Early in the morning on Sunday 19th March our team met at Helsinki–Vantaa airport in order to start a six-day visit to Publiczne Gimnazjum Nr 1 wBircy in the town of Birzca in the southeast of Poland. The team, which was later known as the Finnish team, consisted of three students, Ly, Tia and Venla, and two teachers, Tuukka and Johanna. After a very early wake up we were ready to start the adventure!
The plane took off 6 a.m. to Münich, Germany, where we had a transit – and a nice organic breakfast. After three hours we had another flight to the Polish town of Rzeszow. The German team took the same flight with us, along with several Orthodox Jew pilgrims on their way to Poland. When the plane landed we had our first glimpse of Poland which was windy yet on the verge of spring. After a few hours’ wait the Icelandic team joined us and we started the last leg of the journey by bus to Birzca.
In Birzca we were greeted by the Polish families who hosted the international students. Ly and Venla knew already their hosts a little thanks to the communication possibilities of modern technology. When the students left to join the rest of their Polish families the teachers could unpack and get to know the other international teachers. However, we were still two teams short since the Greeks and the Spaniards from Gran Canaria arrived late after midnight.
Monday 20th: activities in Bircza, teachers visiting Przemysl
On Monday morning every visitor had arrived and the day started in Forest Education Center of Bircza. There the students participated in team-building and were interviewed by Rzeszow radio channel. Team Finland was represented by Ly and her words were translated into English by Johanna – after the report figured out which one was the student and which one the teacher.
After a soup lunch most of the students left to practice a play that was written and directed by miss Tamara of the Polish team. The premiere of the play was already the next day so the group had a big task in their hands. While the others were practicing, the rest of the students stayed in the Forest Education Center and learned about Polish forests.
For the teachers the Polish team had arranged a meeting with local authorities. While having a cup of coffee the teachers were given the chance to ask about the Polish education system and its latest reform. The change in Polish schools has been a big one and it has taken place very fast, which causes a little uncertainty about the teachers’ future.
In the evening the teachers visited Krasiczyn castle and the town of Przemysl. The students enjoyed a free evening with pizza and international friends.
Tuesday 21st: premiere of the play, trekking, barbeque-evening
The morning started with more official activities: all the teachers had a project meeting at the school and students were working with a psychologist on anti-bullying and anti-violence posters.
Around mid-day it was time to go and see the famous play! The first day of spring is traditionally celebrated by students’ talent show and we were happy to take part in it this way. After only a few hours of rehearsing the Erasmus-students gave a powerful performance against bullying. The whole school was applauding and cheering for them. We also enjoyed a German student playing a trumpet, a student-made fashion show and very retro singing performance by two ex-students of the school.
Then it was already time to keep moving and we headed to Bircza forest for trekking. The forest was quite familiar looking for Finns and the German team who came from Bavaria. However, tall trees and green undergrowth was a new experience for teams from Iceland, Greece and Gran Canaria. At the end of the trekking path there was a famous fountain that is supposed to have healing powers. Unfortunately the water level was so low that we weren’t able to test it for real.
The evening was spent in another forest area around a camp fire. The whole Erasmus team, the Polish parents and forest authorities spent time together barbequing, playing guitar and singing. After the teachers left for dinner, the students kept on having a good time as the stars were coming out.
Wednesday 22nd: a trip to Przelmys
A whole day trip to Przelmys began on top of a hill that used to be part of a fortress. During the First World War this fortress, along with several others in the Przelmys area, protected not just the town itself but also the rest of the Europe from invaders from the east. Nowadays there are no buildings left anymore but the hill itself was quite impressive.
There is also a castle in Przelmys and we visited it, too. The town of Przelmys was built around this Medieval castle and later spread further and further. The two churches that used to fit inside the walls of the castle have been rebuilt in the town and we had the chance to visit also them. After that it was time to visit the Museum for Bells and Tobacco Pipes that, coincidentally, was originally built to be the bell tower of the other church but ended up alone when the place of the church was changed yet again.
After walking around in Przelmys for a few hours the students were given free time to explore the town and have lunch. The teachers decided to have lunch in a nice restaurant they had found Monday evening. Unfortunately the food was brought to table very slowly so most of the teachers missed the scheduled meeting time with students. While “lunch-group” was still eating, the Polish and Greek teachers took the students to a shopping mall. Eventually the lunch was finished and paid for and the lunch group met with their students and the whole Erasmus team started heading back to Birzca.
On the way we made a small detour to a pompous hotel complex in Arlamow. This four-star hotel had for example a spa, a golf course, a ski center and a sports center with a tennis-court, a climbing wall, an indoors horse-riding arena and a shooting range. Practically everybody thought that the next Erasmus meeting Poland arranges should take place there. All inclusive.
This was the last day when everybody was still together. In the evening we bid farewell to team Iceland and team Germany who were leaving the next morning.
Thursday 23rd: exploring Krakow
When we woke up 4.30 a.m. we envied the Germans who had rented a car so that they could go to the airport later. All the others escorted team Iceland to Rzeszow airport and then continued to Krakow. On the road we had a second breakfast in McDonalds and were trying to get some sleep – or to have a big party on the bus depending on the nationality.
Four hours’ drive to Krakow ended quite near the Wawel castle where we admired the castle itself and the courtyard and church that were inside its walls.
The next steps took us around the castle and we encountered a metallic statue of a dragon. While we were busy taking photos we didn’t pay that much attention to the statue, really, and Venla freaked out when it suddenly started to breathe fire. We learned an important lesson there: never turn your back to a dragon even when it’s not alive.
The next stop was Jagiellonian University after which we visited a lovely market square that actually had a roof on it. Next to the market square there was a tall church called Kosciol Mariacki (St. Mary’s Basilica) we visited briefly. While waiting for the other teams we heard a trumpet playing and when we looked up we saw a man in one of the churches towers. When he had finished his piece of music he waved to people on the square and went to another window in the same tower. Miss Barbara of the Polish team told us that the man plays to all the four winds and this tradition is very old.
Then we had a couple of hours both in that marketplace and in the shopping center next to the railway station. When all the students had shown up at the meeting point we got on our bus and started the four-hour journey back to Birzca. The last evening was spent packing and going to bed early.
Friday 24th: journey back to Finland
Wake up 4.30 a.m. again and off we went to Rzeszow. The Greeks and Spaniards took an early flight to Warsaw and we were waiting at the airport until it was time to check in. We didn’t need that many tissues since tears were quite few. However, we felt the days in Poland had been great and we really enjoyed our experience there.
Thank you teams Germany, Greece and Gran Canaria and a special thanks to our Polish team – students, teachers and families alike! We hope we’ll be seeing you soon!
On behalf of the Finnish team: Johanna (the text) & Tuukka (the photos)