Guest Blogger Aleksander: Tabula Rasa (Part 1)

IMG_1513When I came to America, I was like a clean slate. I both knew a lot, and I did not. I knew how to function as a person, but I didn’t know what it was like to live across the ocean from your parents. That was one of those things I had to learn the hard way. I was both afraid and excited. Luckily for me, excitement was stronger than fear. Quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It’s the same thing with the first days at a new school. As soon as you stop fearing the unreasonable, you advance. Your development goes forward.

In the beginning, I started off my guest blogging keeping it light and easy. In the end, however, I have decided to keep it real. There are enough light and easy “my year in USA” type of posts already. These type of posts are supposed to make friends and everybody you know jealous. If that’s what you have expected, then you might wanna close this page.

You have decided to stay? Good, let me continue then.

There are very few nights when I don’t regret the things that I did/didn’t do during my exchange. First and foremost, I realized too late that I’d only have this opportunity once. Much too late. My first Host Family lived in West St. Paul, Minnesota; a place perfect as a base for trips. My second Host Family lived in Bloomington, Minnesota; a place far worse to start trips from. Most of the Host Families took their students to various places, even to different states. Mine didn’t bother with that, but it’s fine. It’s not something I could have demanded. Nevertheless, I had to think about visiting the most popular spots in the Twin Cities alone, which I did not. Mostly, I preferred to stay in my safe zone: my Host Family’s house. By the end of the year I had seen some cool places, like the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, so it’s not all that bad. I do regret staying at home then. I know I should have pushed myself.

Along with not visiting places, I did not hang out with friends and colleagues often. Now I know I should have been doing that. Although that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make friends at all. I just regret I didn’t meet them face to face when I had the opportunity to do so. If you’re having some questions about what happens after you come back home – let me clear some things up. You’re most probably not going to see your friends from abroad again soon. Of course, I am not saying that you won’t be able to right away. From my experience, though, it’s not very likely to happen. I visited my a girlfriend (now an ex-girlfriend) from Germany a few times. That’s about it. On the other hand, having friends all around the world might be a huge asset. Once you start to make money, you can visit them! Before you start making money, you might start a business with your friends around the world. Nowadays, the sky’s the limit, and keep that in mind.

Whenever I argue that English classes are too focused on doing the exercises versus teaching everybody how to actually communicate with people, I give the same example every time: me going to a mobile carrier on my first week in the U.S. Long story short, my English was good when I had to understand written English. However, when I approached a regular person at the shop, I was left astonished by how much I needed to learn. I did not understand much from what an average American was saying, and I was always among the best in my English classes in Poland. I’m not showing off. It’s just a fact. Did I refrain from communicating in English after that? No. If anything, it motivated me to improve myself.

Let’s talk about classes in the U.S.

Let me clear up the biggest misconception: American school is not easier. If you think so, and you’re gonna go to America – please sign up for an AP class. Any. Unless you’re a genius in a given field, you’re gonna have a bad time. Or maybe you’re I-pek and you have to be perfect and be the best. Your call.

If anything, school in the US is more personalized. It’s sort of like comparing iOS and Android (yes, I’m a nerd). iOS tells you what your home screen should look like, it tells you that sending files via Bluetooth is passe, and it thinks like Henry Ford. With Android, however, you’re free to change your home screen. You have wayyyy more customization options. iOS is Poland, and Android is the US. You didn’t get my nerdy analogy? Let me try again: cars. Poland is like a manufacturer that produces only one model of a car equipped with only one type of engine. USA is like a normal manufacturer. “So do you want your car in blue? No? Okay, how about red? Still no? Worry not! We have got like 12 different colors for you to choose from.”

The American school, or at least SPP, focuses more on understanding different concepts, knowing how to apply them in real life, and not on remembering stuff by heart. I feel like this approach is a lot more modern. Twenty years ago nobody would have thought, that we would have computers in our pockets. American school goes – hey, it’s time to change. Polish school goes – computers?

SPP has got some great teachers as well. Ms. Larson, Mr. Wiggin (if you’re reading this, then I hope that somebody continues my “Friday” thing), Ms. Stormont, Mr. Shai. I also have to say that I very much respect the work of Ms. Redding.

With that being said – this is the end of part one. In part two, I will answer the question “Can a falcon play jazz?”, and much more. Stay tuned and follow SPP’s blog. If you have any questions, hmu on Twitter!

Aleksander Jess (@AJWRSW)

Guest Blogger Aleksander: Off I Go, From Warsaw To St. Paul

 

Editor’s note: Aleksander is a former SPP student and currently attends university in his native land of Poland. He’ll be a temporary guest on the SPP Blog, offering his story and advice along the way. Read Aleksander’s Introduction here.

