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◄ APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK TWO

2005-09-22APASS 2005 - Obóz językowy Puławy - WEEK ONE

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Since Richard asked, I made a quick table of the camp itinerary. It's also got tour dates.

Bright and early Monday morning, we crawled out for breakfast, then Sally and I went to meet the hierarchy and other people went for a wander. The day-to-day running of the camp was handled for the first two weeks by Magda's mother, Jolanta (at which point Magda was scheduled to take over the role of Vice Director) with organisation for the site as a whole directed by a Mr Smyrgala. (There were several different camps running on overlapping schedules; a music camp run by Canadians, a music camp for younger students, and a Ukrainian holiday camp, in the time we were there.) Management was pleasantly hands-off, and after the introductory meeting—until the tour—I only saw the boss guy a couple of times to say cześć, generally as I was loitering in the sekretariat to type stuff up. I always think it's nice to be left to get on with things like this.

Afterwards, Magda and her mom ran us through the camp programme and we chipped in a few ideas from experience of other camps—nominating an 'English Day', adding a British history angle to a bonfire, etc. APASS camps have been run in Puławy for some years, so the timetable already had a fairly packed schedule. We also found out what materials we'd have to work with for afternoon activities and what could be got, how accommodation would be handled, washing facilities, and so on.

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Magda actually apologised for the dorms we spent the first week in, but they were thoroughly pleasant and functional. Rooms themselves were spacious with two of us in each, and we were grouped together and split fairly evenly between two floors. There was a communal area on each floor with plenty of toilets, sinks (which came in handy for hand-washing smaller items) and three showers in each. In many respects it was a notch above some UK university accommodation, such as... oo, Cwrt Mawr K block, Aberystwyth circa the late Nineties.

Like many things on a camp, it's a lottery what you get to work with in the way of IT facilities and web access—Nysa had a couple of basic school suites, Łukow by my sister's account had recent hardware and they burnt mix CDs for evening events. Puławy didn't have any CD writers—in fact, systems on-camp amounted to a couple for office use by the vice director and the director's secretary, and one in the basement (a room marked sklepić, or 'vault') that regularly fell over. Whilst this quickly ruled out computing as an afternoon activity, it did give us chance to print off some basic phrase sheets and copies of the camp programme in short form for everyone.

The first staff meeting was to sort out afternoon activities, which we decided between us would run to volleyball, football, games and drama, art, and cooking. Swimming was also a permanent fixture, thanks to an open-air pool in town. The original intention was to have groups and cycle them through the activities so that everyone tried everything, but this didn't work well with the age range (10-13) and later swapped to quotas.

I nominally assigned myself to games and drama, though more time was spent running between activities making sure people had equipment, particularly during the first week.

We'd sent the entry test (originally written by a previous camp leader we both knew) on ahead via email, so Magda had chance to duplicate copies for when the kids began to arrive during the afternoon and evening. If I do that in future, by the way, someone remind me to send as PDF rather than DOC format; it preserves the layout more.) Whilst our prospective students got on with that, a group of us went on a short expedition and found a "Spar" type supermarket we could get nibbles from. Since we were in Poland it was only natural to pick up a few bottles of the national drink (vodka!) at the same time. Zubrovska is the Polish brand foreigners are most likely aware of, as it's labelled in English and exported. Flavoured with bison grass, it tastes like cinnamon and mixes with apple juice for a warm but smooth taste that doesn't seem alcoholic until you fall over. We got completely ratted on the stuff two years ago on our first night in Nysa, and not surprisingly both vodka and people were drunk on this trip, too.

The bottles were mostly put on hold for the evening, though, as some of us had test scripts to cover in red pen and others decided to see what cafés and bars were in comfortable walking distance.

