Teaching and learning in Poland; Stillwater teachers and students connect with Polish peers at summer language camp
By ANDREW WALLMEYER, Reprinted with permission from Stillwater Gazette
Though Poland has changed much since she first taught English there 15 summers ago, Sharon Turner said her students’ intense desire to learn and the gracious hospitality of her hosts has remained constant.
The combination has not only kept her coming back, but inspired her to bring others along to share the experience.
This July, the Rutherford Elementary teacher returned, accompanied by her husband Dick Turner and Stillwater Area High School juniors Ross Livermore and Kent Tubbs. The four traveled to Torun, a city of about 200,000 in central Poland, to help 100 Polish high school students from around the country improve their English at a three-week language camp sponsored by the United Nations.
Reflecting on their experiences, the foursome said they learned at least as much from the students they taught as the Polish teens learned from them.
“It’s just a remarkable experience for everyone involved,” Sharon Turner said. “It’s so interesting to be able to experience another culture first hand, and everyone there was so welcoming it’s incredible.”
Turner first became involved with the language camp in 1992, when former Oak-Land Junior High English teacher Elly Kimmel encouraged her to apply with her for teaching posts there. Since then, Turner has returned five times, occasionally bringing SAHS students along to work as teaching assistants.
When Turner first told Tubbs and Livermore about the program this spring, her former students jumped at the chance to spend a month abroad.
“I had just returned from a band tour to Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and she asked me if I would want to return to Europe, and I said, ‘In a heartbeat!'” Tubbs recalled.
“I thought it would be a good experience and broaden my perspective of the world, but I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’d heard about their great hospitality and everything, but in the back of my mind I wondered, ‘Is this going to be all it’s cracked up to be?’ But it was… and more. Going to Poland was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
Though Tubbs and Livermore said they enjoyed hopping from class to class and helping the 10 American teachers with their lessons, they agreed that the highlight of their trip was hanging out with their Polish peers after school.
“This was my first time out of the country, so it was a completely new experience for me. But the Polish students made it easy – they were so welcoming and friendly it was amazing,” Livermore said. “Culturally, they felt like they could fit in, almost, in Stillwater. Other than the fact that they grew up speaking Polish, they’re so similar.”
Tubbs and Livermore quickly fell in with a group of friends and spent much of their free time together exploring the nearly 800-year-old city, hanging out in a favorite pizza joint and playing Polish games.
The Turners said that kind of cultural exchange is what the program is all about, and that it was a treat not only for them to get to know their Polish and American counterparts, but see the American and Polish students interact. They said they were especially proud of the way Tubbs and Livermore represented Stillwater.
“During the first week of camp, one of the other American teachers asked me, ‘Where did you find these boys?’ I said, ‘They are from Stillwater Area High School, and they have been responsible, respectful students ever since they were in elementary school,'” Sharon Turner said.
Both Livermore and Tubbs said they would like to return to the school next summer, if possible.
“I would definitely do this again,” Livermore said. “I’m thinking of trying to learn some Polish now. … If I’m going over there again it would be nice to learn a little bit, at least, just to get me by, and perhaps maybe more than that.”
Tubbs said the program was an ideal way to get a taste for a foreign country, especially since his Polish is limited to a handful of stock words and phrases.
“If I get the opportunity, I would love to go back. But without a program like this, I doubt I’d be able to – traveling through Poland by myself might be a little unrealistic at this point.”
Turner said she, too, is already looking forward to her next trip to Poland.
“What calls me back? It is the teaching and learning that goes on between our two cultures, and the understanding I get for these people who live on the other side of the world. … My experiences with these Polish and American high school students send me back home with inspiration to keep on teaching and learning,” she said.
“It reminds me of a saying I have taped to my computer at school: ‘To the world you are only one person, but to one person you may be the world.'”