by Mackenzie Kalisiewicz (CIEE Study Abroad, Fall 2015, Warsaw, Poland)
In the fall of 2015, I traveled to Warsaw, Poland through CIEE to study history. I was able to explore the country where my family roots originated. I used this experience to heighten my education while creating memories I will never forget.
Traveling to Poland was my first time leaving the United States. When I arrived in Warsaw, I was greeted by the smiling faces of the CIEE directors and a student helper who attended the Warsaw School of Economics. Each of us in the program were given a helper to show us around the city and to give us advice. This helper was welcoming and guided everyone in our group to make sure our time in Poland was memorable.
The most influential class I took while in Poland was “Jews in Poland and the Holocaust.” Being a part of that class was an eye-opening experience that I will never forget. I learned about the Jewish culture in Poland and Eastern Europe from 966 A.D., when Poland became a Christian country, to today. That course, along with another history course, helped me identify the topic of history I would like to focus my studies on in the future. At some point, I would like to go to graduate school to study Eastern European History, with an emphasis on Polish history.
On the weekends, I was able to take advantage of exploring different countries by bus and train. Being my first time in Europe, I took advantage of this opportunity. One of the best weekends I had was in Vilnius, Lithuania. I traveled to Lithuania with my roommate and we met people from Australia, Germany, Spain, Latvia, and Scotland. One person we met though our time there was a historian studying in Riga, which was a pleasant coincidence. Aside from the people we met, we got to see beautiful sights. I would not have been able to travel to Lithuania if it were not for my semester abroad.
As a group, us CIEE students went on special trips to Kraków and Gdansk. These city explorations were designed to inform us about different regions of Poland and also to study the history of the area. In Kraków, we visited the Kazimierz district and Wawel Castle, then visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Gdansk, we visited the Solidarity Museum and walked around the Old Town. Being a history major, I enjoyed the tours we were given; they opened my eyes to a history that is not taught in America.
During my semester abroad, I used a book to document experiences and facts either learned along the way or during tours. By the time I went home, I was able to fill the book about halfway with unforgettable moments. The majority of the book consists of historical facts from different countries that I learned on tours. My directors suggested doing this at the beginning of the program and I chose to do so because I wanted a way to remember as much as possible from that experience.
All in all, I owe a lot to CIEE for giving me an opportunity to explore a country's history that I was formerly unaware of. My study abroad experience has guided me to identify what I want to do in the future - explore Eastern European history further and make a career out of it - because I believe people should be more informed about the history of countries in this region.