Last summer, I was lucky enough to participate in the Polish Summer School for Foreigners at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Founded in 1364 by Casimir the Great, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe. Among its alumni are well-known Poles like Nobel Prize winner, Wisława Szymborska, Pope John Paul II, and renowned astronomer, Copernicus. The school offers three-, four- and six-week intensive and non-intensive sessions. I took part in the three-week intensive during the first three weeks of July. Never having the chance to study the Polish language formally, I was excited and nervous before the program started. There was nothing to be afraid of; deciding to study at the Jagiellonian was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The mandatory language courses range from beginner to advanced. Optional lectures have a wide field of topics from Polish history to a series of lectures entitled “Czemu jest ten język taki skomplikowany?” or “Why is This Language So Complicated?” breaking down the irregularities and complexities of the Polish language.
The program started with an inauguration ceremony in the university’s oldest building, Collegium Maius, built in the 14th century by King Władysław Jagiełło. After the inauguration, we were free to visit the city and get to know our fellow students a little better. This was followed by a written exam and an interview that determined our proficiency levels. I was placed in the more advanced C1-level class that gave students a chance to finesse their Polish writing and grammar skills. Classes started the next day; my class had a total of seven and two professors alternately taught us.
Our instructors were passionate, intelligent women who encouraged full participation in the classroom. The small class size allowed me to get comfortable and I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind or ask questions. (Or help a fellow student hide in a closet to scare our teachers, what?) In the afternoon, students were encouraged to attend lectures that focused on everything from the history of Poland to an in-depth look at the downfall of communism. Like our language instructors, these professors were experts in their fields and more than happy to share their knowledge. I cannot say enough good things about the academic aspect of the program. The workload was challenging enough to keep me motivated yet still allowed much time for socializing.
Local students acted as program organizers, planning various events like staging a traditional Polish wedding and evenings focused on preparing traditional Polish cuisine. On weekends, excursions to the Pieniny Mountains, Zakopane and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum were offered. One of my favourite memories from the trip was hiking in Zakopane. I got to know my classmates in a non-academic environment while hiking in the gorgeous mountains.
Studying at the Jagiellonian means living in Krakow. The beautiful old town, bumping cultural life and highest number of nightclubs per square kilometer in Poland equals endless nighttime adventures. Some of my favourites were the PRL style “Pijalnia” serving traditional vodka shots at PRL era prices. Jazz musician Jerzy Bożek’s midnight show at the famous “Piwnica Pod Baranami” Jazz Bar was something I couldn’t get enough of either. Some nights were spent simply wandering around, looking for adventures and taking in the beautiful city. Regardless whether we ended up in a swanky nightclub near the rynek or a pub in the Kazimierz district, Krakow never disappoints. Don’t forget the infamous Tram Party; that’s something you’ll just have to experience for yourself. All that
partying studying you’ll be doing with your new friends can make it easy to forget that Krakow is a city full of museums, historical districts, nonstop concerts, festivals and art shows. There’s always plenty to do and I can’t help but want to go back because I feel like I haven’t done everything just yet.
The best part of studying abroad was meeting awesome new people. I had always been involved in Winnipeg’s Polonia, but before my trip I was lacking inspiration on how to constructively contribute to the community. Meeting people of a similar heritage but with different interests opened my eyes to the ways people relate to the same culture. All in all, studying at the Jagiellonian was an amazing experience. I learned about my heritage, made new friends and fell in love with a beautiful city. For more information about the Jagiellonian’s Summer Study Program click TUTAJ.