Last winter semester (Oct`15 - Feb´16) I‘ve been in Lublin, Poland for one semester abroad. I've never been to Poland and knew almost nothing about it. Therefore I experienced more than I ever thought. In this article, I'll tell you stories about my life in a flat.
Please note: This text is part of a competition for former Erasmus students, which have been for one semester (or longer) at the John Paul II. Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. One of the requirements is, that the text (article / blog or video) is in English. That‘s the reason why I wrote this text in English and not in German. Enjoy reading!
It‘s hard for me to believe, that I‘ve had my semester abroad in Lublin - a city very far in the east of Poland. I had to go abroad, because the regulations of my university „told me to do so“. And to be honest: Before I went to Lublin, I haven‘t thought much about Poland in general. Of course I knew, the capital city is Warsaw, geographically it‘s a direct neighbour of Germany and the few things I could remember from History classes in school (WW2 etc.). This information itself is embarrasing enough - and it wasn‘t even the only one. While I was preparing my trip to Lublin, I realized something: The less I knew about Poland, the more I knew for example about the United States - and they‘re even on another continent. But in my head and in my mind, the United States felt closer to me than Poland.
How should I describe it? It felt like, there is some sort of map in my head. And everytime I tried to get closer to Poland within this imaginary map, I felt like there was an also imaginary wall. Like the world inside my head stopped existing at the German-Polish-Border. That‘s why I was even more excited and curious about going to Lublin. I finally wanted to cross this border and expand my inner world and get to know at least a little of „eastern culture“.
Last winter semester (Oct`15 - Feb´16) I‘ve been in Lublin. Now I‘d like to tell you my most interesting or most exciting stories, I‘ve experienced there. And after thinking, re-thinking and remembering, I want to tell you about several stories. Because I wrote so much - I've experienced a lot! - I decided to split it up and make three articles instead of a big one. I linked the other articles / stories for you right below, so it's easier for you to find it.
Story Nr. 1) „Living in a flat“
Before I went to Lublin, I lived alone in a small apartment in Germany. I had a small kitchen, a living room (which was my sleeping room and my working room at the same time) and a very small bathroom. Most of the time it was very quiet in my neighbourhood - even, when my neighbours invited some people for dinner or celebrated in the party cellar, they were never too loud and respected the regulation of silence in the night between 10pm and 6am.
When I applied for Lublin, I got an E-Mail with the offer to rent a room in a flat. It was quite cheap (about 580 Złoty = 145 Euro per month) and I thought, it would be an interesting experience, considering, I never lived together with other people together in one flat. So I paid the reservation fee and booked a room there. The probably biggest surprise for me was: With whom will I share this flat? I had no clue and no one told me something about my future flatmates. So the first time I met my flatmates was the first day I arrived in Lublin. We were five girls in this dorm and my flatmates were: Léna (from France), Maria and Rocio (both from Spain) and Melis (from Turkey). Because I was the last one who arrived, it was easy for me to pick a room. Right after I closed the door, I put my suitcase in one corner and looked around. There was a bed (without a pillow or a blanket), a simple desk, some cupboards, a small wardrobe and a heater. That was it. I tried to think about, what to do next. I freshened up a little, because travelling to Lublin was exciting, but also exhausting. Besides, I haven‘t slept the night before and I wanted to meet later that day with Magda (my Guardian Angel) and David (from France) to get some things I might need for the first few days.
But after I freshened up a little and changed my clothes, I was sitting down on my bed and started to cry. I didn‘t know why, but all of a sudden I felt alone, scared, frightened and desperate. I was starting to think „I can‘t make this!“, I felt so lost in this place - on the airport in Warsaw was the first time I was confronted with the Polish language in real life (I bought a box to learn at least some words in Polish, but still I just didn‘t get it). I felt completely overwhelmed and in this moment I thought, I would never get it. I would never understand it. To make this situation „perfect“, I started to get homesick. That was the only moment during my entire time in Lublin, where I desperately wanted to go home. I‘ve never been that far away from home. I tried to calm down and cleaned up my face. I didn‘t want Magda to see me crying. Or to let her know, that I actually cried. Thinking of it now, maybe the reason why I started crying in this moment was because in this moment I definitely arrived at my „final destination“. All the tension I had during travelling there relieved and freed the space for all the other thoughts and emotions. It was like a leaking dam, which finally broke. Well, guess I just had my first severe cultural shock in this moment.
It might be a surprise - or maybe not - but I really overcame this moment and started to arrange myself with the new situation. Probably it helped a lot, that I wasn‘t alone that day and went shopping with Magda and David. I told Magda, that there weren‘t any blankets or pillows in my room, so she lent me a blanket and a sleeping bag, I used as a „substitute pillow“, for the first few weeks. She also lent me some plates, knives, forks, spoons and glasses from her. I really appreciated it. The only thing, that could‘ve been better is to turn on the heaters earlier than to wait until the middle or end of November. You might not believe it - actually it was still pretty warm in Lublin around October`16, but during the night it was getting really cold in the rooms. Sure, Magda borrowed me a blanket, but the blanket was quite thin. So, as long I was waiting for my father to send me a thicker blanket via mail (and other things), I always went to bed with a sweater.
Well about life in the flat itself - it went quite well. Of course, sometimes we had arguments. I think the biggest argument, we always had, was about cleaning the dishes. Sometimes it worked perfect - then it failed for the next time. Also who‘s responsible for what and when, or when something needed to be bought (like a laundry rack or s.th else). Just usual discussions you have in any shared flats, I guess. Therefore, something else was quite unusual - at least, it was very unusual for me:
room and floor parties. I told you in the beginning, in Germany we do respect the „silence at night“. Sure you‘re allowed to have a party in your home, but you shouldn‘t be too loud between 10pm and 6am. If you‘re too loud and the neighbours feel disturbed, they can call the police. If the police visits you for the first time, they warn you and give you the advice to be quieter. And if they „need“ to visit you a second time, they will finish your party.
