Good morning from Costa and Kraków.
We are down to the last 48 hours in Kraków and I got up early to do some work. Students have the morning off, though, as usual, some did not read the syllabus and were clueless about the morning schedule. Others are certainly sleeping in as I heard their frivolity as they got home about 1:45 or so this morning. Costa, by the way, is a British owned coffee company along the lines of Starbucks. I have to admit I have had coffee while I have been hear, but I have had more water and juice than anything. The weather this morning is chilly, but I heard yesterday that we might get snow by day’s end. At the moment, the sun is radiant, but deceiving as it offers little warmth. At least from my little window seat in Costa, it appears that the morning is welcoming. Both the students and I have noticed how quickly in the afternoon it becomes dark – by 4:30 or so. It makes for long nights. I am sure it is, in part, where we are in the time zone.
It is a bit early, but I am going to bed shortly. It is a day since I began this post, but I would like to finish one last posting before I pack the computer away for the trip. It has been an outstanding trip. Students have done work and managed the classes, which were not gimme classes in any way. They have been engaged in significant learning about Eastern/Central Europe and even today was another phenomenally different experience for them. They received a certificate of attendance and this award or certificate ceremony was in one of the most prestigious places in the university. As I sat in this room, it was certainly possible to feel both insignificant, but profoundly humbled to be in a place where some of the brightest and best of Europe have sat and decided things about philosophy, theology, law, medicine, astronomy, and the list could go on. What was more impressive is the Vice President of the entire Jagiellonian University spoke with our students in a personal and appealing way to encourage them to take what they had learned in the past three weeks and pay it forward to their colleagues back in the states. The warmth and camaraderie that was exhibited by these amazing gentlemen was an amazing gift. I was proud of the group, but humbled to be in this place. Again, I will post pictures from the day. Our two scholars, Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska and Dr. Maciej Stroinski were also in attendance. They worked so intentionally and kindly with our students. I was blessed to sit in the presence of both these outstanding academes. There is so much I have learned and will take with me, in both an informational way, but more importantly in a cultural way.
When I was in Poland last year, it was for a brief 5 days. This time I had three weeks. If I got an appetizer last time, this time I was blessed to have a three or four course meal. Yet, it is not enough. I want to return and do some of my own work. I have spoken with the Director of the University, Dr. Piotr Horbatowski, and he has graciously given me the name of a history professor to do some work with. In addition, he is going to work with me to take an intensive Polish language class this coming summer. So I have a lot of work to do to set all of this up, but I am incredibly excited. So much to learn and so little time. This is where my title comes in . . . we are often provided opportunities. Thrown a rope, if you will, that allows us to experience, learn, and grow in ways never anticipated. There were four or five students in particular, on this trip, who astounded me with their academic acumen. This is in no way to say that I did not expect such a possibility, but rather, I have not been blessed enough to have them in classes. Two are political science and Russian students, one is Microbiology, one is accounting, and another is marketing. I think I have it correct. Each one of them asked important and thoughtful questions at times. Each one of them managed their academics and cultural experiences in a way that both the university and their parents should be proud of them. It was a joy to watch and listen to them; it was outstanding to see their smiles and their interactions; they give me hope that the world has the possibility of being in good hands in the next couple of generations. They were thrown a rope. There were moments they needed it to manage the balance, but for the most part, they were willing to provide that same rope for another person, both in class and out and about. While there were moments that they will remember for a lifetime, there are other moments where they had to learn things, but that is one of the most important things that can happen when one is over 4,000 miles away and the language is unknown. There were other very capable students too and as I glanced at papers as they were returned, there was some keen insights into what they have both heard and experienced. There were some good connections between what they experience as students and citizens of the United States and what they were seeing, hearing, and immersing themselves in (on a daily basis) here. Of all the students, there was one whose face lit up in ways beyond description as they walked from place to place and as they experienced the beauty that is Krakow, Prague, and beyond. They so reminded me of myself when I did my first similar experience 35 years ago at this same time. That first trip to Europe as a student was life changing and I believe the same will happen for some others. It is something that comes over one gradually. As I did 35 years ago, I felt the historical significance of so much as I listened, wandered and observed. Building over a millennium in age, borders that have been negotiated and redrawn, hallways and rooms where some of the greatest minds of all time have walked and studied: it all has a way of creating a sense of awe and wonderment that is beyond any words.
As I write this, I am in my little room with things packed and wondering what the last few hours of the trip might bring. There is little that can be done to predict. One of the students had brought a blanket from home and at 5:30 this morning I got a knock on my door because she had a fishhook embedded in her lower side. What the heck are the possibilities of such a thing? So Dr. P spent another few hours in the emergency room with yet another student. Fortunately, he is Polish/Ukrainian so language is no issue. How do you plan for such an incident? You don’t, you just manage the circumstance. That is life. It just is. My Dominican brother always says, “This is the life” (But you need his accent to really make it work :)). As I get ready to return to the States there is so much to consider and the memories of the trip will almost instantly be pushed into the recesses and other more pressing issues will take precedence. There is only about 48 hours after the return that I will be back in class and in front of people. There is a lot to do and then there is managing being away from Bloomsburg for three weeks to begin with. I know if I come back there are so many logistical things I will have to plan and manage. I have my little ear-buds in and I am listening to Irish music sitting in Poland. If I do accomplish getting back here, which I do intend to do, I think a trip to the British Isles will have to be in the mix as well as a trip to see Elena in Murcia. That was certainly a highlight of this trip. To meet face to face with my former student and see how much she has grown and to learn more about her life as a city engineer was such a wonderful gift to me. She is such an outstanding and fun person. She is serious, but has this playful side. Watching her in the snow was magical.
So how do we use the rope we are offered in life? How do we use it as a lifeline for those around us? How do we use it to bind ourselves to one another for the common good? Those are things I have wondered as I have listened to the millennial-old plight of the Hebrew people. What does it mean when they have been discriminated against because they value literacy? What does it mean when they have been discriminated against because they value their faith and the promise given to them by their creator? What does it mean when they have been discriminated against because their faith required washing and food that kept them safer than most from the infamous plague that swept Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries? I so admire my Jewish brothers and sisters in ways I could have never before this class and the amazing overview provided by Dr. Annamaria. Her knowledge and insight is second to none. It seems even yet it would take a miracle to change our human propensity to fear the different, to ostracize the other. I am reminded as I listen to Celtic Woman once again of this song.
How do we make this change in our own lives? One of the things that currently gives me hope is so many of my students are willing to accept diversity in ways my generation could or would not. It is such an interesting dichotomous behavior. I watched them need to speak with their parents on almost a daily basis, which is something most 18-22 year olds of my generation could not imagine, and yet they are willing to understand the complexity of humanity in ways we could not fathom. This is the rope that binds us together as a community, a community of humans, of brothers and sisters who are related by our DNA and not our color, our faith, our orientation, or language. These are the things that give me hope. And with that, I will offer yet a second video from this amazing group that brings me back to my ethnic roots and expands my desire to visit that Emerald Isle in ways I cannot begin to verbalize. To Jaclyn, Meredith, Illiana, and Nick . . . this is for you.
To the others, thank you as always for reading and use that rope to care and help the other.