In which I have warm, teachery feelings while grading final essays

I’m under a pile of grading, so I can’t write too much, but I just had to record this moment. I’m reading my students’ final essays - in which their task was to identify a writing myth and dismantle it, Mythbusters style - and came across something great from one of my students, who was battling the myth that writing is laborious and boring:

“The advice is simple and clear - try to find in your essay instructions the smallest bit of you and let it grow. Treat your work as yours, not your teacher’s.”

UMM, can I get a hell yes? FIST PUMP!

May these warm, teachery feelings carry me through the rest of this stack of papers. AMEN.

In which I write something inconsequential after months of silence

I get a lot of stares in Poland, a fair amount of which are from Polish grandmothers, or babcie, who, I’m convinced, can’t quite figure me, or what I’m doing here, out. These stares, from formidable Polish women who not only lived through communism but also walk around on the daily with their ankles exposed, save for a thin layer of nylon, to cold Polish air, scare me into keeping my headphones in my ears, and my eyes on the sidewalk.

I’m happy to say that I think I’m wearing them down though. The other day, when I went to pay my rent (remind me to tell my story of rent another time), I passed a babcia on the stairs. I must have looked especially adorable that day, because she stopped, smiled at me, and greeted me. Shocked but pleased, I smiled back, stuttered a “Dzień Dobry,” and scrambled up the stairs.

My next positive encounter with a babcia occurred outside my apartment building. I was walking along, in my usual fashion - that is to say, clumsily - when I tripped just a few feet from the entrance, which caused me to utter a weird but typical Jan noise, which in turn caused me to talk to myself. In the middle of asking myself, out loud, exactly what kind of noise I had just uttered, I looked up and saw a babcia watching me as she made her way to the street. Knowing I looked and sounded especially crazy in that moment, I greeted her, and she didn’t miss a beat. She replied in kind, in a voice that I associate with nice women from musicals set in Victorian America - in other words, she sounded dignified and regal, yet approachable and motherly, and babcia-ly, in a good way.

Today, I significantly upped my babcia game. On my way to the tram stop, I passed a babcia who was fumbling to unlock a gate while her muzzled dog was going a little nuts. She asked me, in Polish, if I could help her with the key, and I replied, in Polish, that of course I would. I unlocked the gate, she thanked me, and I went on my merry way.

And the babcie smiled down on me. And it was good.

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In which I render the name of this blog useless

Dear friends,

As we predicted, my name has been the source of some confusion here. Of course, this problem isn’t exclusive to Poland. In large lectures during college, my name was often pronounced two ways during roll - first, Jan (as in the name of the middle sister from the Brady Bunch), and then a hesitant “Yan,” at which I would have to shake my head. But in Poland, or w Polsce as they say, where a J sounds like a Y, and where Jan is such a common boy’s name - like the equivalent of John - it’s always “Yan” first. In Warsaw, I was handed an orientation packet bearing the name “Mr. Jan M. Andres.” The executive director of the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commisson looked at me, looked at the name, and apologetically scribbled “Ms.” over the tag. When I got to Ołówek (the name of the dorm we stayed in for orientation, which means “pencil”) in Wrocław, our dear guide and orientation leader, Roland - from here on, Rolly - took one look at me and said, “We thought you were a boy.” I ended up in a suite with Barkev - from here on, Barry - who has the greatest laugh and the reddest pants of all the 2011-2012 Poland Fulbrighters. From there, I became Pani Yan (which means Ms. Jan and is still confusing and funny because it’s something like a Filipino having an auntie named Boy), until Barry had the great idea of calling me Janka. Upon arriving in Łódź, where I’ll be staying for the rest of the year, I had a nice obiad (dinner which in the U.S. we might call a late lunch, but as one lovely tour guide put it, “we don’t eat lunch in Poland”) with my contact and his family, during which we discussed this name confusion and the suggestion of Janka as an alternative. They liked it so much that when they helped me set up my internet connection, we collectively decided that it should be called Janka. My contact - who, by the way, is the best ever - also suggested that we go ahead and change my name to Janka on the course listing. So yes, my name has been the source of much laughter, but it’s been the friendly, good-natured kind, the kind that nudges friendships along.

I know this is a late first post, but this is just the beginning, really. Welcome to my blog of Polish adventures.


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