Monday, 26 November 2007
Thursday, 15 November 2007
This is by far one of the most difficult, abstract and enjoyable projects I have ever undertaken. The following written documentation is a crude catalogue from a week of filming and production that has taken me from far South Eastern Poland to the capital of Slovakian Republic via Warsaw.
This city is by no standard the most desirable location for ‘Native English’ speakers (or so I had assumed), and so I was more than surprised to find a satisfied, contempt and cooperative team of staff in one of the oldest and largest language schools in the city. I checked into a budget hotel I found on the Rynek for twenty six zloty (about five pounds) a night and made my way to the YES School of English, which is located just off of the central high street. I was immediately welcomed by the Polish and English staff, who provided me with a program of lessons and interviews I would be able to shoot during my stay. After three solid interviews, filming a teenage intermediate group and devouring a cold egg sandwich, I made my way to the city centre and experienced what Rzeszow has to offer in the way of evening entertainment. It was not long before I came across a group of students in a local bar who were more than happy to express their feelings on film towards the city, as well as exposing their true, and rather expletive, emotions towards the governing Kaczynski duo.
Day two in Rzeszow was also most productive, after meeting with another native English speaker by mistake in a coffee bar I made my way back to the school where I interviewed a thoroughly interesting chap from Brighton who had found his way, almost by fluke, to this almost unnoticed Polish city. I then captured an EFL class with a group of army officers, then with a group of ten-year-old children after mingling with the staff and harassing everybody I met with my camera. It seems that whatever your position, whether it be director of studies, rookie teacher or documentary maker passing through, staff room etiquette is the same everywhere; as long as you speak to everybody at least once a day, you can feel comfortable with your social status…
I am still working one day a week at a private school in Bochnia and so there was reasoning behind my returning to Bochnia for one day, other than being utterly knackered. The cheapness of my Rzeszow hostel was reflected in the state of the bathrooms and bed sheets. I suppose I managed three or four hours sleep in the place, needless to say the one day I spent back at home was sorely needed.
Capital (Big and Grey)
Four hours on the train is all it took from my blustery hometown to the misty city of Warsaw. Upon arriving I made my way immediately to the Lingwista School HQ where I met with a most humble gent for an extensive interview before I checked into the Oki Doki hostel in the centre of the city. I was given a half an hour margin between checking in and interviewing the next teacher, enough time to cram a fistful of aspirin into my chops and munch on a cheese roll. The second interview at Lingwista also went very well, as did my meeting with the Director of Studies, who drove me to another branch of the school and gave me permission to interview her and then to film her class. She even drove me back to the hostel where I indulged in casual conversation and beer quaffing with three astounding Brits and a lady from Canada. Sleep on night one at the Oki Doki was sporadic.
I am currently learning how to speak Thai. Ipods are fascinating things in that music seems to have been pushed to one side, at least in my playlists, to make room for audio learning and debate programmes. During this trip however, I rekindled my love for combining stroll and song. While walking around Warsaw on my second day I filmed all over the city to the sounds of Death From Above 1979 and Tom Mcrae, which both made far more than ample companions as my new boots carved pretty new shapes into my feet. As daylight turned I made my way back to Lingwista where I met with yet another bubbly soul; I shot my first interview in Polish and then filmed her elementary adults class, which looked most dynamic on screen. With my ticket purchased for Bratislava the next day and my bag full of footage I made my way back to the hostel to indulge in social delicacy. Travelling the world, in a modern science, is a strange thing, or so I gather from the people I have met thus far. It seems common to spend just two days in one place at a time before moving on elsewhere and doing the same thing over again. I do not have a clue what this is.
The latest addition to the dorm I stayed in was a fellow from Belgium who I would pitch at being the same age as myself. We instantly began talking about Soulwax and I received an invitation to a private Polish party across the other side of town. We took a tram into the suburbs and met with his friends who shared their vodka with unholy pace. Two bottles later and we all darted back into town and swung by Bar Hotel and then to the Lemon Club. Daft conversation, swappings of email and sickly coloured cocktails glued the festivities together like animal mash to the spine of a good news Bible. I woke up with a start, bid my Flemish friend adjure and made my way to the station.
