It’s a site a little off the beaten path for a summer internship abroad and even the intern admits the choice was a little ‘random’ but Granville graduate Lily McDermott of Hebron said she learned a lot during a summer spent teaching English in Poland.
Heading into her junior year at the California Polytechnic State University or Cal Poly the business major she said she was inspired to investigate the group offering internships by her sister’s adventures in Africa.
“I went through the same organization that Kate went through when she went to AIESEC for student-run interships. I wanted to go somewhere in Europe and then Poland had a ton of internships for English speakers, so I went there. It was really exciting and very different,” she said.
AIESEC (pronounced like Issac, it is a French acronym) is a club at some colleges which is student run, it was the the same organization her older sister worked with during an internship.
McDermott said she decided to work abroad instead of studying abroad in January.
The group provided access to a database with a list of interships available around the world. Soon after sending a resume, McDermott said she did an interview over the internet via Skype and soon she was accepted.
During most of her time in Poland McDermott said she was in the third biggest city in Poland, Lodz (pronouced “Whooch”) which has a population of about 1 million people.
“It was a little rough around the edges,” McDermott said.
The foundation, which has been running for 12 years, provides kids ages 8 – 15 from around Poland a week’s vacation.
McDermott said they foundation tours the kids around the city showing them cultural sites as well as doing fun thing like taking them to the pool.
Her task, along with the three other interns, was to try to teach the kids some English during that time.
“It was cool because the kids were very eager to know anything, especially about the U.S. because they watch all of the movies…” she said.
“The foundation, the Polish name of it I can barely say myself is called (Fundacja Dziewczynka z Zapatkami) or the Little Match Girl Foundation. The story the name of the founadation comes from is about a poor little girl who only had matches to keep warm.
“It’s this very sad story,” she said.
McDermott said she lived right in the foundation building with three other roommates in a dormitory-like set up. “That was the coolest part of the whole thing, I think, is that I lived with people from different countries. They had interns from around the world there with me so one was from Spain, one was from France and one was from Columbia,” McDermott said.
For six weeks they lived in one room with two bunk beds, “but it was great, they were awesome it would have been a lot different without them there.”
Unlike her roommates, she didn’t pick up much vocabulary during the trip she admits. “Polish is such a difficult langauge, I learned a few words but it’s very, very (difficult),” McDermott said.
The kids the four roomates taught were a mix of poor kids and middle class.
One of the most difficult things she had to do was try to scold some of the kids when they were misbehaving.
“Trying to scold a kid in Polish when they don’t speak any English is one of the most difficult things, you just have to make like a mean face and…that was tricky, it was frustrating, it was really frustrating,” she said.
McDermott said it was challenign teaching the kids because they had such a low level of exposure to English that it just came down to parrotting and pointing at an object and saying the English word for it.
“I feel like I learned a lot more than the kids did because I was going around a new city,” McDermott said.
Suprises were few during the entire trip, but McDermott said they were certainly suprises.
Because she was being invited to come and teach English she said naturally assummed many, if not most of the people she would meet would speak a smattering of English – not so.
Even in Germany, McDermott said she found it difficult to find an English speaker to help her out after missing a connecting flight out of Berlin to Ahmsterdam.
“It was a little scary because I thought everyone in Germany would know a little English, but I was surprised English was not (widely spoken). In Poland, people over the age of 30 the people didn’t speak very much English at all,” McDermott said.
“You have to adapt, but it was a good experince,” she said.
McDermott said Poles were always shocked when she told them she was from the U.S. It was a startling constrast versus when people come to the U.S. and Americans immediately want to show the country off; they’re not surprised someone would want to visit. When she met Polish kids her age, McDermott said their first question was often ‘why would you choose Poland?’
The people seemed to be a little isolationist, almost standoffish, at first.
Always quick with a smile, one of the things McDermott said she found most difficult to deal with was the demeanor of the people before she got to know them.
“The people are not as outwardly friendly, you have to get to know them for them to take off the (mask) everyone’s very serious there – it was very hard for me because I’m not very serious and always smiling,” she said.
Part of that could stem from the history of a country often found between a rock and a hard place when other nations went to war.
“I felt Poland has a ton of history, very sad history, they’ve kind of been walked all over and you can totally tell. As soon as you get there it’s just kind of a little bit depressing,” she said.
McDermott said she was glad she went to one place for six weeks and got the chance to take a long, careful look at one place and one culture.
“I really got to see Polish people and what they were like and how they lived, so I like that aspect of it instead of doing (a tour) so I’m glad I did this now instead of doing a month and seeing every country,” McDermott said.
“I definitely have the travel bug,” McDermott said. After staying in a hostel in Krakow during the trip McDermott has been inspired to travel more. “I met people from all over the world talking about how they had been traveling for months,” she said. Now she hopes to go and live abroad at some point, possibly following school.