From Pasties to Pierogi/Maria Sliva

Four weeks ago, I moved in with my second and final host family. Since then, life has been nothing short of an adventure. In my previous column, I gave a brief description of my current family, which is comprised of an oncologist host father, a judge host mother, and two host brothers ages 19 and 8. Technically speaking, I also have a 17 year old host sister, but she is currently away on a Rotary Youth Exchange herself in Mexico. I now live in a different small suburb of Warsaw called Podkowa Le?na (pohd-koh-vuh lesh-nuh), which means “Horseshoe Forest,” in a house that has been in the family for generations.

I still attend the same school, but now have a much simpler commute; I take a train for 38 minutes and then either a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride depending on the weather. It is also much simpler to get to Centrum, the central “district” of Warsaw, as I just stay on the same train for two more stops. If I ever want to stay out later or have an early morning commitment in the city, I can now just stay with my host grandparents, who I call Babcia and Dziadek. They have lived in the same flat in Centrum since they were first married nearly 60 years ago. As you can imagine, they have some amazing stories to tell. I have come into the habit of stopping by regularly for dinner or obiad, which is never complete without a steaming cup of hot tea with a generous amount of ?owicz Syrop Owocowy Malina, a popular raspberry syrup that goes on just about anything.

As you may be aware, there are several other Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) students living in the Warsaw area, two of whom (Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) I spend the majority of my time with, inadvertently assuring I never get into too many solo shenanigans. This week however, they are all on a skiing trip with Rotary in the Italian Alps, leaving me alone to most likely get into some sort of mishap in pursuit of the ongoing adventure that is RYE. Initially, I planned to go on this trip, but then opted out after learning I would be making a similar trip with my host family for 10 days at the end of the month. Although it’s only been a few days without my partners in crime, I’ve been subtly forced to venture out on my own and do things with only Polish friends, leaving my insecurities and English language skills behind. Even now that I’ve thrust myself completely into the unknown, I sometimes still need a little nudge to stay at the end of my ever-expanding comfort zone, which according to Neale Donald Walsch, is where life begins.

In a week, my exchange student friends will come home from their Italian Alp escapades and I will gladly welcome them back through hours of story swapping, window shopping, and endless cups of coffee at our favorite cafes. We will rejoice in being American, takeout Indian food, and feeling each others feelings when it comes to Poland’s sad lack of real peanut butter, eye-makeup remover, and Taco Bell. But at the same time, I no longer feel the need to remain in the safety of our tri-woman tribe of wonderstruck Americanos, as much fun as it is. Having spent these past few days surrounded by people who don’t understand my sense of humor, let alone English and laugh at my weird, Russian-sounding accent when I speak Polish, I now feel comfortable with being completely on my own and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.

Editor’s note:?Maria Sliva is a member of the Houghton Rotary Youth Exchange program.