"I wanted to experience something different and compared to the UK, Poland became the obvious choice. I submitted my application and never looked back." - Matthew, Poland
What made me volunteer in the first place?
As I child I always enjoyed traveling whether it be up the coast or overseas but in my 2nd to last year of college I was adamant that university was where I would go immediately after college. At the end of year 12 I had a sudden change of heart freaking out as I suddenly gone from knowing what I wanted to study to not knowing at all. I’d known several people to go on gap years and just rave about them so I went along to an info evening and decided it was for me.
Once I had decided to take a gap year, the decision of where to go was the next challenge but easily beaten in a few steps. First I decided on a continent – Europe, something about Europe had always interested me and having never been before it was a simple choice. Then looking at the Lattitude website I saw that two countries were on offer to me, the UK and Poland. I wanted to experience something different and compared to the UK, Poland became the obvious choice, I submitted my application and never looked back.
My placement and my role
I had two placements over the year I was in Poland. The first was in a town called Żywiec, of 30,000 people so coming from a city it was a shock to find how small it was. In Żywiec I stayed in the boarding house of the school which had its ups and downs as many placements will. The big change in population from where I was living to Żywiec took a lot of getting used to but once I did and it was time to leave I found myself getting quite upset. All the teachers and students were so lovely that now I miss the people more than the place.
My second placement I thrived in as I was based in the capital of Poland, Warsaw. For this placement I stayed with a host family who really made the experience different from any other. I got to have an insight on Polish family life, customs and holidays experiencing everything 1st hand. My family lived in a nice area close to school making the morning commute very easy.
In Żywiec I was a teacher assistant and aided in class with pronunciation and reading tasks, also aided students practicing for their end of year oral exam whereas in Warsaw I was the teacher in the classroom. Every week I planned a lesson and used that lesson all week with 16 different classes, as I don’t speak Polish there was always a bi-lingual English teacher. The job sounded stressful but once I arrived the teachers and even the students themselves create a very relaxed and comfortable environment making classes something to look forward to not to stress over.
My accommodation & host family
In Żywiec I was based in the boarding house and had my own room and bathroom with the school catering all my meals, I lived about a 5-10 min walk away from the town center and the other volunteer living in the town with me.
In Warsaw my host family lived in an excellent location right by the metro and a bus stop making travel around the city including to and from school very very simple. I felt safe in the area I lived in and was always entertained by something happening in and around Warsaw. Living with a host family can seem daunting but in my experience with mine and other volunteers’ families, the kind of people who accept other people into their homes are kind and loving and really enhance the whole experience culturally.
Coping with the differences between Poland and home
Homesickness is real. I never thought I would experience it but then it hit me and it was hard but I think it something that every volunteer did deal with in their own time. The way to beat it was support from other volunteers who know exactly how you’re feeling and can relate.
I didn’t cope with cultural differences, I craved them. It was one of the major reasons I chose to spend my year in Poland and they were everywhere. Poland is a country, rich with traditions, festivals and culture unlike any I had come across before making Poland the perfect destination for my gap year.
One of my favorite moments (as there were many) would have to when I left, so actually is a sad moment too. When it came time to leave my placements it was a very sad moment but the fact that I could see how much I was going to be missed made me feel very valued and it really put my whole placement in perspective seeing what a wonderful experience I had just had.
Confidence in myself as a person: many times over the year I experienced some scary or embarrassing moments but now looking back on them I can say I built off them and understand that perhaps they weren’t so scary or I was getting embarrassed for stupid reasons. I feel much more mature which I think really helps being at university and I can certainly see a contrast between myself and some first year school leavers. Also having a year off has given me some perspective about what I really want in life and with all the travel I did last year, it really sunk in how privileged I was to live in New Zealand and be able to have opportunities like the one Lattitude offered me.
What I am doing now
This year I’m taking a Bachelor of Health Science at the University of Auckland and currently living at O’Rorke, a hall of residence. Over the year I developed as a person and gained many skills that now help me in life today, a sense of independence being the first of many. No problem seems too big after having to deal with issues living half way across the world from home. University doesn’t seem so scary after conquering a year in a foreign country!! #noregrets