From April 7th through the 14th, 10 students from Toruń, Poland came to Philadelphia to participate in the annual SLAmbassadors exchange program. The program runs between SLA and schools in two sister cities: Toruń and Frankfurt, Germany. Early this year, I was chosen along with 9 of my classmates to be apart of the Poland program.
I got my partner match in January. Her name was Natalia. Our first contact was through Instagram, where we just talked about our basics likes/dislikes. We both had the same favorite show, and that was a great jumping off point where we could talk about that and other stuff. I thought of her as just a normal teenager and I couldnŕ wait to meet her in person.
The months leading up to when they came seemed like years. But finally, the big day came. The entire morning and afternoon was filled with me cleaning every square inch of my house and getting everything perfect for my guest.
Finally, it was time to pick them up from 30th street. I met all of the other students in the lobby and we were all so excited we couldn’t stand still. But of course, their bus was delayed from New York, so there was a lot more waiting to do. We eventually moved outside into the slightly cold air and waited for the bus to arrive. My friends and I sang songs and did a couple of dances to pass the time. But then, we saw a bus come around the corner. It said “New York to Philadelphia.” It was their bus. People got out signs they had made and we begin to cheer. The bus pulls into the spot and we watched as people slowly came out and grabbed their luggage. Nobody could see any of our people yet. The bus began to empty and still, our people weren’t there. After 5 minutes of confusion, we realized that it wasn’t their bus. Another long while of waiting.
Finally, for real this time, their bus pulled in. They walked out of the bus and instantly ran to their partner. Natalia and I finally saw each other and we gave each other a big hug. I instantly felt comfortable with her, especially after talking with her for months beforehand. For some reason, I was surprised to hear her accent. After talking to her through Instagram, I forgot that she might have an accent. It threw me off at first, but soon I got used to it.
My parents were equally as excited as I was to meet her. But, they never talked to her like I did so they had no prior impression of her. They immediately asked her tons of questions about her family, her town, and much more. Just as I did, they found themselves comfortable with Natalia after a short period of time.
The next day, our Polish students came with us to school and shadowed us for the day. I got the chance to officially meet the other students and the two chaperones. Most of them said that they were surprised on how laid back all of the teachers were, even the teachers we thought were the strictest. They told us that in Poland, they weren’t allowed to take out their phones, talk to their friends and they never sat in table groups like us. I knew that there were schools like that in Philly, but it was interesting to hear the students talk their first-hand experiences with it. It gave me and many others a new perspective.
When we weren’t with our chaperones, we would try and find the fun “Philly things” for them to experience. The week was so full of things that we did with each other; a Phillies game, Macy’s, the Art Museum, Wawa, and so much more. The polish students had so much fun spring things for the first time and we had fun watching them experience it.
My favorite moments were when the entire group of students would go out and just walk through the city. I especially enjoyed talking to some of the students I haven’t really met before. One student talked to me about clothing, makeup, and our respective styles. These moments made me realize how similar we all were to each other. Most always assume that people from different countries have different cultures and are completely different than we are. But, that’s not true. There might be some differences, but we’re really just humans at the heart.