Cultural Connection Week - Poland, Europe | Coursera Community
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Cultural Connection Week - Poland, Europe

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Hello everyone,

It's great to be back. I used to be a Mentor Guide and loved it, but due to personal issues I had to retire. Now I was "lured" into the Cultural Connection Week by a wonderful friend of mine, Judy, whom I met via Coursera, and who's just awesome.

I would like to talk about my mother country, Poland, as I love it, but I also feel there are several misconceptions related to the country itself, and to our culture.

If you want to learn a bit more about me, feel free to watch this video .

As we have just celebrated Easter, I felt the most appropriate topic for me to kick off with would be my favorite celebration, which is... Christmas. 😉 In particular, I'd like to share with you what (weird 🙂 ) food we eat then. I have to admit I hated it as a child (most children do 🙂 ), but things change as you grow older. The tastes are so unique that you begin to appreciate them.

So here you go:
If you'd like an exhaustive list, here's one. Enjoy!

Please tell me whether you'd like to taste any of these. 🙂 And feel free to ask me any questions.

Find out more about Cultural Connection Week and view other people’s posts about their cultures here.

16 replies

Dearest @Magdalena Brzezinska ! How wonderful to see you here!

For anyone who doesn't know Magdalena, she was an incredible Mentor Guide, always greeting new people and having pleasant things to say. She had a way of making everyone feel comfortable, important and was always ready to discuss any topic.

The recipes all look interesting. I will try one! It seems like so much food is prepared for Christmas. Is that true?

I am interested in knowing more about the education system in Poland. Do many children go to the public schools or do the private schools attract more students?
The rigors of exams seem to be very important. My mother attended a gymnasium ( school) in Poland and always talked about the nightmares of having oral as well as written exams in front of a panel in order to pass.Are exams still so critical and scary?
When you are in high school ( ages 14 - 17) do all students have the same academic requirements or are there separate levels for different kinds of degrees?
Are there dress codes or uniforms? Here, students wear jeans to school and look very informal.
What percentage of students go on to a University? Are there many good Universities in Poland or do students leave the country to study?

Thank you so much for answering my questions. You know me...I always ask lots of questions and you are always so patient and wonderful about answering them all!
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Lovely to see you participating in our community again @Magdalena Brzezinska! We have missed you! I'm very glad @Judith managed to lure you back, even if it's just for this event (although I hope it won't just be for this event!) Thanks for giving us a little insight into Polish culture!
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I had like to taste the dried fruit and the cookies. It seems like people from poland are easily recognisable by their names
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Dearest friend,
It's as wonderful to see your reply on my thread! Thank you so much! You know my life's not exactly been very slow recently, but for you I would do anything. 🙂

I cannot express how grateful I am for your kind words! I don't feel I deserve them, though. Being a Mentor Guide was very very rewarding, and I was just "doing unto others what I would have them do unto me". 😉 It was YOU who was always so welcoming, approachable, positive and full of empathy.

Yes, it's true we prepare LOTS of food for Christmas. Sometimes I feel our holidays are mostly about eating... As I said, I didn't fancy many Christmas dishes when I was small, but now the dried fruit compote and all the sauerkraut-and-mushroom varieties are a must. I keep telling my (three) children it will be the same for them one day. 🙂

Thank you for asking about the educational system in Poland.
The answer won't be simple and straightforward. The system is undergoing a painful and widely criticised reform at the moment: we are shifting from 6 (primary) + 3 (junior high) + 3 (senior high) back to 8 (primary) + 4 (high). Many argue that the reform was unnecessary, too rushed, caused chaos and entailed unnecessary, huge costs. Anyway, I'm a fortunate mom of a son who was graduated from the old system just last Friday (see the photo below 🙂 ), so I'm quite happy.

Thank you for asking me about the proportion of students who go to private schools and those who go to public ones. I've never checked that before, and I was astonished to find out that only 4 percent of all the students attended non-public (i.e. private and charter) schools in 2017.

My children have nearly always gone to charter schools, so I felt many kids do. It came as a surprise that my lot actually belonged to just 4 percent!

Exams are still critical (my son has to take his high school finals, or the so-called "maturity exams", next week), but they are not always scary. My eight graders, who had to take their finals this year, some two week ago, said they were quite easy.

Only high school students (aged 16 up) can choose their learning track. For my son it was math, physics and English. For my big daughter it is English, history and Polish.

