After arriving in Poland, there have been many times that the differences between home and Wrocław have been stark, particularly when it comes to holidays and traditions. Spending a birthday away from my family and friends wasn’t a new experience, after all, being a college student means balancing these important occasions with those who are important to you and making the best of the situation when you can’t. What is difficult, though, is spending holidays that are traditionally family based so far from home. As November approached, I’d put little thought into celebrating Thanksgiving. For me, like most Americans, this was a Thursday filled with family, food, and conversation that could carry on for hours, but in Wrocław I was quickly reminded that this holiday was one that wouldn’t follow me to Poland like so many other traditions. Even with this in mind, being abroad is about improvising and learning to make the best of your time and as always, having a few close friends to surround yourself with never hurts! This was the spirit that would lead me to an apartment full of my new international friends and a potluck style dinner that brought each of us a little closer to one another.
As November came to a close and the days got shorter, rainy days became more common, and Christmas drew nearer I was counting the days until my family would visit me for an early holiday celebration. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Christmas season (I’m more of the Independence Day type), but the thought of spending some time with my family in one of the largest holiday markets in Europe definitely had its appeal. Upon their arrival, my family went through the various phases of jetlag that would be familiar to anyone who made the long trek across the Atlantic, but after a bit of Polish cuisine, a short walk to stretch our legs, and turning in a bit early the remainder of the trip proved a success. Admittedly, my love of the holiday season has grown since arriving in Poland. This isn’t simply because it meant getting to see my family and recreating the comfort of home, but also because I got to watch as the different spheres of my life merged in a fashion that many never witness. Introducing my family to my friends in Poland was not only exciting, but marked the beginning of new connections, conversations, and shared experiences that I could never have imagined.
Now, as the holiday season has drawn to a close, my family has returned home, and some of my closest friends prepare to end their experiences in Poland and return home I realized that there is a lot of truth the cliché that life is about who you spend it with and your perception of that experience rather than being in a specific location or following an uncompromising list of holiday norms. No, I’m not just saying this to justify my preference for fireworks on a warm July evening in lieu of the bitter cold of Christmastime, but rather because of the fact that I’ve learned to celebrate more than just the commonly observed days marked on our calendars. This season, I celebrated my new friendships and the long awaited visit from my family, but I also celebrated countless nights of learning my host city and making new acquaintances. I celebrated taking a new set of courses with ideas I would never have been previously exposed to and also foods I would never have tried at home. The holidays may be over, but the same cannot be said for my time in Poland. As I prepare to take on a new year, a new semester, and numerous new adventures an ocean away from home I remind myself that everyday is something to celebrate.