Saturday, September 29, 2007

Good-bye to Wroclaw

Our walk to "school" each day along the Odra River

It's time now to go back to Krakow and get ready for teaching. We finished our orientation with some interesting lectures on Polish music and the Polish language. It was pouring rain during our walk to lunch and then turned cooler, so I hope we don't catch colds.

We will see all the Fulbrighters again in early December when we have our "mid-year meeting" in Warsaw. That will be fun, as we've gotten to know each other quite well. Wroclaw is a great city and I would highly recommend it as a stop on anyone's visit to Poland!

One of our favorite lectures on Polish music (in a hall where Brahms and Liszt have performed).

The hall where most of our lectures took place.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wroclaw (pronounced vratz-waf)

Wroclaw Town Hall

I know...Wroclaw = Vratz-waf???? We love the country, but our Polish language classes here are proving to be quite a challenge. It's a good thing we have a very good teacher with a wonderful sense of humor. They have 17 different letters/characters than English. Then the word endings change depending on case (of which there are 7), number (of which there are 3 - singular, plural [which is 5 or more], and any number ending in 2, 3 or 4), and gender - of which there are 5. A noun can have up to 14 different endings! (And the endings of adjectives also change.) Verbs can vary by type of environment (in air, in water, on land, etc.), whether it's a single, repeated or finished action resulting, for instance, in 6 different words for "go", each with different possible endings. A lot of detail complexity for this old brain to remember. I have such respect for those who speak Polish well!

Anyway, Wroclaw is a lovely city to have our Fulbright orientation. We're staying in a dorm, which is not so lovely, but the food they're serving us is good (lots of cucumbers and tomatoes at every meal, good bread, wonderful vegetable salads, lots of potatoes). Breakfast is like lunch: bread, veggies, and cold cuts. Lunch is like dinner: it always starts with a delicious soup, then 2 kinds of salad, a meat, 2 types of starch, and just a piece of candy for dessert. Dinner is a light lunch, much like breakfast except with the addition of soup or another dish. We also have a "second breakfast" mid-morning. Even with all the walking, we certainly won't lose any weight! The tea is very good; the coffee is instant Nescafe.
The orientation consists of Polish lessons each morning and lectures on Polish history (or culture) in the afternoon. We've enjoyed getting to know the other Fulbrighters (7 other professors and 15 student researchers). Only one of them will be in Krakow with us.
Back to's the 4th largest city in Poland and has a big-city feel to it. John wanted me to be sure to mention that he counted at least 20 cranes he could see working on buildings just in the area we've been in, so there's a real feeling of progress and economic development. The city's history is extraordinary: one guide book describes it as having the "souls of two cities." That's because there is the city that has stood on this spot, Czech by origin but for centuries German (who called it Breslau). The other is Lvov (now Lviv) capital of what was the Polish Ukraine, which was taken by the Soviets after WWII. After the war, Lvov's Polish population was "encouraged" to move out and take over the depopulated Breslau, which had been taken from Germany and given to Poland! (The German area of Silesia was given to Poland after WWII as partial compensation for losing a much larger portion of their country - parts of what are now Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine - to the USSR. Poland emerged from WWII 20% smaller geographically and with 30% fewer people. 12 million Poles died fighting the Nazis and the Soviets and in concentration camps.) Much of the city was destroyed during the war, as this was the last stand of the retreating Nazi army and they made a point of wrecking it before they withdrew. But the Poles have done a wonderful job of restoring many old buildings, and there are some that did survive.
Pod Griffoni, 1587

Beautifully restored Old Town Square

Building with bullet holes still visible

The weather here was great for the first 5-6 days and we spent all our free time walking around (not only because the weather was so nice, but also because they didn't get our interenet connection working). Wroclaw has over 100 bridges (the Odra River runs through the city), nice parks and just great scenery. It's about a 30-minute walk from our dorm to the University building where we have our classes, then another 10 minutes or so to the town square, which is just fantastic. The last few days have been cooler and light rain off and on, but not enough to keep us from walking (there are trams or buses we could take, but we really enjoy the walk).
How's this for a classroom!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Warsaw Orientation

Entry gate to Warsaw University

Well, it's been a while since my last post since we haven't had access to internet for over a week. Made us feel really disconnected....we finally called Alison and found out she was in Ann Arbor at a party with other Holland kids (including Nick, so we had a chance to talk with him too) celebrating Michigan's win over Penn State.

