Poland 2007: Back to Puławy, introductory blurb ►

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2008-05-28Poland 2007: Puławy, first week

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I haven't noted this down, but I assume that on Friday we had a meeting with Mr Smyrgała and Mrs Morawska (Magda's mom) – finding out that we could expect about 130 kids to turn up over the weekend, that some of them might be a bit younger than anticipated, and that they hadn't had much response to local adverts, with one confirmed English lektor living in Puławy to be joining us.

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We put forward some suggestions (such as running cooking amongst the afternoon activities, since it'd gone down well previously) and were told we'd have some extra help from the Polish staff since things were so shorthanded. Apparently at least one other camp was so low on staff the kids were actually getting a split timetable, with English lessons on one day, activities with their Polish counsellors the next, then groups switching, but we decided we'd shoot for everything as normal. Four of us knew each other and had been before, Rodney had been doing camps for years and some others had prior teaching experience, which I think were deliberate team choices by Mr Palka, including urging some people to do two camps rather than just one.

We also discovered that quite a few of the Polish staff spoke English well (and one or two staff, such as Sylwia – the one with dark hair, not Błazej's girlfriend – we'd met before) which made organising things a lot easier – Magda hadn't even been meant to translate for a camp as she had her wedding coming up, but popped in when she could because we were returning. Effectively we had several translators, plus in a pinch you can always ask the kids to help you out.

There wasn't a lot else to be done at that stage (we had an entrance test ready, just needing to be duplicated) so we took people into town to show them around and see what had changed. In addition to a Carrefour (no longer badged as Champion) and a Kaufland supermarket, Puławy now has a medium-size shopping centre with an Empik (chain similar to a combination HMV and Waterstones), electrical retailers, lots of shoe shops (which Magda seemed particularly pleased about) and other typical mall stores. The top floor is mostly fast food and an internet café, which is where we ended up for beer and ice-cream. The centre has a site here.

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We went to Sabat (a bar just around the corner) in the evening, most people getting fairly drunk, taking over the dance floor and mixing with the regulars. The team were bonding nicely, in the way you pretty much have to in these kind of situations.

On Saturday Mark was talking about buying a tiny car he'd seen with a for sale sign and driving it back to the UK, and we met our extra member of staff, Karen. She turned out to be an ex-pat who'd been working in Puławy for a few years after getting contacts via APASS, though she hadn't started by doing camps – she'd just moved out there and taught herself Polish in the process. Scarily impressive. We arranged a meeting for later in the day to get everyone together, sort out groups and see what resources people had with them that might be useful, then wandered back out to Galeria Zielona for internet and I picked up a trade paperback of Panie Łaskawe: Część II (part two* of The Kindly Ones) – I was looking for Death: The High Cost of Living or part two of the first Sandman bookin Polish, but that was a good compromise as I love the art and the language is also quite stripped-down; all-in-all, it's easy enough to follow if you've read it before, and I was hoping to be able to pick out some vocabulary by context. I think comics are a good way of learning a bit of a language – you've got an explanation of what's going on in the art, and a story for interest. That's my excuse, anyway...

[*I don't understand how half a book appears to be as thick as I remember the full one being in English. I'm pretty sure there isn't that much difference in the paper stock.]

People turned out to have some very interesting resources (most so interesting I've forgotten them in the gap between then and writing this...) – Karen particularly, from the school teaching and personal tutoring she'd been doing. We sorted out teaching partners, Tam and James taking top groups, me and Lisa one 2 and 3 as Karen had volunteered to take the bottom group herself and was happy to spend dedicated time with one group rather than switch between two. This kept things reasonably simple, and after the meeting we arranged a mass photocopying session once we could get keys to the biuro sekretariat – in the meeting the day before we'd already sorted out a non-teaching room to use for staff materials and meetings that Paul or I would keep the key to, with a net-connected computer.

