Life’s Tapestry: English Immersion in Poland

“My life is but a weaving between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors. He weaveth steadily.”

 Corrie ten Boom

Grounds of Poland's Royal Lazienki Palace

Grounds of Poland’s Royal Lazienki Palace

“Even when we are happy, because of our past there is a certain melancholy,” she whispered softly. Lost in her thoughts, I could tell  that she no longer was speaking to me. Sipping her coffee and gazing out the window, she was immersed in memories of a childhood spent under the watchful eye of the Kremlin. The young Polish woman was reliving fragments of her peoples’ past with its vast, rich cultural heritage and its turbulent, destructive history. A participant in Angloville’s English Immersion program, she was simply responding to my request asking her if she felt comfortable in telling me about her experiences growing up in the USSR.

To visit Poland  is to enter another world. The busy streets, the crowded shopping malls, the heavily stocked markets, the Friday night football games, and the television broadcasting the most current Hollywood scandal are all left behind. America seems a million miles away. It was my first trip to Central Europe. Even though I had participated in English immersion programs in Spain, I was struggling to keep the conversation going, as non-native speakers tend to be a bit shy and afraid of making errors when they first speak to native English speakers. Although today English is taught in schools throughout Poland, from the end of World War II until 1989, the Russian language was taught instead. The Polish people had little opportunity to learn English.

Only twenty-five years after gaining freedom from Russia, this country is struggling to find its niche in the world of commerce. The ability to speak English well and understand the various dialects of the language are necessary for future progress. The people who attend Angloville’s programs are highly motivated to succeed.  Those such as the young Polish woman with whom I was speaking are eager to learn, and, once trust has been established with a native-English speaker, they are also eager to help a stranger understand  their country and its unique past.

Cojnik

Chojnik

Volunteering, an important strategy in traveling on a budget, has many rewards. Not only have I gained insight into the limitations under which the people of Poland were forced to live during the years following World War II, but I also have had the opportunity to see an amazing country that is not overrun with tourism. Previous posts in A Pilgrim’s Parable have described the ancient Old Towns of Wroclaw and Krakow. Both are often listed among the most beautiful of the Medieval cities of Europe. However, it is not only the urban areas in which one finds beauty. Poland’s Tatra Mountains, a part of the Carpathian Mountain Range, are considered to have some of the best ski slopes in Europe.

Tatra Mountains

Tatra Mountain

Six months after my first Angloville program,  I found myself wandering down the streets of Warsaw. Once again, I was preparing to board a small bus with thirty strangers, half of whom were Polish, and half native English speakers from countries such as Australia, Scotland, and England. My first experience as a volunteer in Angloville’s program, I had traveled to Upper Silesia to a small resort called Chojnik just outside of Wroclaw. Having experienced southern Poland, I was now eager to spend several days in the eastern part of the country. My second Angloville program would be held in a peaceful, rural retreat called Stary Myln. The third would be on the Bug River near Poland’s border with Belarus.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Heroes Monument hovered above me as I rushed about Warsaw, determined not to miss any of its historical sites. The monument’s dark shadow intermingled with the city’s thick smog and the gray clouds that indicated a winter storm was clearly brewing. Warsaw has made amazing progress in rebuilding  the structures, approximately 85% of the city, which were destroyed during World War II. If one looks closely, however, the evidence of the Nazi bombardment is still visible.

Warsaw is home to several museums, the most popular of which are the National Museum of Warsaw which contains several hundred works of Medieval European art and the Warsaw Rising Museum which honors the heroes who gave their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Tours of  the UNESCO World Heritage site,  the rebuilt Old Town Warsaw, reveal cobbled streets, the 15th Century castle of the Dukes of Masovia, the 14th Century Church of St. Martin, and the Cathedral of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. In addition, one may wander the tree-lined grounds of the Royal Lazienki Castle and  Museum where tiny birds swoop down from the treetops and little squirrels scamper through the fallen leaves to trustingly eat nuts out of a visitor’s hand. This was one the highlights of my Warsaw visit.

Warsaw

Warsaw

 

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Heroes Monument

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Heroes Monument

 

National Museum of Warsaw

National Museum of Warsaw

 

National Museum of Warsaw

National Museum of Warsaw

 

Picture from Warsaw Ethnology Museum

Picture from Warsaw Ethnology Museum

 

Monument to Chopin

Monument to Chopin

 

Warsaw Tree Spirit

Warsaw Tree Spirit

 

To gain a deeper understanding of life and the human condition has become the ultimate experience of my Polish adventures, for no matter where a pilgrim might wander, he or she returns home with memories, stories to be held close to the heart, yet shared with others. Those memories, rich emotional treasures unique to each individual, are never lost. To understand their power, one need only recall the myths once dominating the ancient world. Powerful female archetypes whose emotions and adventures were woven into their life’s tapestries included Clotha of the Greek Fates, Arachne of the Greco-Roman world, Friga of Norse mythology,  and Brigid of Celtic lore. All  were masters of the warp and weft, intricately weaving the stories of their lives. These parables are simple  metaphors reminding us that, within certain limits, we have the ability to create our own destiny by weaving our life’s tapestry in such a way that it is rich in the wonder of exploration and the excitement of adventure.

Today, on Christmas Day, I think of the young Polish woman who, as she sat sipping her coffee,  reminded me that the world’s most celebrated tapestries, like all great works of art, are always filled with both light and dark. In the words of the great Anglican bishop, Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite of all the darkness.” This truth is best exemplified  in a poem written by Corrie ten Boom who survived detention in the Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbruck.

 

LIFE IS BUT A WEAVING

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

As America celebrates the birth of the Christ child during this holy season, I can envision their kind and loving faces, the amazing Poles, the staff of Angloville, and the other native English participants with whom I have had the joy of fellowship in Chojnic, Stary Myln, and Dwor Zabuze. The memories of our time together will be with me forever, making my life and its tapestry much richer than I could have ever dreamed.  It is with deep affection and appreciation that I wish them and all the readers of A Pilgrim’s Parable,  a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

 

Stary Myln

Stary Myln

 

Dwor Zabuze

Dwor Zabuze

 

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The Grounds of the Royal Lazienki Museum in Warsaw

The Grounds of the Royal Lazienki Museum in Warsaw

 

Suggested Resources

Angloville English Immersion Program

 

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