Have you ever been to another country? Which?
I’m not very well-travelled, but I have been to some countries a few times, although with most of them these were just day trips, so as you can guess most of these were our neighbouring countries (Lithuania, Slovakia and Czech Republic). My Mum’s family – namely my grandad – has some Lithuanian heritage, but we also have some distant family – from his side – in eastern Poland, mainly in Masuria. That is also where my Mum was born. Masuria is an amazing place to go for holidays to, because there are a lot of lakes and beautiful views and a lot of yummy food, and a lot of rural areas and tourism is quite a big thing there. So we would often go there to see our family and would often stay at their place and travel in the area or something, during summer holidays. One such year we decided to go a bit further, to Lithuania. Partly because of that family connection, although this is not something we know a lot about or have a strong emotional bond with because it’s just too distant, and partly because I’ve had a devotion to Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, whose chapel is there, and I wanted to visit it, so my Dad had always promised me that we’d go on a pilgrimage there or something, and that’s what we eventually did. Zofijka was only a toddler then. She was also quite little on our next trip – to Slovakia – and often when we were driving somewhere that felt very far to her, she would keep asking: “Are we still in Poland?” which always made us laugh because it sounded as if she was such a globetrotter or a cosmopolitan that she can’t keep track of which country she’s in anymore. 😀
As for Slovakia, one year my Mum persuaded me to go on a summer camp that was organised by my school, and as a way of coaxing me into it she said that they – my family – would go there as well on their own. The whole trip was to the Tatra mountains, here in Poland, because my school had like its quarters there – that is, sort of a closely affiliate school in a village close to the mountains which was for primary school-aged children with some additional learning difficulties other than just blindness, so we were using that school as our base. – I would sometimes do stuff with my school, and sometimes with my family. Sometimes my family would join the school in doing what they had planned to do, and at other times they’d do something different. And my Dad was really keen on the idea of us going to Slovakia, because back when he was going to school, he once went to a school camp in Czechoslovakia and then later even was briefly penpalling with one of the girls from there, which is interesting because while Polish and Czech/Slovak are obviously in the same family of languages and are relatively well mutually intelligible, it’s not like you’ll understand each other all the time if you don’t have some background in the other language, at least that’s my experience, there are a LOT of “false friends” and their spelling also differs a fair bit, so I would never have thought that my Dad would be up for such a challenge and at school age, I’d think that would require some language consciousness that people, let alone school children, don’t always have. Then later on our trip to Czech Republic, to both my and Mum’s great surprise, it was my Dad who was the most communicative and understood people the best, my English was of less use than his Polish and plain ability to understand what people were saying. 😀 We’d never suspected him of a hidden linguistic talent like this. Anyway, because of having such memories with Czechoslovakia, and because of us being close to the Slovak borders and all being into the idea, we felt like it would be fun to go there. And because my Mum always wanted to visit some thermal aquapark or something like this, we were happy to find out that there is one quite close to the border, in Oravice. And, for me personally, that was the most fun day of the whole trip, which overall was, I believe, more exciting to my parents than my siblings and me. 😀 But we had a lot of fun in that thermal aquapark and have been thinking about going there again ever since, but never have so far.
Then, quite a lot later, as an adult already, I went to the Czech Republic only with my parents, because Sofi was on a swimming camp and Olek was working. Again, we were on longer holidays, this time in Silesia, and my Dad really wanted to cross the border. We went to Prague but weren’t really doing anything specific there, just walking around, taking everything in, people watching, listening to the language, trying random foods that we’d never seen before in our own country etc. That was a lot of fun. Then the next day we travelled to Czechia yet again but this time round to some villages and again weren’t doing anything specific. My Dad was chatting to people, me and Mum too but like I said before he was actually the most effective at that and could both be quite well understood and understand the most of us all, I remember we also went to some cemetery there.