Most students can wear to school whatever they want, as long as they look pretty decent. Only some schools (particularly those for the police, the fire brigade and the army) require uniforms.

According to the statistics, about 39% of our population has a university degree, which places us right in the middle of the European Union, with the extremes being Ireland (top) and Italy (bottom).

There are some great universities in Poland, including my alma mater: Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland, but many young people prefer to study in Great Britain or the USA.

I will be very happy to answer any further questions you might have!!
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Thank you so much for the warm welcome back! I've missed you too! It was a great pleasure being a part of your "team". I don't want to reveal any private information, but let me just say I'm very happy for you, and I hope your life's bliss. 🌷
All the best,
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@Zannah Zakariya Goni
thanks for dropping by!

The dried fruit compote is quite peculiar. Not many foreigners (or Poles ☺) enjoy it. I hope you would, though!
My favorite cookies are gingerbread ones. I'm sure you'd like those.
You are right: many Polish people have their surnames ending in "-ski" for men and "-ska" for women, but there are plenty of other names you might not expect. My maiden name didn't end in "-ska", for example. 😉
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@Magdalena Brzezinska
From the name it sounds like it will be delicious. ski for men and ska for women, now i know. Thanks
Dearest @Magdalena Brzezinska We were a team, we both encouraged one another!
Praises go to the team.

Thank you for answering my questions. I have a few more, hopefully I won’t drive you too crazy, LOL!

First of all a huge CONGRATULATIONS to your son for graduating!

Do the schools help graduates to find either careers, trade schools or universities to go to? Here each school has a Guidance Department which is supposed to help students figure out where they should go after they graduate. Depending on the school or the department, they are not always successful and it really becomes something parents need to do.

How many years of a university does it take to get the minimum degree?

We have had the same issues about grades and schools. Many places have eliminated those junior or middle school years in favor of a primary and high school. They found that there were less problems with behavior and academic learning when students didn’t have that other school. How do most people feel about this?

One of the challenges we face in the US is that mot every public school has the same quality of education. Schools are reflective of their neighborhoods so those more affluent will have better schools with more materials and higher paid teachers. Is it like this in Poland?
Why have you chosen not to send your children to pib,ic school, for example.

About your is so true that as adults our tastes change. We usually eat and like less sweet and more flavorful foods as we age. It’ s something wonderful to look forward to, to be able to finally enjoy the foods you once rejected, important to your culture. We should always be willing to retry foods. Thank you for being so responsive, a d being you!
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Dearest @Judith,

Thank you so much for all your perceptive comments and relevant questions. And thank you for the congratulations!

Most of our schools do have (tiny) guidance departments, often consisting of just one psychologist and/or pedagogue. They mostly give (very superficial) advice, but other than that they don't help you find a career or a university. This is the task of the student and of his/her parents.

To get the minimum degree (B.A./B.Sc.) you need to study for 3 years, and then it takes two more for you to get an M.A./M.Sc., etc. It usually takes 8 more if you want to get your PhD, although there are people who do it much faster.

When I was young, the minimum degree was an M.A./M.Sc., and you had to study for 5 years (or 6 if you wanted to be an M.D.) to get it. Studies were much harder back then, and you really had to be focused and determined to get a degree.

As for getting rid of "middle schools", the majority of people were against the idea. It was not so much about middle schools themselves; people didn't like them much to begin with. What people opposed was the rush, the chaos and the political connotations related to the reform. Also, most middle school have already learned how to cope with troublesome teens, and they were also really well equipped thanks to EU money. And don't even get me started on middle school teachers losing their jobs...

Just like in the US, public schools are reflective of their neighborhoods. What is interesting, though, is that non-public primary and junior high schools are better than their public counterparts, whereas public senior high schools are better than private ones. Examining this phenomenon might be a good research topic for a Ph.D. thesis.

Let me ask you an education-related question too: do you think many American schools personalize teaching?
Thank you so much for your thoughtful replies @Magdalena Brzezinska .
It seems like you feel that the rigors of education have been lessened since you were a student. Why do you think this is so?

I still have this illusion or is it a reality? that the education system in European countries is more challenging than in the US. For example, when most students graduate high school they may have studied a foreign language but aren’t very competent in it. I listen to you speak English, for example and it is excellent. You learned it in school. Our students don’t usually graduate and can speak another language.