Teaching spaces on camp are pretty variable and shared with whatever other camps might be using the site at the same time. We arrived just as a Ukrainian camp was ending, with another not due for a while, so got a pick. For teaching we had the rooms downstairs (redecorated since we'd seen them) plus a hall upstairs and two halls in an adjacent building. Paul called dibs on the long cellar room we'd be using for the oral tests and hoped to get a TV and DVD player set up in (and it was a good job we did and had brought films, given the turns the weather took over the next few weeks...)

I assume we ended up in another bar because I've left the note "second wind at 2am" – that was probably the evening that people reconvened in Steph and Mark's room when she was trying to sleep. I think we met Marek for the first time, and that some of the kids had started turning up by this point. One thing that did come out when we were sitting up talking was the amount of hogwash people had written for their APASS application profiles. Lisa's had been written by someone else entirely.

Sunday saw some basic lesson planning, though my plan was mainly to have a joint who-everyone-is session with groups two and three before splitting up in the second half of the teaching session and doing a synched topic to see how much group two knew. We wouldn't have too much idea until Monday's tests were in and marked, but I wasn't hugely hopeful because a slightly younger camp had been merged with ours. In the meeting the day before I'd gone through some suggested topics and we'd picked a number of them that everyone would be expected to cover, and which we could base an exit test on at the end of camp. We'd also got together a list of stationery for Magda to try to get for lessons (and art as an afternoon activity, which Rodney had volunteered as his speciality.) I realised I'd let myself in for running cooking and decided to start with something simple like cheese straws, though thankfully there was some switching around of who was running what later on...

Carrefour was rediscovered, including their ace Cornetto-style ice-creams that cost less than a złoty (under 20p) and in the evening Tatra Mocne, a beer that isn't particularly beer-like (mocne means strong, not dark, and piwo porter is often as sugary as the regular beer) but tastes very crisp and clean, not hugely lager-like at all.

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On Monday we got an official opening of camp, with everyone out on the football yard to introduce the Polish staff and us. We found out that Mr Smyrgała's son Błazej was there as one of the Polish staff, I said a few words about the programme and our team (I don't think anyone had been told Paul was also a leader; it was on the paperwork I'd received from APASS but not what had been forwarded to the camp) and Marek took photos of absolutely everything – inspired by the photobooks assembled by previous years' camps (yeah, the one from 2005 was still in the office.) People managed to slightly offend Karen by guessing her age, when she asked, as thirty-something... she's actually the same age as me.

After that our camp was invited to a fashion show by the Ukrainian camp that was in the process of wrapping up. We couldn't really leg it, so sat through I-don't-know-how-long of designs, occasionally inappropriate dancing and gymnastics. Admittedly some of the costumes were quite impressive for stuff designed and made whilst on a camp, though the only thing that stuck in my head is that one of the girls looked like someone I went to school with.

Tests were a written paper with short essay (with the number of students and amount of space to do it, we had to assume everyone probably shared answers) and a short conversational oral. There weren't any tears this year, which was particularly impressive considering the age range – or maybe the people we had doing did the oral tests a couple of years ago were just horrible, I dunno...

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It's important to remember that these camps are as much an interactive holiday thing as intensive language environment, so the tests and settings aren't expected to be astoundingly accurate. Indeed, it's helpful to have one or two 'better' kids per lower group, which usually ends up being the case whether you plan on it or not – they're usually sitting next to friends, there'll often be requests for group moves, etc. and if the person they want with them wouldn't be completely out of their depth, it's better for everyone concerned if you go with the shuffling. Unhappy people don't learn well.

Marking was a group exercise to let people know what they were in for, except for the essay which – in order to keep scoring fair – only one person can do. I opted to do them for the entry test, with Paul opting for the exit test ones. Then we took the list of names Magda had helpfully typed up for us and sorted out eleven groups.

In the evening we went to Atmosfera, the really ace basement pizza place around the corner that does massive cheap pizzas and garlic dipping sauce.

