2017 Study Abroad Essay 3 Lauren Selph

Culture and Society

The culture and society of Poland have really fascinated me but were somewhat different from what I had expected. From my general impressions of the history and nationalism which the people cling to, to my experience with tasting Polish foods and being around the people, it is true that Poland and its people move at a different pace of life.

Figure 1. Malbork Castle

I had expected that the history would be important to the people, but I had not expected just how much it would mean to them. The professors we have worked with have had an impressive knowledge of both their local and national history and have been able to explain and discuss monuments and historical places as we pass them. I have full confidence that they would be able to speak for hours on a topic concerning their country’s history. At the same time they are very much aware of the wrongs and heartbreaks their ancestors and fellow countrymen have experienced. Some of the professors who brought up the World Wars acknowledged that it is their responsibility to remember what happened and to honor those who suffered. The nation itself seems to remember its history and honor its fallen as often as possible and each historic site which has been heavily affected by World War II has shown honor to the war in one way or another either through pictures or through monuments. It is simply heartbreaking to see the destruction World War II brought about to the historical places we have visited, especially at Malbork Castle from which so many artifacts and art pieces were lost (Figure 1). The people know their history and seem to desire to honor it both officially and in their day to day lives which I have only seen on a much smaller level when it comes to knowledge of university history.

Figure 2. Polish pierogi

Tradition and nationalism also has a great presence in day to day life. We see it especially when it comes to traditional food. I have really enjoyed trying traditional Polish dishes like zurek soup, fried porkchops with sauerkraut, and every kind of potato you can imagine. My favorite by far though, and the dish I was most looking forward to having was pierogi (Figure 2). Although I have had pierogis before both at a Polish restaurant in Texas and from the frozen section of the grocery store, I just knew that the Polish-made versions would be better. I had only previously tried the Russian variety which is stuffed with potatoes and cheese. Here I have gotten to try those with mushrooms and onions, beef, and chicken as well as both boiled and baked kinds. With every dish I have tried, it has been so clear just how much work and pride is tied into the art of cooking meals. Likewise, eating meals is considered a highly social event and often last longer than typical meals in America. Another aspect of tradition can be found in the traditional craft of each area we have visited. Torun has been making gingerbread for centuries and the same can be said of Gdansk amber jewelry. There is pride in tradition and the fruits of their craft.

Figure 3. Krakow Dragon Parade

Traditional festivals and ceremonies built upon legend and national pride define the spirit of the Polish culture in combination with their culinary traditions. It was a pleasure to be in Krakow to experience its annual Dragon Parade Festival where the Poles celebrate the legend of the Wawel Dragon (Figure 3). The Sunday morning parade featured dozens of dragons created primarily by local school children and based around a central theme of Poland’s neighbors. The dragons displayed artistry and creativity and the uniqueness of each of their creators as they bounced along the cobblestone streets to the beating drums of local musicians. It was fascinating to watch and empowering to experience. This type of nationalism and tradition can be seen through America’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or July 4th fireworks but to me, the Dragon Parade festival perfectly embodied the spirit of Polish tradition and the pace of the society seemed to slow even further as the city celebrated its heritage.

Typically the pace of international locations I have visited has seemed much slower than that of the fast paced American life I am used to. In Poland however, it is only under certain circumstances that punctuality does not seem to be valued as heavily. For the most part trains and trams and people are always on time. Meals on the other hand are not typically rushed and are eaten at later times than in American culture. With lunch typically beginning at 3 PM the morning wait can feel dreadfully long. Dinner usually falls around seven or eight PM and is followed by dessert or coffee. When the meals are served it is not uncommon for the waiter or waitress to disappear for long periods of time since it is considered good customer service to leave the diners to their meal. The social significance of the meal can cause it to last several hours depending on the circumstances. Even coffee shops which in America are expected to serve your coffee to-go in just a few minutes can take much longer to create and serve drinks. In the daily shuffle of life, the pace of Bydgoszcz felt like the same stressful speed but when one takes a step back and admires her surroundings, the melody of the saxophone player on the bridge to the old city can effectively calm the spirit.

The culture of Poland runs deep and runs rich. Tradition is honored through culinary craft accomplishments in combination with celebrations of heritage just as they have been honored and passed down over the last few centuries. It has been exciting to experience this culture and to step into the history of its people and buildings for a short time.


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