A Good Memory

A Surprise

This is a famous Polish beer. Some know that I taught in Poland in the mid 90’s. That’s the mid 1990’s and that’s when Poland was emerging from? Into what? That’s for another day.

I taught college students who wanted to be English teachers in the mountain town of Zakopane. Some of the students at that college wanted to be German teachers, something that initially surprised me. As a Canadian with a big powerful neighbour I should have had more insight. My students needed to improve their English vocabulary. I remember plaintive cries of, “ But Isobel, I don’t even know the name of that tree…flower…animal in Polish!”

“We’ll, learn it in both languages then!” I was not really such a dragon as evidenced by the many kind invitations I received from my students in my second year of teaching. In the first year a perfect and distant politeness was maintained. After all, this was post-Communist Poland and they had to figure out if I was fair, a snitch, crazy…. Well two out of three.

Even in the third year I refused invitations in spite of a pretty severe level of loneliness. I wanted to avoid any appearance of favouritism.

Besides teaching core language skills I had to teach methodology. Since I had very little actual teaching experience but a fresh Bachelor of Education degree I approached this task with the boundless enthusiasm of the ignorant. Conducting a whole lesson in French or Greek seemed a practical way of letting my students feel the panic of a novice language learner. Sticking gold stars on random exercise books reinforced the idea of intrinsic vs outward rewards. “How much,oh,how much I did hate Agniezka because of one Mickey Mouze sticker, Isobel” was the impassioned cry of a stickerless student. Point taken!

One of the most enthusiastic and joyful of my students was Anya. The day I arrived in the little mountain town where I taught for two years she was pressed into service. The elegant and autocratic principal of the college ordered her to carry a heavy metal electric radiator across the courtyard to the room in the dorm building where I was to stay. With her boundless energy and infectious smile she brushed off any protest or attempt to help.

“Get to the beer” you say? Anya was from the town of Zywiec and she was among the first of my students to invite me to stay for a weekend at her home. She told me that the local river supplied the high quality water that was the secret of the wonderful beer. True to my word, I did not visit any of my students until my contract was up. Anya was the first to whom I payed a visit. Since I am not a beer drinker, the main delight of the town for me was floating down its swift stream in an inner tube. On an early hot June day a good number of the townsfolk enjoyed this innocent pass time, hauling the inner tubes up to the setting off point and drifting down stream again and again. It was typical of Anya’s playful spirit that she thought it a perfect occupation to share with her prof…. I could only heartily agree