Tuesday morning wasn't bad, if a little bit primary-school-ish for me and my teaching partner. I'll admit to nipping out to Carrefour for a pack of Lucky Strikes, though I didn't actually smoke more than a few over the course of camp; just having the option of something stupid and self-destructive on-hand suffices, really. Afternoon activities were a bit shambolic as far as cooking went – the cooker is a rudimentary electric one with dials that have long since rubbed off, I can't cook, and I completely forgot that self-raising flour doesn't seem to exist in Poland, so what we'd got was plain plus sachets of baking powder that remained unnoticed until too late. Cheese pepper flour biscuits, not particularly pleasant... art, volleyball, football, etc. seemed to go okay, though everyone who runs the 'games' option tends to grow to hate it pretty quickly – a couple of hours is a long block of time to think of new things to do, and if you opt for more energetic games everyone gets tired. 'Games' became cricket quite quickly this time around, IIRC, though not as quickly as Scottish Dancing became games after Lisa's enthusiasm for it waned.

I was struck on Wednesday by how much more active group three were than group two – an inverse and high ratio of girls to boys, too. Generally speaking they'd get through about twice as much vocab and practise games per topic, having had an extra year or so to absorb material and gain some confidence using it, plus generally better social skills – boys are a bit less willing to be corrected, though there are exceptions. It wasn't just me; Lisa also found group three a lot more willing to talk. In fact, she made one of my group cry because he thought he knew the vocab for a game (he was the best there and could easy have moved up a group) but got into it before he realised he really didn't.

The afternoon's cooking had baking power, a lot more cheese and went down well with spicy ketchup. A surprising number of the same kids turned up to have another shot at it. The food for main meals had been remarkably pleasant too – sometimes it can be rather basic or repetitive, but this time around was genuinely enjoyable a lot of the time. The menus went up in advance and copies got sent to parents, I think, so maybe some had said something in previous years.

Basic Polish was managing to get correct keys to rooms from the cleaning ladies, though one thing that did amuse was that Magda didn't seem to have given her phone number to the Polish staff – fortunately we had it on a contact sheet when we were trying to find out where ingredients had been left. Other afternoon activities got rained off, so the TV and DVD player was sorted out and Indiana Jones with subs put on.

In the evening we went out for James' 21st, back to Atmosfera for giant pizza. The food was good as ever, though by the time we wound up in Sabat again I'd decidedly  had enough of bars and was playing bits of Larkin's Vers de Société through my head. Nothing against any of the people I was with, I just get bored with sitting in them quite quickly, and especially after a few evenings of doing that.

By this point we'd started hand-washing, with the promise of everyone rooming together on one floor with a washing machine once the Ukrainian camp were off. That happened the next day, and after classes and activities we decided to stay in with a movie and wine. I think there were evening activities, but either not the type we could usefully get involved in or early fatigue was starting to set in. We didn't get a printed timetable for a while, and my notes for this week are rather sparse. I do remember Night at the Museum was a terrible film and got aborted in favour of The Ninth Gate, which most people gradually filtered from the room during in favour of an early night.

Friday's lesson for our groups was food and the consolidation of animals. If Lisa's group were right, the hunter's pancake we had a couple of years back was a placek po węgiersku (some of the pictures via Google images do look like it.) In the evening we went out with the Polish staff and found out that Rodney taught Kasia five years ago. Marek confessed to loving trees, Lisa lost a phone and broke a camera, Tam lost her purse and generally people were quite drunk on wodka. Paul opted to spend the latter part of the evening recumbent on a bench, innocent bushes were probably mauled by the people who took shortcuts back to camp, and at some point Lisa did extensive damage to her knees (then reopened the wounds on various subsequent evenings.)

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Saturday was a field trip to Muzeum Zamoyskich w Kozłówce,  a big stately home not far from Puławy. It was a fairly lazy day, the last we anticipated since the following weekend we were going to try to arrange a trip to Ukraine (skipping the Kazimierz Dolny excursion, a feat I've now managed every time I'm in the area...)

The next day it was discovered that the washing machine had stopped working, which caused a bit of consternation. Afterwards (starting at about half-ten-ish) the Polish staff had a party over in the adjoining building, to which most of our lot went.


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