Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Final Thoughts

Well, since it’s been about a week since returning from our Poland excursion, it is a great time to jot down some thoughts about the experience. All in all, it was very worthwhile and has opened up a large window in my mind in the way that it has allowed me to gain insight into a culture that is, in some ways, very different from that of the United States (but in other ways, the same- it was really interesting to see these similarities and differences!). If nothing else, it has successfully planted the traveling bug in me, and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to visit a different country and learn about its culture. Fortunately, though, the trip did accomplish more than that, which is to teach me a lot about Poland itself and the people who live there, and definitely spark my interest about learning more. I would love to become involved in planning the trip and going again next year, but that topic we shall leave for a later date…

One of the most interesting parts of the trip, for me, was being able to sit in on lectures in the university. It was very cool to sit in a room full of graduate students who were all, with the exception of a few international students, individuals who had devoted their academic careers to the study of tourism. The lecture I attended was the last lecture and thus a perfect one for me to attend, since in wrapping up the course, Professor Owen tried to touch on previous material they have talked about in the class, the present state of the tourism industry, and the future. He mentioned changes in climate, the issue of depletion of natural resources, political issues including global terrorism, the aging of the world’s population, and the increasing economies of up-and-coming countries (i.e. China) whose inhabitants will soon be spending their growing amount of disposable income on travel. All of these, and more that I’m sure I have omitted, are factors that will be affecting tourism in the future, and he made sure to stress that our generation will be the one responsible for addressing them. Yeesh! That’s enough to scare someone away into…well, I don’t know, I guess all industries are interrelated in some way, so perhaps everyone will have to be dealing with these issues!- but I would say I am up for the challenge.

One thing that made the experience difficult is the lack of knowledge most of us had of the Polish language (although Bruce made a good point in reminding me that this communication barrier will be the case for the vast majority of traveling one does in a lifetime). Since I love to learn languages though, this point was very frustrating to me, and I wish I had done at least a little crash course on key phrases before embarking on the journey, but actually, I think it would be much easier to do that now that I have been there and at least have an idea about Polish pronunciation and the (very very basic) structure. Side note: I never realized that the Polish language is derived from Latin, a fact that one of the students mentioned, as he was saying it is very easy for Poles to learn how to speak Spanish since they are both derived from Latin. I just always associated Latin with Romance languages, but anyway, I asked him if he thinks it would be as easy to learn Polish from Spanish (or English). He wasn’t very sure on that, haha. Somehow it seems like Polish would be a hard language to learn, but that may just be from my own lack of exposure to it. An interesting point to note, though, is that I had a couple of friends that were backpacking around Europe at the same time that we made the trip. They were able to hit 5 countries total, and their observation was that Poland spoke the least English out of all the European countries they visited (Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and… I can’t quite remember the last country.) Anyway, so I’m not sure if the language barrier issue is actually more prevalent in Poland due to the fact that their tourism industry is just beginning to be on the rise, but it would be interesting to find out.

Other thoughts on the tourism industry itself… it is definitely making headway in Poland, with Zakopane seeming to be at the top, although that I probably because it is such a hotspot within the country itself. As for international tourism, though, the country is still in the process of becoming tourist friendly, and one suggestion that we could definitely make as a group is to increase the acceptance of credit cards! Also, the currency seemed to cause quite the amount of confusion within our group, as the bills that come out of the ATM are really large, but most of the meals, ticket fares, etc. require smaller amounts that we never seemed to have. Also, the Polish people, as Olivia pointed out, seem to have a very different outlook on providing change—that is, they don’t like to do it, haha. Seems they place more emphasis in paying with exact currency than we do in the States, but hey, can’t blame them for wanting to be efficient. J Also, the train systems aren’t quite as developed as other nations, I gather, since it took 8 hours for one journey, when I hear you can take a train from London to Paris in what people make out to be the speed of light as compared to Polish trains. They got the job done, though, and I actually get a little nostalgic for those days (last week, haha) when I get disembark a train these days, and I realize I’m not on a new leg of the Polish adventure…

Hm, well I think I will leave it at that. Again, it was a great experience and would like to thank everyone that was involved in the planning of this trip for allowing us this opportunity to visit a wonderful country. I hope that tourism in Poland continues to grow, allowing more and more people to appreciate the contemporary beauty and uniqueness of the country and its people as well as the depth of the area’s history.

Do widzenia!

1 comment:

becca said...

(A quick note from Becca, the RST advisor, not Becca from the trip...) :)

Johanna, I am so glad to see that you had such a rewarding, enriching experience! A number of students see a study abroad trip as a mini-vacation but you actually LEARNED something!! :) As an advisor it's easy to get caught up in the everyday "stuff" I do (course advising, career counseling, academic policies, etc.) and lose sight of the REAL reason you all are here: to learn. Thanks for reminding me!