Capital (Small and White)
Worn and full of glee with my wallet full of pieces of paper inked with address and telephone numbers, I got to the station with twenty minutes to spare. My train took me southwest through Katowice and then the Czech Republic where I had to switch trains. It was there I met my only friend in the world from Kansas; we got the same train to Bratislava and made it to our Hostel by nine p.m. Upon throwing my bag down and getting acquainted with the receptionist, my new Kansasian chum and I made our way to a lively sports bar for some cheap food; after sampling a pint or two of Slovak beer we decided to have a brief stroll through the city. Bratislava is a very small place, and so when we came across a rowdy bunch of fat English thugs shouting and starting fights with the locals, my impression of the city did lessen. There should be some sort of restriction as to who should be allowed to travel to beautiful places such as this, surely. The clumsy ranting of these English morons ruffled my feathers in such away I almost felt like heading straight back to the hostel and avoiding the city centre at night entirely. I have nothing against taking advantage of cheap European beer and gloriously poised city streets, but surely an element of respect needs to be taken into account. It is not difficult to assume a factor of admiration for foreign culture and tradition, so getting mind mental drunk and brawling, abusing and fighting the locals should just not be on the cards. Damn you filthy brutes to hell, may your skin burn and blister while you writhe on your beer bellies in the ashes of my scorn for disrespect and racism.
We made our way instead to a bar just outside of the city centre where we met a Slovakian girl and a Polish girl who were drinking together. We quickly became chums and after another couple of drinks we paraded through the streets, speaking in Slovakian, Polish and English about how lucky we are to live in a time where the opportunity to meet and converse with people from all walks of life has been made so easy by cheap travel and easy-pass border control. And so we did drift from club to club, singing songs and cracking wise ones. The girls invited us to see 50 Cent in a couple of days. The gun toting rapper was playing in Bratislava as part of his European tour; it would have indeed been a sight to see. I got back to the hostel around five a.m. and I slept a few hours before rising and trailing the city for footage. The snow did fall in Bratislava, coating the pristine and glamorously twee city centre with a glistening white topping. I shot about an hour of footage and made my way back to the hostel in the evening where I met a chap from Brazil who was touring Europe. He was only in Bratislava for one night and so I invited him for some traditional Slovakian food at a restaurant in the town. We ate rice and vegetables, speaking about Sao Paulo and the English language, Brazil sounds like a fascinating place. After finishing our meal I turned down the offer of beer as my guts where still recovering and I made my way to the cinema across the other side of the Danube where I caught a late night showing of the latest Stephen King adaptation ‘1408’. It unsettled me. After walking for two hours in search of a school that is not even located in the capital, I found myself taking a bus once again across the Danube to the Bratislava School of Law. The school specialises in teaching English to students of Law and Mass Media, and the classes I shot and teachers I interviewed proved fascinating. Slovakian people seem to be most kind and open, which contrasted slightly with my opinion that they would be similar to the majority of Poles. Upon filming a presentation in the Mass Media English class, I received an invitation from a young Slovakian lady to join her and some friends for some traditional food at a bar in the centre after I finished filming for the day. I accepted the offer and soon found myself dining on ‘Haluszki’ with a most interesting group of lasses from all over the country. We spoke most of the time in English as the differences in Polish and Slovakian are more common than I might like to believe. My new chums invited me to stay at their flat as they had a spare room and so after gathering my belongings from the hostel I took a bus across town and found myself drinking mulled wine, smoking cigarettes and discussing Pete Doherty with five fine examples of the Slovakian Republic. We drank till midnight and listened to The Fugs, My Bloody Valentine and The Moulettes before falling deep into the arms of slumber.
I awoke at half past six and caught a bus back into the centre with one of my new companions, I made my way to Axxent school after grabbing a coffee and a fresh salad baguette and shot my first double interview. The director of studies and the school director along with her pet hound made fantastic subject matter and were a real pleasure to work with. It was a pity the second school I visited in the afternoon were in fact not ready for my arrival and could provide me with only one chetny teacher for the documentary. I was instead taken to dinner with the DOS, a lovely Slovakian lady who, although deemed me a weirdo for not eating meat, took me to a wonderful Indian vegetarian restaurant for something scrumptious. She apologised profusely for the mix up with the teachers and wished me luck as I left for the train station.
