Spending the holidays in a new place

In approximately two weeks, I will be making a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for several Poles and a handful of exchange students…by myself (save for the kitchen company of a bacon-loving, purely commentary “sous chef” from Wisconsin and a Pennsylvanian vegan.)

Last year at Thanksgiving, knowing I was going to be on exchange the following year and may want to prepare a [small] feast for my host family, I paid extra attention to my mother and grandmother in the kitchen while I did my tasks diligently. One of them, much to my dismay, being cleaning the turkey. Maybe this year it will be a little less disgusting.

Growing up in America, we learn to associate Thanksgiving as the beginning of the winter holiday season, with Christmas music only starting to played on Black Friday. In Poland, however, which is 86.7% Roman Catholic, the Christmas season effectively starts on November 3rd, just after All Souls’ Day. For the past two weeks, I’ve been getting accustomed to the affair that is Polish commercialized Christmas; a combination of the American ideas of Rudolph and Santa Claus and the Polish ?wi?tego Miko?aja or “St. Nicholas” mixed with beautiful Polish Christmas carols, and for some reason I can’t fathom, the wildly popular “Jingle Bell Rock.” Much like in America, trees, lights, and glittery decorations have begun to decorate storefronts and street corners, although we’ve yet to see a single snowflake.

In addition to decorations and music, a whole new library of Christmas delicacies has sprung up for the sampling. P?czki (a Polish doughnut varying in size, sometimes filled with jam) are everywhere and easily outshine their American versions. Faworki (sort of like fried, twisted pie crust with powdered sugar) has become a breakfast staple. Leniwe pierogi (literally “lazy” pierogi) have transformed from a gnocchi-like-mac-and-sort-of-cheese to being doused in a delicious mixture of hot cream and cinnamon-sugar. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to up my daily workouts, since refusing food from a Polish woman could be hazardous to your health.

The holiday season has traditionally been an emotional obstacle for exchange students, as not only is everything different, we’re also faced with the challenge of spending it away from our families, something the majority of us have never done before. I am very fortunate to be in such close proximity to not only other exchange students, but also other Americans who understand my confusions and frustrations and miss many of the same aspects of America, some of which I never thought I would (i.e. kraft macaroni and cheese, the reliability of public restrooms, normal spatulas, and vegetarian food.) Together, we face some of the more terrifying parts of living in a Central European metropolis, such as public transportation and navigating cobblestone streets in 5-inch heels.

There are bad days and there are good days, and there are days when I wonder what on earth I was thinking going halfway across the world to do something I’m still not entirely sure I was ready for, but even on those days, I eventually come to the realization that ready or not, I’m here now, and I am having the time of my life!

Editor’s note: Maria Sliva is a Houghton Rotary Exchange student.