Warsaw (var-SHAV-ah) is a nice big city with great (big) parks and construction all over. Since it was pretty much destroyed during WWII (Hitler apparently was angry about the insurgents' uprisings and ordered it leveled), many of the "old" buildings are recreations. But the old town (and "new" town - 15th century - the old town was originally build in the 13th and 14th centuries) areas are still nice.

Notice the date on the building below....from the front you would swear it was hundreds of years old.

The weather was beautiful during our time in Warsaw, so we walked all over....from the Old Town square down the main street with many outdoor cafes and upscale stores, to the street with embassies and other grand buildings, to one of their beautiful parks.

Nowy Swiat, Warsaw

Statue of Chopin in Lazienki Park

On Wednesday we spent the morning at the U.S. Embassy with presentations on Polish-U.S. relations and different aspects of living in Poland. (The big issues: Poland is very supportive of the U.S. and has sent troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq, but we require Poles to get visas to visit the U.S. even though people from countries like the Czech Republic don't need to; and the proposed U.S. missile defense system -- building 10 silo-based long-range missiles in Poland.) After the briefing at the embassy, we had a very nice reception at the Ambassador's house, where we had interesting conversations with both U.S. foreign service people and several Poles who work for the U.S. Embassy.

John and Vicki at the Ambassador's house

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Last Day in Krakow for 2 Weeks

That's right...we just got here and now we're leaving tomorrow for 2 weeks in Warsaw and Wroclaw: We're taking the train to Warsaw Monday morning (a 2:45 ride) and will have a day and a half there before my Fulbright orientation begins. We'll be at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw on Wednesday, with a reception at the Ambassador's house in the afternoon. Then board a bus early Thursday morning for Wroclaw, where we'll have 10 days of orientation (Polish culture, history, language, etc.)

So we spent the day in a combination of packing and doing more walking and exploring. I love this city! Every time we go out, we see new things, even when walking along the same streets. Some of the buildings are just amazing. And the weather has really been nice - hope it holds out for the next few weeks. Yesterday we finally found the outdoor fruit and vegetable market, after taking a roundabout way to get to something that is actually fairly close. Bought a beautiful quart+ of raspberries (for a little less than $3). Then came back to our apartment and found a lady selling raspberries right in front of our tram stop! They are delicious!

We talked to both kids for a few minutes through Skype today. Alison was on her way to get something to eat and Nick was busy with homework, so the conversations were brief, but it was great to hear their voices. We also booked their tickets to come visit us over Christmas break, so we're really looking forward to that.

I have to say I've been using my iPod more since I've been here than I have the whole time since John got it for me. We put it on the speakers and play music every evening (since the TV in our apartment is only in Polish). We watch the news from the previous evening on the computer through the internet each morning (NBC seems to do the best job of making their evening news easily accessible). Technology makes a trip like this so much easier to be away!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Exploring Krakow

Town Hall Tower

Rynek Glowny - Krakow's main market square

St. Mary's Church
We have spent much of the last few days just wandering around Krakow, finding the fruit and vegetable market, the English bookstore, grocery stores, the train station, recommended restaurants, etc. It's so much fun turning down each new street to discover fantastic old buildings that have been renovated (Krakow wasn't bombed during WWII, so the architecture is amazing) and imagining the potential of the many buildings still to be fixed up. (I don't know how the Krakow women walk in the spiky high-heeled boots they seem to prefer, with the cobblestone or unevenly-paved block sidewalks. Think I'll stick with my practical walking shoes.)

Various buildings on the Rynek....

Friday, September 14, 2007

Classes I'll Be Teaching

Cracow University of Economics

Monika drove us to AEK on Thursday to meet with people from the School of International Business Studies and the International MBA Program. When I sat down with Agnes from the International Business program, she basically asked me what I wanted to teach! I could specify how many classes I would teach, what the topics would be (all she asked is that they be different topics rather than several sections of the same), at what level (undergrad or graduate), whether I wanted two 45-minute classes per week or one 90-minute class for each course, when I want to teach them, and how many credits the course should be. Since I’d already been informed that the MBA school wanted me to teach a course, I requested teaching two classes in the International School (the Fulbright material said I was only obligated to teach three classes), one in Human Resource Management and the other in Management Theory (classes I regularly teach at Hope, so I have prepared lectures that I just need to adapt for this environment). Agnes will have to check the schedule before determining what day my classes will be, but she said she would try to schedule them both the same day and not too early in the morning! I love this woman!!