Marking revealed that we had a very broad spread of ability indeed, some kids having as much grasp of English as I have of Polish. Some of the essay responses were unintentionally hilarious, including the classic "My family is dog." Many essays weren't much longer or varied than that, either—families, numbers, jobs, colours and physical descriptions seem to be the first-year syllabus for most schools. A few were just odd. Sally's favourite snippet is "My mother takes many photographs. Some of them have blood on them." (Which at a guess came from the girl who ended up in Jess and Paul's class and brought a small dagger down from her room to use as a prop during drama.)

Most of the paper was multiple choice, which between a few of us was quick work, but all of the essays really needed to be marked by one person in order to give consistent marks—we figured we'd split it; Sal would mark the essays on the entry paper, I'd do the exit paper. On the Łukow camp, her translator had suggested they use the same test again for direct comparability, but we figured we'd play it by ear a bit first here...

Tuesday we had opportunity to see inside the school we were going to be teaching in, which was a slightly more modern version of the school/monastery in Nysa and had the Polish school trademark year group photos from decades past decorating the halls.

Oral assessments also went with a tried-and-tested set of criteria, this time one Sal had written three weeks earlier. If this seems at all lazy to anyone, I'd give the following advice: whilst it's crucial you understand the materials you're using, don't try to reinvent the wheel—the time can almost always be better used elsewhere.

Having eight pairs of staff split between two rooms ensured none of the kids were kept waiting for too long, whilst the rest of us kept track of pairs waiting for kids and ferried groups who'd been tested back to the Bursa (the main building with the dorms.) In what was to become a recurring motif, the kids responded well to Danielle and recoiled in fear from me. Actually, some did some recoiling from the assessing pairs too... there were a few tears... and more than a few conversations like this:

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

"Yayse."

"What are their names?"

"Yayse."

"What's your mother or father's name?"

"Yayse."

"Uh, do you understand any of what we're saying?"

"Yayse."

"Do you inject cocaine?"

"Yayse."

Okay, they didn't ask the last one, I'm assured. Then there were the kids who just didn't say anything. Well, at least everyone was getting to know what they'd be up against... and I, having agree to take the bottom group, was looking forward to three weeks of communicating via chalk drawings and dictionaries. Not that this in itself was particularly unexpected, but because of the ages (many would have at most a term of preparation, as we'd seen with the essays) the next few groups above wouldn't be all that different.

Once that part of the assessment was done, we called dibs on rooms for teaching, arranged furniture for the morrow and stuck up group numbers / staff names on doors.

It was too soon to gather materials together for cooking and art, so after lunch we ran sports activities and games. And promptly broke our first child. I forget whether this was a wrist or an ankle, but within days an impressive assortment of slings and casts could be seen around camp—in Poland medicine is very much geared towards prevention of further injury rather than support bandages and telling people not to stress the affected limb. Nobody found this at all unusual , including the kids—and it wasn't that we were being incredibly lax with safety; Nysa had been the same, especially wrist injuries from volleyball (our team leader got carted off for x-rays at one point.) It's a hugely more sensible and matter-of-fact approach to injury than you tend to get in the UK or America, where the first reaction would probably be to work out who could be sued.

Shortly after this we got word we wouldn't be teaching in the school. Something about kids would make too much noise, and the cleaning staff didn't want to... er, clean in there, I presume. No, I don't pretend to understand the logic of kids in a school being a problem—that's what schools are for, right? Anyway, we'd be teaching in the same separate language school block we were accommodated in, and blackboards and other materials would be installed for us. There was no getting around the politics of cleaners. I'm intensely curious as to how long use of the school facilities had been arranged for there to be a sudden switch, though—the camp technically ended at a fence and didn't include the school, language school block, football pitches or volleyball court, so presumably some reciprocal arrangement or managerial favour was being breached.

In point of fact, the basketball courts and football pitch on the camp's side of the fence were in fairly constant use by locals as well—rarely a problem, and I'm fairly sure the camp had veto on those areas, but you could expect any free court to be colonised by largish blokes practising hoop shots, and balls to be whizzing past left, right and centre. Basketball is very popular in Poland, with sports being viewed in much the same way as in parts of the US—a possible route to status and income.

