Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Studying Environmental Engineering in Kraków Poland

My time as a Fulbright Fellow living abroad in Kraków Poland has been incredibly rewarding. Over the past year, I have come to more truly understand the people of Poland and what it is like to live amongst them. I lived in Poland twice before (1989 and 1998) as a child because my father was a Fulbright Scholar, and he worked as a guest lecturer at the Cracow University of Technology. Each time I have come back, the country has change dramatically, and I have also changed much from when I first lived here at the age of two. Returning as an adult in the Fall of 2009, I fully integrated myself into Polish culture. I arrived two weeks early to enroll in an intensive Polish language course at Jagiellonian University. This is one of the oldest schools in Europe, established in 1364, where actually Copernicus studied. The city of Kraków has an ancient magical feel to it, and it was pretty incredible to take language classes next to the grand Wawel Castle. These intensive language classes jump started my Polish, and they allowed me to quickly integrate into society. I obtained an apartment near the city center, enrolled in Argentinian Tango courses, attended a local Catholic church, and joined a gym because I wanted to fully experience life in Kraków. I figured that the best way to become apart of a society is to do what people do in this society. Participating in these things that only a local would do exposed me to a group of people I never would have met as a tourist.
I continued my Polish language courses, and this allowed me to gain a comfortability with the Polish language. This garnered me huge respect from Polish people I met because most Americans who know Polish, unlike me, either have Polish parents or a Polish spouse. My proficiency grew quickly and I was speaking at a conversational level about four months into my stay here. This proved very useful in my day-to-day life and later opened up many doors for me with my project. I hope also when I return to the US, my language skills will sustain my link to Poland and allow me to interact with Polish-Americans on a different level.
My project here at Politechnika Krakowska has been to statistically model the water infrastructure of the city of Kraków to predict failures. This proved not as straightforward as initially expected. The situation in a country changes a lot from when you write your proposal to when you are actually able to carry out the project. When I arrived in September, the partnerships in place a year previous had dissolved, and my expected sources for sewer-network data no longer wished to pursue this project. I changed course immediately and shifted towards another source focusing on the water-supply network of Kraków. This also proved a challenge because I corresponded with my source for data at the water company via my advisor and not directly. This was when my language skills became so necessary because they allowed me to take my project into my own hands and directly pursue these data. One of the things you learn quickly about a Fulbright is that it's really what you make of it, and things you want to do, you have to do yourself. The next thing you must learn is to be very persistent. There are reasons why no one has done this project that you proposed previously, and you must overcome these reasons to complete what you originaly set out to do.
In addition to taking language classes, I also took classes in environmental engineering. These courses were taught in English with both Polish students and European students studying on the Erasmus program. This exposed me to students from all over Europe, and the people I met were fascinating. With the United States being in the spotlight of the world and it's recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many people are interested in hearing what my perspectives are. This is, at times, a lot of pressure being a representative of the US, and sometimes political conversations will come up about American policy, past and present. I highly recommend to future Fulbrighters to be abreast of current events and past history.
Whereas my project here will eventually be completed, the relationships I have made both professional and personal will be the things I carry with me. I kept a blog of my travels, and one of the culminating experiences where I truly realized all of the relationships I had made over the past year was when I ran in the Cracovia Marathon. On the 25th of April after 16 weeks of training (many in the snow), I ran my first Marathon. In attendance were my parents with my aunt, our Polish family friends from Kraków, my professors at Politechnika, and my good friends here in Kraków. After a long 26 miles, 3 hours 40 min 5 sec, I crossed the finish line to the loud cheers of my family and friends who had all come together to see me, and I realized how lucky I am to be living here with all of these people from many parts of my life supporting me. I am very thankful for all the tools that Georgia Tech provided me to put me here today. Tech gave me a great education for which I see no limits. Thank you so much to Dr. Adams for all the help she gave me in preparing the application. Also, thank you to Dr. Goldberg for the advice on the necessity to learn Polish. It has truly enhanced my experience. Additionally, thank you to Professors Jim Dai and David Goldsman at Tech and Dr. Patrick Lammie at the CDC for writing me great letters of recommendation and for all that you have taught me. Finally, I must thank my parents for their unwaivering support and love. Their brave choice to live in Poland with their family twice before has given me the confidence to take on the world, and for that I will always be grateful.


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