Posted On: Sep 16, 2019
International Student Exchange Programme
7-18 September 2019, Krakow, Poland
It was a warm welcome indeed with the presence of all the students who visited Malpi last year and their parents. Our students then went with them to the homestay program. As for three of us, we were taken by Anna to the center of the old town to our Apartment with three bedrooms, a sitting room, and a kitchen. It's huge and very cozy. We then went out for a short stroll and early dinner with Anna and Founding Principal. A very enjoyable eve indeed!
Do note the thali contained bread and salt. We had to take a slice of bread and apply a pinch of salt and then eat it. It's their traditional welcome. Strange but then they might also find our 'aarti' ceremony weird.
Formal Welcome by the Principal of ViII Palo, Poland. It was followed by sharing of their Visit to our School by one of their students and performance of traditional Polish folk dances by a professional troupe. We all joined the dance at the end. It was fun indeed.
Our second day in Poland was the visit to Auschwitz Birkenau, the largest concentration camp of the Nazis where about 1.1 million jews and a few other nationalities were exterminated in gas chambers. We walked through numerous buildings and got to see the actual process of how the Jews were brought to the camp and put to death without any hints to them. We also saw the photographs, a huge amount of human hair, countless shoes and suitcases, the original coach used to transport them, gallows, etc. There were some remnants of the original gas chambers destroyed by the Nazis just before their surrender. Many second and third-generation Jews were seen visiting the place in a white shirt. It seems one of their family members had been a victim in the Camp and so they were paying respect. It was truly a lifetime experience for all of us to witness and feel such a ghastly event of the 20th century. I was personally a bit traumatized but felt fortunate to have visited Auschwitz Birkenau. I recommend highly to all to visit it too.
Our Third Day in Poland - Visit Salt Mine. We walked 800 steps down below the ground. And then, we continued our walk through different Chambers all comprising of salt including the floors, wall, ceilings, etc. We saw lots of beautifully carved statues, also from salts, and were requested not to touch them since they could meltdown with the rise in temperature. Our walk continued down the steps until we reached 135 meters below. We saw so many large-sized chambers, ponds, etc Amazingly, one of the chambers was a carved out Cathedral which contained statues and sculptures of Bible and altar for conducting mass. It is also booked for the wedding ceremony with the capacity of 1000 guests. We then returned in the elevator which took about 45 seconds to reach the ground surface. But then the salt mine extended 6 more levels below 135 meters. Once again, the experience of the Salt Mine was truly incredible. I believe it is one of the World Heritage Sites. One needs to visit it to experience such a historical feat of the Polish when salt was precious, even more than the gold.
Fourth Day in Poland-We had a guided walking tour in and around Krakow. The old city is a beautiful medieval town with gothic architecture all around. Lots of churches and a historical Castle on the hilltop which are well maintained and worth visiting. We then went around the previous Jewish settlements which have been preserved. Very few Jews are now in Poland as many of them were driven away during the Communist rule. About 10 million tourists visit Krawkaw annually. It is a vibrant, cultural and cosmopolitan city indeed!
After the tour, our students returned with their buddies to their host family homes. As for us, two teachers and myself, we were once again taken to a famous restaurant in the Jewish district for dinner. The Principal and his spouse along with a few of his teachers joined the dinner too. We enjoyed the Jewish and Polish food along with Jewish music and songs in the background. A memorable evening.
Fifth Day in Poland- We departed early morning at 626am to Warsaw by train. It was a high-speed train and extremely comfortable. We reached Warsaw in two and a half hours. We visited The Palace of Culture and Science. It's the highest building in Poland which was a gift from the Russian Govt. The view from the top of the Palace (Tower) provided an opportunity to see all the important landmarks in Warsaw. Then we continued to The Invisible Center and Science Center. Both were an eye-opener to our students. They got to experience being blind and were familiarized with Braille. The activities in the Science Center were interactive and the setup and materials were extremely innovative. All in all, it was a learning experience for all of us. Our students seemed pretty impressed with the infrastructure and the layout of Warsaw City, ie. broad roads, underground railways, excellent tram service, huge malls, countless food courts, and restaurants, etc. Surprisingly, the City is pretty orderly, clean, less crowd, few traffic jams, and nice people. I just can't believe that the City was annihilated in the Second World War. Hats off to the Polish people for rebuilding it. Except that the buildings are modern, concrete and high-rising unlike Krawkow with Gothic architecture and culture.
Sixth Day in Poland, Friday, 14 September 2019-We woke up late as we had two hectic days of sightseeing in Krakow and Warsaw earlier. We then took a hop on and hop off the tourist sightseeing bus in the morn. We got to see all the monuments, memorials, markers and other significant areas in and around Warsaw city. Some of the Streets were well decorated with flowers on either side and were very impressive indeed. The Old Town was a surprise as it was filled with Gothic-style buildings and with lots of tourists moving around. It was a beautiful sight to witness. It seems that these buildings including the Royal Palace were rebuilt after the Second World War by the Polish themselves. Totally amazing as they are the exact replicas of the old buildings which were completely destroyed. No wonder this Old Town has been recognized as a World Heritage Site. We also went to the Illusion Center where the students had total fun experiencing different perspectives and amazing magical feats. We returned to Krakow at nite by train. It was such a joy to see our students picked up by their host parents and buddies at the Railway Station. They were all waiting for them. Glad that our students have really adjusted well and the Polish families seem happy too. I am sure both the families and our students will have a difficult time bidding farewell. But then they will have something worthwhile to treasure throughout their life. The homestay program in this International Exchange Programme has been the major highlight.
Eighth Day in Poland, Sunday, 15 September 2019- last day in Poland. Early morning, the host families and all of us gathered at 8 am at the Airport in Krakow. The Principal and some of the staff members of VIII Palo were also present. After the check-in, we all hugged and bid the final goodbye. Many host parents came to me to thank personally once again. All in all, the Polish are very warm people. Our students were not only treated well but the host families went out of their way to provide an enjoyable time. The buddies of our students took them out every eve to malls and other places for entertainment. As for us, teachers, we were treated to dinner at special places every nite. I just didn't imagine the VIII PALO and the host families would contribute so much of their personal time to make our experience so memorable. They were present in all the major functions. Further, they participated in the Community Service along with us. It seems that they are so grateful to us for the visit of their children to Malpi and sincerely want to pay back us for our contribution. We landed in the eve in Paris via Copenhagen. The flight was smooth as we had a good rest in the transit, Copenhagen.