Later we attended the official camp opening ceremony, which was listed as 7pm-10pm but lasted about twenty minutes—I think the planned safety lecture had fit into the two-hour talk the evening before. It was nothing formal; everyone gathered outside the Bursa, the Polish staff were introduced, we were introduced, finito.

As we'd teaching next day, we had a quiet night in and cracked open vodka to go with the juice that had thoughtfully been left in rooms.

The impromptu new classrooms turned out on Wednesday to be just down the corridor from our rooms, converted from dorms with the addition of boards, tables and chairs— which had the plus point of proximity, making nipping back to rooms for additional stuff easy. Most rooms (with the exception of mine and Danielle's) also had keys, so work could be displayed safely and resources and equipment left in situ at the end of a teaching day. Whilst the Group One classroom didn't have a key, it did have a huge blackboard that was invaluable for writing up an appreciable amount of content without having to stop every few minutes so work could be copied in small chunks and cleared. It would have been nice to use the school, but you can't miss what you never really had.

The first day of lessons involved nice and straightforward stuff, introductions. When we sensed interest was waning (three hours is a long time for kids of that age, even with a half hour break in the middle) we struck a general pattern of throwing in games and word searches for vocab. There was already a fairly marked difference between genders apparent, with the boys needing less coaxing to contribute to the group but all but one having shorter attention spans. About halfway through we gained another girl—Magda actually brought her to me to allocate a group, but judging by the number of questions skipped on the test and teary state the kid was in, it was obvious that she'd be with us.

Activities were fairly chaotic first time around—okay, most times—but Magda had spent the morning in town getting all sorts of useful stuff for art and cooking based on the list we'd presented her with. Katie had very bravely volunteered for cooking as a learning experiment, figuring that she could find recipes and pick stuff up at the same time as the kids. This was hugely successful. Because of the age and ability range we didn't really do any drama in games and drama, though the same sort of get-people-involved team games you're likely to play in a British drama lesson did see regular outings. James volunteered to cover this slot on a provisional basis and I'm afraid I basically left him in charge of it whilst dashing off in different directions for the next three weeks. Apologies.

Despite things generally working out, it was clear that a system of opt-in activities was needed; although rotation worked smoothly in terms of knowing numbers and allocating staff, there was insufficient space in the areas for art and cooking for fifteen or sixteen. Some kids weren't engaged with the activities (to be perfectly honest, some kids didn't engage with anything—in or out of lessons and with or without a choice of activity. We subsequently lost a few to homesickness, despite many parents coming over to camp on weekends. 11/12—the average age—is a bit young to be spending several weeks away from home for the first time, really. Especially if you only know one, two or none of the people you're going to be spending that time with.) Anyway, they asked Magda for opt-in, she passed it on to us the next day and we got sign-up boards up, I think that lunchtime. Could have been Friday. It's something worth bearing in mind if you run a camp with young 'uns. In addition to which, the financing of the camps seems to have altered in the last few years; rather than being centrally funded by government, rumour has it at least some (or more) parents are now paying kids onto camps—at around 1000zł—so the expectation is a more holiday camp environment. Plus, obviously, the last thing you want to do is to discourage kids from signing up for future camps...

To celebrate—and I think because people hadn't quite adapted yet to having their main meal in the middle of the day and a less substantial repast in the evening—most of us went off in the evening in search of food. Very nice food as it turned out, though we took a while to find a place equipped to deal with a large group turning up. This was achieved by Rich, who approached a passer-by every fifty yards one was available to ask after a dobrze kaviarna. And talk Spanish to them. The first place we tried had some interesting things on the menu, and most of us were prepared to put in some złoty and try some of each dish, but would have involved the barman heating up twenty different portions individually in a microwave. We decided to hold out for a proper restaurant.