Then I met with Donata from the MBA school and she was just as great. The class I’ll be teaching for them is Change Implementation - something I’ll have to do much more preparation for, but it’s not scheduled until January so I’ll have plenty of time to get ready. Their classes are on the week-ends (six hours each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) since all the students work full time. I’ll be teaching 23 students (they go through the program together as a class) in the fourth semester (out of four) in their new English-track Executive MBA program.

The campus is very nice – a combination of beautiful old brick buildings, 1960’s-era, and a few more recent buildings.

Getting Settled in Krakow

Sienkiewicza 4 (our new home)

After a hassle-free (if not particularly comfortable) flight, we arrived in Krakow around 2:00 p.m. Tuesday and waited in a very long line at passport control. By the time we got through, our luggage was already on the carousel and we sailed through customs (which didn’t consist of anything other than walking through a certain doorway – no one checking anything!) and Monika, my “shepherd” from the University, was there waiting for us. She whisked us out the door to a waiting van to take us to our apartment. Even with all our extra baggage (it was less expensive to pay for extra checked luggage than to ship a box of clothes here) it was the smoothest arrival into a new country I’ve ever experienced.

As you can see, our apartment building is rather nondescript from the outside (many buildings in Krakow have yet to be cleaned of all the soot and coal dust accumulated over the years), but is very conveniently located next to a tram stop and a comfortable walk (20 minutes) to the main market square/city center and about 40-45 minutes to the University.

The apartment itself is quite comfortable, on the first floor of a classroom building. It’s a studio-type apartment with lots of storage, a little kitchenette (which has no oven and is not very well stocked – but it does have special little vodka glasses!), and a nice-sized bathroom with an excellent tub, very hot water, and a little washing machine. (The bath reminds me a lot of Japan.) And you gotta love those heated towel racks! (Which may end up being our clothes dryer as well, since we haven’t found any drying racks or clothes lines.)

We had a little trouble getting our computer up and running (oops! Left our Ethernet cable at home) but the University has kindly lent us one to use while here. In the meantime, we found a cheap internet cafĂ© just down the street to send quick messages home. I will also have an office at the University with a computer, so once I figure out all the Polish instructions for getting online, we’ll really be set.

Our first night's dinner on the main market square (the Rynek)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Learning Polish

Though I’ll be teaching in English and people we’ve talked to who have visited major cities in Poland recently say the younger people often speak English, the Fulbright people have told us we should not expect most everyday Poles (people working in restaurants, buses, taxis, grocery stores, our doormen, etc.) to speak English and that learning a little Polish would be a good idea. On the advice of a colleague who spent the last year in Armenia, I’ve purchased the Pimsleur program CDs to try to learn to speak a little Polish. The key word here being speak. It’s all a “listen and repeat” process and the instructions specifically tell you not to try to write out the sounds or look them up in a phrase book to see how they are spelled as it would “interrupt the learning process.” I’ve discovered my ear is not very good and I simply cannot make my tongue comply to produce some of the sounds (can tsch-zch really be a word?) Surprisingly, in addition to the Slavic ch’s and tz’s, I think many words in Polish sound Japanese or Italian. If someone said to you “Toe tam, toe nee tu tie” you wouldn’t necessarily think they were speaking Polish. (“It’s over there, it’s not here.” Remember, I don’t know how these words are actually spelled in Polish, it’s just what the words on the CD sound like to me.) I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” in which she talks about learning Italian and developing a fondness for a particular word. My favorite Polish phrase sounds like “o givianti” – but that’s how I would spell it, because it sounds very Italian to me. I think “oh gee-ve-AHN-te” is beautifully musical in the way it rolls off one’s tongue (and I can actually say it). Gilbert’s favorite Italian word not only sounded beautiful, it's meaning also captured the essence of her inner journey that she writes about in her book. Very profound. My wonderful Polish phrase "oh gee-ve-AHN-te" means “at nine o’clock.”