It’s now been over a week since our group arrived in Poland. Thanks to this trip we’ve already encounter so much new, unfamiliar information that each of our lives has doubtlessly been impacted. Some of these encounters have been everyday experiences – learning to read the time tables for tram and bus rides despite being in a country whose language we’ve only the most basic of phrases, for example. At other times, we’ve come face-to-face with historical sites we’d only ever heard of. We walked the grounds of Auschwitz and Birkenau, saw the remnants of the camps’ operational stages. We were faced with a part of history that many of us could barely bring ourselves to understand despite coming face-to-face with real-life items taken from the victims of the camp. Obviously seeing the remnants of the tragedy that occurred there has had its emotional effects on all of us, but to accurately reflect on them would take further consideration, as while we’ve now had some time to process what we’ve seen we still have some time in this country during which we’ll continue to learn.
The one thought that I keep returning to throughout our trip has been “How is what I’m seeing, as an American, different from that which a person from Poland sees? How are we shown different things, even?”. The everyday experiences which our group go through (often with success despite our having some difficulty) are to us challenges despite being as ordinary as a walk to work for a person that lives here. Likewise, the way that the hugely influential historic places could be entirely different to Polish people. I see others walking at such places as Auschwitz and wonder, are you receiving the information differently than me? I see other tour groups and have to wonder, are the messages that our group receives in every place that similar to the messages that their groups do? Is the history of Poland in the eyes of a Polish person something that I could ever understand? I wish greatly to step into their shoes and see through their eyes and know if we have the same understanding of the world or something entirely different.