And last, but not least, my most adventurous trip abroad so far was to Sweden, but I think most of you know a fair bit about it already. I went to Stockholm and nearby areas, again just with my parents because Sofi was on another swimming camp. This was quite spontaneous, even though my Dad was promising me every year that we’d go. I never believed it because we never ended up going. But that year he also kept saying we’d go to Sweden and then, quite unexpectedly for everyone, we actually ended up doing it. I felt really ambivalent about this trip. It was absolutely awesome, and I loved being immersed in the language and how it improved so incredibly muchh for me in this single week, how I got some real experience of talking to natives, which I had almost none of in Swedish before, or at least certainly not in person. And I heard so much positive feedback about my Swedish, although at the same time whenever I let it show in any way that it’s not my first language people would instantly switch to English so I was often wondering whether my Swedish is really that bad, haha, but I guess people just do it like this in Sweden regardless of your fluency level. It is frustrating from a learner’s perspective, but in fact I’m only starting to understand this phenomenon now that I’ve been helping some people who are learning my language, and I’ve realised that it’s really tempting to just switch to English, which we both know well, because this way we could communicate more quickly and also a bit more clearly, and I wouldn’t have to be mindful all the time of what and how I’m saying so that they could understand me more easily if they’re a beginner, which in turn feels less free and natural. Plus for me it’s probably also that I write much more in English these days than I do in Polish. 😀 But there were even people in Sweden who were surprised when they eventually realised that I’m only learning Swedish, which felt really flattering because I didn’t, and still don’t, feel all that confident in it at all, not as much as in English, my Swedish still feels a little clunky to me and not as comfy to use. But I guess what may be making this initial impressioon on people is that I pick up the phonetics and language prosody easily and perhaps I do a really good job at this one thing in Swedish, that’s what I heard from my Swedish teacher but he wasn’t objective, 😀 which maybe is what to people makes me sound more like a Swede even if I make grammatical/syntax mistakes and use sometimes not the right vocabulary than if it was the other way around – if I were speaking perfectly grammatically but with a weird accent. – If it really works like this, it’s funny that an accent can create such illusions. I loved just listening to people on the streets and observing them. One of the highlights of that trip for me was when we went to the cemetery where there is Cornelis Vreeswijk’s (one of my fazas) grave. I had always dreamt of visiting him there and bringing him some flowers. We had the yummiest Swedish chocolate and ice-cream, there were so many beautiful views that my Mum was in love with, I got lots of children’s books to scan, and, on the last day of our trip, we found a minerals shop, where I got some lovely new gem stones to my collection. I loved the shop owner, who seemed to like me too or perhaps was impressed with my interest with stones or something because he was incredibly nice and talked to me a lot about his stones and how he got them, and showed me lots of them even though initially he wasn’t too happy to let me touch them. The whole trip was extremely exhausting for me though in a lot of ways, and on that last day, I was feeling totally knackered, and when I’m very tired or sleepy or have drank alcohol or something like that, I have a strong tendency for mixing languages, especially if I happened to switch them a lot or was learning one of them intensely earlier that day. My thoughts are a jumble of different languages and sometimes I won’t be able to filter things out and will say something in a different language than I wanted. That can be quite funny, if a bit embarrassing for me or confusing for the other side, although my family are used to it and just ask me what language that was, and my family are who I mostly interact with in person. 😀 Anyways, that was the state of my brain on that day, and at some point, in the middle of my conversation in Swedish with that guy (which was rather challenging in itself because he was speaking super fast and with a rather strong Scanian accent, and Scanian accent is not something I can understand very well, it’s almost like Danish 😀 ), my Mum told me – in Polish of course – that there’s also a huge sapphire there and that it’s soooo very expensive. Instead of replying her in Polish, I did it in English, and was all like oh my I love sapphires I wish I could have it!!! or something along these lines. My Mum, who can’t speak English, didn’t get it, but the shop owner did, and was quite amused. He said he can’t sell that sapphire to me at any significantly lower price, but instead could give me a smaller one for free. And that’s how I got a lovely mini sapphire ball. That’s always something to start with, and I was quite euphoric over getting a sapphire – even if very small – to my collection. But I also bought a lot of other beautiful stones there.
The worse part of the trip was that it was really quite challenging overall, it was absolutely exhausting! First we had to do all the travelling, and my vestibular system went crazy on the ferry, I was freakishly dizzy and it was scary. Most of the trip I was going on a lot higher doses of my anti-anxiety medication than what I normally take, which is probably why a lot of my memories of that time are rather foggy and feel more like a dream or something. My parents don’t speak either English or Swedish, which means I had to do the talking for three people, when I normally struggle doing it just for myself. While my linguistic curiosity was higher than my anxiety, it didn’t make it any less difficult and all the interactioons with people, even though mostly very positive, were really wearing me out. So I was just as super happy leaving as I was going there, and I have the same very ambivalent feelings when thinking about going there again. I’d love it, but when I start to think practically about going through all that socialising and travelling shit again, it makes me feel sick. 😀
How about you. 🙂