At this point I have to tell, that the building where my flat was (and the other buildings) were known to be party spots sometimes. This, and the majority of the people within these buildings were Erasmus-students - and among them, the majority were Spanish students. And what I quickly learned at my first night there - German people and Spanish people do have completely different „party traditions“. In general, it seemed like the Spanish party traditions were different in general. When I went to bed on my first night, I expected that it would be quiet in the building - like I was used it. But starting around midnight I heard extremely loud music, keeping me awake until 2am I think. Then I fell asleep - until I heard someone smashing against our front door around 4am. Believe me, when I tell you, I was sitting straight in my bed. And this situation repeated several times - you seriously could‘ve set the clock after it: Starting midnight, you heard some music all over the place and some people - mostly Spanish students - started to party until 2am - then they all went to the clubs. Some maybe back to their rooms, I don‘t know. For comparison only: In Germany we usually meet around 10pm, drink something and maybe party a little quietly and around 11pm or 12pm we‘re headed to the clubs. In Spain it seems like everything is delayed by 2 hours.
I wouldn‘t have mind that much, but it was difficult for me to adapt to it. In the beginning, it helped putting my headphones on and watch some DVD‘s and fall asleep after a while, even though it was very uncomfortable to sleep with headphones. After a while the music was so loud I could them hear through my big headphones - and usually I have to wear hearing aides. So even without hearing aides AND my headphones on I could hear the music and couldn‘t sleep. But the top of it was reached, when they started to yell, to smash something and use some sort of a siren. Later I figured out, they were smashing their hands against the elevator doors and misusing the fire alert. I was thinking: „Are you f**king insane?!“ Because the moment they started using it, the used it all the time and very, very often. So everybody was just annoyed, when they heard the siren for only a second. I was imaging, if a real fire would break out and someone pushes the fire alert - nobody would really care. Or care too late. How can you be so irresponsible? I also wished, that this button would trigger an emergency call to the fire brigade, like it does in Germany. Because if you push the fire alert button in Germany, triggering an emergency call to the fire brigade for no reason, you‘ll get in serious trouble. You have to pay for the whole action and you‘ll get impeached. But it remained a dream.
Actually, there was one day, when really a fire broke out. Well, at least there was a lot of smoke there. I heard no siren (not if I would‘ve cared in this moment, except I were really annoyed), but I heard a lot of people outside the floor chatting - and it definitely wasn‘t a „party-like chattering“. So I went out of my room and out of the dorm - only then I noticed the smoke and thought, something‘s wrong. We went outside the building and waited for the fire brigade. Later someone told me, what caused this amount of smoke everywhere: In the flat on the other end of our floor, a girl lit a tea light in the bathroom and put it on a plastic board below the mirror. The tea light heated up, the heat started to melt and burn the plastic board, causing some smoke and a small fire. A friend of her threw a bucket of water in it, causing even more smoke and some fizzling. That‘s when they decided to call the fire brigade and inform all the others.
Back to those „party animals“: If you think, loud music, the smashing and the siren are the end of it, remember: There is always a day after tomorrow. One day, when I was on my way to university I saw, that one of the glasses of the main door was cracked. Apparently someone kicked against it during the party session last night. Sometimes I‘ve seen broken bottles, cigarette butts everywhere and drinks all over the floor, making it sticky as hell. Sometimes, you did‘t even have to wait until the next morning for an „event“ like this. One evening - I looked outside our flat door - I noticed a big water puddle all over the floor and there was even more water dripping down. I put on my boots and walked upstairs to ask, what happened. Obviously, it seems like someone threw up in the hallway and someone else came up with the brilliant idea to throw „a few buckets“ of water straight in the hallway. Great...
I talked to Magda about all this a few times and she told me that she once asked some of these guys, why they‘re doing this. Why do they behave like this, destroy things and don‘t really care at all. One of these guys‘ answer was: „We‘re here to party and f*ck!“ What a ‚wonderful‘ motto! At least they do have a motto or some kind of motivation studying abroad - even though it ‚might‘ not be a good one... [Warning: Irony!]
You might ask, if it were that bad in this building, why did I stay? Well in the beginning, it was tolerable for me and it wasn‘t that bad and that often - maybe once or twice a week. Later it was nearly every evening. But there was also a time, where it was actually silent in the evening and in the night for several weeks. I was thinking „Great! The studies finally take their tolls!“. Surprisingly (not really, to be honest) it started all over again - only a few weeks before the exam period. By then, it was too late for me to move out and look for another place. It wouldn‘t have been worth it. Besides, living in the flat wasn‘t that bad. In fact, I enjoyed it - even though I stayed most of the time in my room. But it was nice for a change to come home and to know, you‘re not alone. Or you don‘t have to be alone. There is always a chance to do something together. For example: We went together with some friends to a lake outside the city, had a small picnic and enjoyed the moment. Together with David and Paul (also from France) I went to a crag nearby the lake. We chose the most difficult route - and except for one jump (a „Tarzan-like“ jump on a rope into a net) I made it to the end.
Before Christmas I spontaneously decided to make Christmas cookies and went straight to the next shop and bought some things. And together with Léna, Soumaya (a friend from another flat - and from France) and Anna (also from Germany and the same university like me) we made delicious Christmas cookies with coloured sugar icing.