When we found one and got inside a couple of people who'd come more for the walk than the prospect of food turned around and headed off again. It did look disconcertingly posh. I'm glad I decided to stay, though... by UK prices food was extremely reasonable, the portions were absolutely massive and it was a good opportunity for people to get to know each other. Paul got a bit blindsided by the size of the measures used in the cocktails; a few people decided to stay out and have beers on the walk back, and the last sight I remember is him sitting down on a step, falling slowly backwards... I'd have kicked myself for not having a camera on me if similar opportunities hadn't presented themselves with such regularity in the days that followed...

Thursday morning we didn't see my sister, but fortunately she was conscious for long enough to hand the immediate to-do list to James and get him to wake me up. In all honesty things went a bit smoother with only one of us being the go-to, as there were fewer situations where one of would get told something and the other not get that info passed on until later. In contrast to the balmy days we'd had thus far (which had seen a lot of mosquitoes and an unidentified species of huge winged beetle turning up in our rooms) there was every sign we'd have some thunder before the day was out.

A couple of lads in our class decided to push their luck by nicking each others' stationery and generally being disruptive, so we held onto them and called in Magda (it would have been futile trying to have a conversation about behaviour without aid of a translator...) This seemed moderately effective, though did have to be followed up a bit the next day.

In the evening there was the expected huge thunderstorm, which we enjoyed from the shelter of the language school steps. Some people made an off-license run whilst the rain was slacking off a bit, and a DVD player was persuaded to work for Father Ted and other entertainment. I also have in my diary, "R has taken fancy to our translator" without any note as to who told me that. At some point in the evening, Sal announced privately that she was thinking of leaving midway through the next week, and asked how much I'd hate her for it. Łukow had worn her out, which I'd always assumed was a possibility. Whilst it was a shame (we do work pretty well together) it wasn't a problem.

Friday we were missing one of our lads, and it turned out he'd bunked the first half of the morning lesson because he hadn't played volleyball yesterday. Leastways, that's how it got fed back to us... he'd actually turned up at one sport and wandered away to another because the other kids wouldn't stand for him messing around. When he did turn up to lessons, though, he turned out to be more than capable. Unlike another couple who couldn't get along with another group for a game outside, so Danielle took them back to the classroom whilst the rest of us supervised. It wasn't just our group who hadn't quite clicked with the whole thing—Joel ended up asking his class what they wanted to do, and the only subject they suggested was poetry. However, despite the tide of "finish lesson" and "go to room" grizzling lots of groups were experiencing, the feedback Magda got from the 'student council' a few days later was extremely positive. For many, I think the first weekend (with trips and parental visits) settled them mentally.

Sal publicly announced that she'd be leaving, as a couple of lie-ins hadn't really helped.

Afternoon activities went well, games and drama seeing the first introduction of its proto superweapon: balloons. They're really great—you can base lots of games off them, and those who don't feel like joining in can amuse themselves for ages. Works with all ages, too. If ever in a similar situation, definitely try to get your hands on plenty of them.

Later we were up for football against the kids, who duly trounced us. The gusting wind and small cars occasionally driving across the pitch had nothing to do with it—they had about fifty athletic hopefuls to pick a team from, and we had us. It ended about 12-1. Afterwards we got invited to a variety performance by the music camp that was winding towards the end of its few weeks, and listened to the story of the Wawel dragon and various instrumental pieces. There was some decent acting too, I'm told, but with classic organisation we and half of the kids in the audience were seated behind a row of chairs.

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In the evening there was a party for us as arrivals and the staff of the music camp. In the event, only one person from another camp turned up, as apparently there was still a big farewell concert to be practised for and set up. This meant that not a lot of the nibbles got eaten (we'd had an evening meal already by this point) and also that there was a fair quantity of drink. Poles pride themselves on hospitality, and there are many, many traditions regarding vodka—most of which have the same end result. I don't think we disappointed in that regard... People on the tables started mixing freely, Paul discovered that the wooden folding chairs really weren't designed for adults, Rich discovered that other people spoke Spanish and was having a grand old time, and quite a lot of people decided to shuffle nearer to a door and partake of smoke and guitar music with their vodka. Bottles kept appearing. Since various people (mentioning no Stephs) had been expecting the alcohol to run out, they'd been necking it back earlier... very soon the only sober bodies were those who hadn't started at all. Sally threw in a bottle of peach liquer, and I put in zubrovka I'd bought at the start of the week, quite confident that I wouldn't be wanting to touch alcohol for a while. What's that? Responsible team leading? We've heard of it.

