartment building and take me to church. She would also translate the sermon even though she’s still learning and practicing her English. In the beginning, translations would turn into discussion about the difference between the words and phrases in Polish and English. She would say something like, “Let’s go to 2nd Moses” and I would be momentarily confused before saying, “Oh, you mean Exodus.” She would then be confused until we realized that the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were called 1st to 5th Moses. The Ten Commandments were known as the Decalogue, and the book of James in the New Testament is called Jakuba (which is the same name used as the Old Testament Jacob with 12 sons). This woman who took me to church each week went out of her way to make sure that I was comfortable. The young adults in this church were also very friendly to me. What impressed me was that it was one of younger members who helped me translate the Sabbath schools. He was still just a teenager and around the same age the students in my teen English class, but he was the most willing to translate even if his English wasn’t perfect. I was just glad to be apart of this group. The people I met at church were very kind to me and it helped me get to know more people outside of the Oxford Bubble so to say.

Favorite Places in Poland

Now I’m in Switzerland with plans to travel around Europe for another month before finally flying back to the USA. Even though I’m excited for what’s ahead, I’m also sad about leaving Poland. There are places in Poland that are charming in their own way. I will miss Krakow and the city life there. I will miss Bielsko-Biala, my home away from home. I will miss Zakopane and the gorgeous mountains there. I will miss Pszczyna and the quaint park and castle there. I will miss Poland, but the memories will live on. Thank you Poland for welcoming me for the last year, and thank you to everyone who I’ve met along the way. Dziękuję i do widzenia Polski.