Shoulder Deep Within the Borderline
The journey back to Bochnia took twelve hours. I had to travel all over Slovakia and change trains at Kosice where I met a young Ukrainian girl with a hearing aid. We got a carriage together and although she was unable to speak English or Polish, and I unable to speak Ukrainian or German (her second language), we spoke for an hour. God knows what about. We sprawled and slept on the lengthy cushioned seats until we got to the Slovakian/Polish border. I have never seen such an unnecessarily shocking display of authority upon crossing the borderline. That poor Ukrainian girl was forced to empty everything out of her luggage, have the guards frisk her and go through her wallet, they asked her all sorts of mad questions which I had to translate to her with the little Ukrainian I could muster and then they took her into the next carriage where they grilled her, asked her to remove her jumper and then let her hair loose to match her passport photo… all this because she had no return ticket to Kiev. She spoke no Polish and was unable to respond to the power tripping guards who swore at her and grunted in her face when she did not understand. After half an hour of interrogation they decided she was allowed to cross and we continued our journey. She locked our carriage door and I went to sleep, setting my alarm for half past four in the morning. When the time came, I got my coat on and was challenged with the task of waking my new Ukrainian friend. She was sleeping on the chair opposite me and did not respond to my shouting her name. Instead I had to strategically nudge her arm until she woke, this was most awkward and I think I scared the Hell out of her but she had asked me to wake her as to not leave her sleeping alone in an open carriage… fair. I told her one-day I would make a short film about our journey and I left.
I got home at five twelve a.m. and slept until it was time to get up and teach. I made my way to work and taught for five and a half hours straight with no break. It was all a bit of a blur. Next week I am flying to Thailand. There are plenty of press releases out and about now as to my plans, courtesy of TEFL.net
Sunday, 11 November 2007
…I comprehended this advice while on my way to England this weekend for a family engagement. The chance to reflect on my thoughts was then fattened after I missed my flight back to Poland on Sunday after a nasty car crash on the M25 caused me to be four minutes late for check in. “There is no one that can help you now”, the overly pronounced and proud words from the stretched lass at the help desk still echo internally.
I woke up this morning dishevelled and wry, the pizza boxes from last nights random junk food binge laid scattered and torn on the work surface and the bag of milk in the fridge smelled like butter beans. The next few weeks are going to be intense and I will need to tidy up both my act and my kitchen if they are to go well. I took the mini bus into Krakow after corresponding with various language schools and affiliates in Slovakia, my next port of call across the border, and met with my subject for the day. It is not often that one meets a TEFL teacher of such great experience and practice who finds Krakow to be an uncomfortable place to work, so I suppose my new companion is an exception. The interview went more than swimmingly as we sat on the Planty around the back of the market square surrounded by brown and burgundy leaves. I was reminded as to the reasons I became so excited with TEFL in the first place and as to just how knowledgeable and spruce the industry can make a person, should they chose to take full advantage of their position that is. The film project has really started to grip me, and interviews such as today's truly punctuate my reasoning behind working on this project.
Sunday, 4 November 2007
To me: ‘I don't know how much you know about Cactus TEFL, but we are a TEFL course admissions and advisory service. We get a lot of enquiries from people who are new to EFL and want information on teaching in specific countries. I am putting together 'country profiles' that will feature on the website, and would really like one for Poland. I have attached one that I wrote based on my experiences in Italy so that you can have a look.’
From me: ‘Your project sounds very interesting and I would have no problem writing a profile for your website. I will try and get it done today but its a bit manic at the moment so it might not be ready until Monday or Tuesday, is that okay?’
To me: ‘Thanks so much for this, it's perfect! I really appreciate it.’
From me: ‘The article looks good! Would there be any chance I could get my name on there somewhere?’
To me: ‘I can certainly understand why you would want a mention on the profile and feel a little awkward about saying no, but we discussed mentioning contributors when we began this project and decided that for several reasons it wasn’t really viable. Perhaps I should have made this clear when you agreed to write something for us. .apologies for this.’
The article can be found here: http://www.cactustefl.com/jobs/TEFL/poland_info.php
Please email me with your interpretations as to what you think the moral behind this story is: firstname.lastname@example.org