I'll let photos tell the rest, though bear in mind they're a tiny percentage of those taken. Those taken, in turn, probably record a fraction of events. This may be for the best.

Anyway, time passed. I staggered back to the dorms, dashed back out to retrieve mine and Glyn's cameras, set an alarm and crawled into bed. A few hours later found me walking very carefully through a dining room of kids and trying not to look drunk; Katie and Geoff likewise made it across for food, then we went to wake people up for the trip. At least one person hadn't made it as far as a room, but impressively with a round of quick showers almost everyone made it out into the beating sun in good time to climb aboard the coach. Ye gods, it was hot.

Saturday took in Zamoyski palace and museum, a wood village and Lublin town centre. The kids came for the museum and village, during which time they practically melted so we took the smaller coach into Lublin later with Magda. I'm getting ahead of myself, though... the palace itself was more of a stately home, well-preserved but fairly typical. Also on the site were a couple of ancillary museums, one a permanent installation called The Gallery of Social Realism collecting propaganda art of political leaders and communist ideals. Some pieces I recognised from comparison exercises in GCSE and A-Level History (it's always worth remembering that poster campaigns the world across—including ones over here—were as simplistic and polarising back then. Today we just have tabloids.)

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The wood village was, well, as interesting as recreations of peasant dwellings over various time periods can be, really. Magda came with us to translate what the guide was saying to us, much of which involved obscure vocabulary such as "adze" and "yoke" that she couldn't be expected to know. The guide was clearly warming to the subjects she was talking about, but the walking, heat and hangovers meant we were taking in little of it. If you've been to anything similar before (I have, and I'd been to a Polish wood village too) take a book.

Lublin turned out to have a lot of cafés and fast-food places and not much else in any direction that we could see. The hotdog I had wasn't bad, smothered in gherkins and ketchup, though the cheesecake in the second café could have used fewer nuts and pineapple pieces. We weren't really in any shape to do more than sit and snack, though I would have liked to have found a newsagent or something. On the coach back there was a singalong, which I think was at least in part Rich trying to impress a certain lady.

Some of those who'd stayed in during the day went out for the evening and apparently got up to all sorts, but most of the rest of us were thoroughly bushed...

Sunday involved lots of lovely sleep. After lunch the big move of rooms began, Magda showed me around the doubles they'd allocated in the Bursa and I divvied them up based on existing pairs. I'll admit to nabbing the room above the Polish staffroom with a big blue sign on it, as it made it easy for people to find... it not being up quite as many stairs as some of the others and moderately plush had nothing to do with it, and I even gave some thought to Steph's lungs... meanwhile Richard happily took the only room over on the same wing as the Polish staff, and along with Joel started sculpting it into a pad. Paul and Mark were upstairs from us and everyone else was spread over various floors of the last wing. The steps of the Bursa promptly became the place to congregate.

Somewhere in the move the computer room keys walked, although a suspiciously similar pair turned up in the staffroom a week or so later, so someone from another camp probably had them out of a door during activities. Rather than chance the only remaining set, I figured using the infirmary and the biblioteka—rather than the infirmary and the sklepić—for cooking might be a good idea. If you're wondering, by the way, the infirmary also had things like a cooker and a sink, that's why cooking was done in it... I believe the camp nurse had a different office. Anyway, the new set of keys got attached to a nice big square of folded yellow cardboard, in the hopes no-one would mislay or nick it.

In the evening there was a thunderstorm that made the one we'd had on Thursday seem like a light shower, right after we saw my sister off on a coach to Kraków a few days earlier than planned. Ominous? Well, only if you were thinking that way already...


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