IMG_1513Deciding to pause your life in your homeland isn’t easy. Trust me – I have been through this. For some, having a fresh start is much desired; for some it’s not. For those who don’t want to start a new chapter in their life, I have only one cliche for you: get out of your comfort zone. Growth happens outside your comfort zone. If you’re worried that you won’t adapt to a new environment, think again. Humans have colonized nearly all of Earth (besides Antarctica, where there are no permanent human settlements).  

How did I come up with the idea to study in the United States?

Long story short: a representative of the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, came to my school once. He was talking about studying abroad in the U.S. I loved the idea right away, so I pulled my phone out of my pocket and texted my parents. The decision changed my life forever.

How did I prepare for my trip?

The preparations lasted for about five years. I wanted to leave the year after I learned about the possibility to study in the U.S., however, after some thought, it was not a smart idea. If I studied in the U.S. right away, I would most likely have to take the same classes all over again later on in Poland. The fire to study abroad slowly burned out as the years passed. Luckily, my parents didn’t give up that easily.

When I reached 11th grade (or as we say it in Poland, the second class of high school), my parents and I decided studying abroad my senior year would be the best idea. I chose the U.S. over other countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. I looked for many different programs and schools, but one that caught my attention was a school in downtown Miami, Florida. Sounds perfect, right?

Well, not really.

At first, sure: all the hype about Miami is perhaps not false, but it would have been extremely hard to get a high school diploma for that school. That meant there was a possibility this would be a wasted academic year. Second of all, it is way too hot there for me. For all the people not familiar with Warsaw’s climate, temperatures range from -6 C to 24 C (sorry Americans, time to get on the same page as the rest of the world). Lastly, it was way out of my parents’ financial range.

Then I began checking out different schools in the Midwestern USA. I didn’t quite like what I saw: all of the schools were in the middle of nowhere. I am a big city guy.

At last, I found out about St. Paul Prep, which seemed like a perfect match for me. It does get reaaaally cold there (Minnesota), but I suppose it would be easier to adapt to the excessive cold than the excessive warmth. What’s also worth mentioning is that Minnesota is one of the “healthiest” states in the U.S. I also knew I would be able to get a high school diploma, and the price was okay, too.

Next step was getting a visa, but that was a rather straightforward process. The worst part about it was standing in line in front of the embassy. That’s it.

How was the flight to the U.S.?

The transatlantic flight could have been something pleasant, if not for my height (I’m 189cm. I did not have much leg room).

When I arrived in Mini-soda (speaking of soda: Minnesotans use the word “pop” in reference to sugary, carbonated beverages), it turned out that my baggage was missing. I had to give my address to a representative of the airline I was flying with, and my baggage was brought to me later that afternoon. Whew!

How were the first days in St. Paul?

I won’t lie to you: the first night might be really tough. You will realize that whether you like it or not, you’ll be studying in St. Paul, Minnesota, for 10 months (Of course, I still had a few opportunities to visit my family and my hometown throughout the year). Regardless, I was still feeling homesick. I even cried myself to sleep that night. But this sadness passes, I assure you! Try to stay occupied the first few weeks. Try to get used to another language being spoken everywhere. Try to leave all the stereotypes (fat Americans everywhere, shootings everywhere, etc) back home.

Since I was placed in a family close to downtown St. Paul, I went on a walk on the first day after my arrival. I was impressed with what the city looked like. I even went to visit SPP. My first impression? “Wow. I’m going to study here.”

The next day, pictures for IDs were taken. My first encounter with SPP stuff. Even before the start of my new adventure, I knew somebody from Poland. One of the best pieces of advice I can give: get to know somebody from your home country before you leave. I can’t stress enough how much easier things were, thanks to the fact I had known somebody before arriving at SPP.

How will I get to know other people at SPP?

Worry not. SPP organizes a camp, where you’ll get to make new friends and hang out with your new buddies. How was it? Sadly, “keine Ahnung”, as the Germans say. That’s because I missed the camp due to an illness.

In my next post, I will describe how awesome it is to study at SPP. Make sure to follow SPP’s social media pages to follow along!

Pozdrawiam,

Aleksander Jess (@AJWRSW)

Introducing: Guest Blogger Aleksander

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Aleksander at the 2015 SPP Spring Talent Show.

Dzień dobry, cześć i czołem! My name is Aleksander and I graduated from SPP two years ago!

I will be a temporary guest writer on the SPP blog. I have some good stuff for you that will be released over the next few weeks. Please follow this blog not to miss a post from me!

What will my posts be about?

My take on life in US of A. Why did I choose a school in Minnesota over one in Florida? How it feels to be a part of SPP? (Go Falcons!). What can you do after your senior year in Minnesota? Friendship with a teacher that used to teach you?

I gotta say – I am incredibly happy that this opportunity was given to me and that I can write something for the SPP Blog.

In the meantime, if you want to get to know me better before I post more here, follow me on Twitter @AJWRSW.

Have a nice day,

Aleksander Jess

P.S. A shout-out for Sheila Stormont for being the most awesome teacher that I have ever met. As I said during my talent show performance, “Let’s turn it up to 11”.