There is great beauty in diversity, they say; but that never really holds true until one gets to live that diversity. Which is probably what Erasmus Mundus is all about: bringing everyone from everywhere into one pack of curious minds with eager spirits. Tales abound of how rich Erasmus Mundus life is, but the fun part of my experience in the Christmas of 2008 would underscore why anyone—and I mean anyone—would kill for a stint at an EM program.
I was docked in Wroclaw, Poland for a portion of my EM scholarship, and our high-rise dorm was a time-bomb of students from all over the world: the non-Europeans for their respective EM programs; the Europeans for their Erasmus exchange semester/year.
Just a week before Christmas I went to Warsaw for some partying, which I felt I deserved after all the grueling courses and pre-break exams. After all, this would also be a time when those Polish migrant workers in Germany, England, Netherlands and Ireland would come home to splurge their earnings on booze and shopping; so I thought it would be fun hanging with the locals. I’m most glad to have friends like Igor, Jakub and Radek who kept me entertained with cheap Polish vodka and beers in the middle of a white winter-y Christmas.
The extra bonus to the thrill? Their moms and grannies probably thought I was some cute little extinct animal from an Asian zoo, with brown skin, dark eyes and black hair; so they fed me non-stop with pierogi (dumplings), kielbasa (sausages) and, of course, vodka. I just love being the foreigner!
Before I could think of crashing (and trashing) their Christmas eve dinners I decided to join the other kids back in the dorm who stayed for the break. Most of them were from Turkey, Vietnam and Kazakhstan—places where Christmas isn’t as much of a big thing as it is back here or in Poland. So why not mount a party in the dorm for us who were stuck in there, while all the Europeans and Americans flew off for their holidays at home?
Although I’m completely useless in the kitchen, I embraced the idea of a pot-luck. The Turks brought mezes, kuzus and turlus; the Vietnamese whipped a wicked platter of spring rolls; the Kazakh served mantis and baursaks; a fellow Filipino served a delicious casserole of adobo while I blasphemously invented my own recipe of menudo. They all loved it, except they didn’t know if it really should taste that way.
Soon after the jello shots and vodka and beer were done we all headed out to hear mass. Why not? This is Poland—probably the most Catholic place in Europe along with Italy and Spain. And despite our challenged grasp of the Polish language, we endured an entire Christmas eve mass in, well, Polish. The priest gave away chocolates and fruits and when it was our turn to receive some, he gave the mic to one of us to say a few words to the community. Bahan, one of the coolest and funniest Turks in the group, shamelessly announced, on the mic: Nie mowie po polsku! (I don’t speak Polish!)
The whole congregation laughed in delight, noticing we were all foreign. The priest yelped back, jokingly: Ale nie mowie po angielsku! (But I also don’t speak English!). Another thunderous laughter and applaud from the crowd. As a result, when the mass ended and people were exiting the church, the locals, especially those cute little kids, couldn’t help but take a good glance at us with a very warm, friendly “Merry Christmas” greeting. In Polish, mostly. All we could do was wave and smile back.
Come Christmas day itself, our very good friend and program coordinator Sebastian invited the entire group to his family house to join him and his lovely wife Marta and uber-cute little boy Roch for lunch and dinner. Again, this is Poland—where they take the word “feast” seriously; another reason why I felt very much at home in this country. As token for their kindness in averting our (possibly) home-sickness, we each brought him and Marta a nice little present.
Why am I writing about this now? Because I miss my friends. I miss Poland and I miss Christmas in Europe. I miss the diversity of my circle of friends who are now all in their home countries, probably missing that Christmas the same way I do now.
Above all, I miss all those different dishes on the table for Christmas, in the company of good friends, throwing snowballs at each other on the walk back to the dorm, and singing Merry Christmas songs in our respective languages. Of course, most of us had beers or vodka in hand at that moment.
Merry Christmas, fellow–and future–EM scholars!
MA Global Studies, Major in International Relations 2006-2008
University of Vienna (Austria), University of Leipzig (Germany)
London School of Economics (UK), University of Wroclaw (Poland)
Reposted from thegoodmike