It does make you wonder why public high schools are better yet primary schools aren’t?
In Boston, there is a situation where some wealthy people send their children to private schools, however they hope to get their child into Boston Latin, which is a fabulous high school for the best academic students in the city. You need to take a test to get in. After years of private school study, these students have a tremendous advantage over those who couldn’t afford such schools. As a result, some of the public school students will not get into that school. The advantage goes to the wealthier students coming from private schools.
Could it be a similar situation in Poland where after years of private school study, students now attend public high school, entering with a strong academic background?

Your question is an interesting one. Because of the tremendous inequality of education here, personalizing education is something that wealthier schools will do. In such schools class sizes are smaller and teachers are able to personalize. Parents expect that their children will improve and need to see evidence of it. Teachers would have to create lessons that understand and address every child’s needs.

In the field of “special education “ students with specific proven needs, are pulled from classes for individual help. There has been much debate about whether children with poor skills should be separated from their peers and placed in a special small class or kept in a large class and given individual help as the class operates. (It’s called inclusion.)

Having computers has allowed schools to individualize many programs for students, although there have been problems with this. Our school tried to personalize a math program. Students progressed at their own rates. The challenges came from the teachers who had trouble monitoring this.

Generally the way I learned, sitting in a classroom, quietly, doing assignments, reading, writing, answering questions, with a teacher standing in front of the class is frowned upon in primary grades. Students are encouraged to talk and engage in projects. Many programs have been created to motivate and help students learn in different ways.

What about in Poland? Have you seen education changing and personalizing?
As always, it is such a pleasure to discuss things with you!
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Dear @Judith, some time ago I came across a very funny (but also sad) meme, in which there may be a grain of truth:

Sometimes I feel that the fact that education is not so rigorous any more has its disadvantages... Although I'm by no means in favor of passive rote learning!

In our schools it is obligatory to learn English from the first grade of primary school (when the child is 6 or 7). When the child is 12/13 (or earlier if they're in non-public schools), they start learning another foreign language. Usually it's German or Spanish. Some become fluent really fast, but there are others who struggle. There are a lot of factors involved here. One of them is surely whether a child also studies the language outside of school, with a tutor, or at a language school.

I'm not sure whether European education systems are more challenging, but I know for a fact that our tests are much different. Actually, I discovered it here, on Coursera, when I took various tests during courses. Most teaching courses which I took part in and was a CTA for were offered by the University of Oregon. When I opened the first of their tests, I realized that even though I studied really intensively, I had a problem with how the questions were formulated. The type that was the most unexpected and confusing was "of all the statements, which one does not describe...". I had a really hard time "rewiring" my brain to be able to switch to such quizzes.

Yes, I agree non-public schools can definitely focus on students more than public ones (even if not all of them actually do), especially as there are not so many students in the class. Yes, I believe it can be true that after years of private school study, students enter public high schools with a strong academic background.

Thank you for answering my questions about personalization! I always felt, in this respect, the US and Finland are so ahead of us.

As for special education, our situation and the dilemmas are pretty similar to yours... At present, I teach a couple of students with learning problems (two of them are dyslexic, one has numerous problems including the inability to focus, and there's one with Asperger's Syndrome). I don't have any teaching assistant, so sometimes I need to focus on the students with learning problems at the cost of the students without such issues. I don't think there's a simple solution in such situations...

At present, in Poland there is a huge focus on personalization, Project Based Learning, and the so-called 21st century skills. The teacher is supposed to be a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage". I myself used to be a huge fan of the change - until my own son (the one you can see in the photo above) told me that... he didn't like the approach! He said he didn't need a tutor or a guide. He wanted a sensei; a guru.

Let me unexpectedly wind up with food again. ☺

Today my visitors from the Netherlands and my family visited the famous St. Martin's Croissant Museum. ☺ We had a chance to learn the history and the whole process of making and baking such croissants. Yum! Wish you were there with us!

Dear @Magdalena Brzezinska the Evolution of Education is so funny, a sad truth but it leaves us with much to think about.
A foreign language has been introduced to young children here, but it usually is only once a week, when a teacher visits to teach a 45 minute language lesson. Our children just don't become as fluent in another language as yours do. Perhaps it is because your students learn it at such a young age and probably study or speak it daily. Not only are your student learning English, but they learn a second language as well. It's incredible!I wish we had a better language program here. Perhaps it isn't as motivating because in Europe you can travel to other countries in short periods of time, whereas it's just not like that here in the vast USA.

Tests are often tricky, as you noticed, not straightforward. I dislike tests like that too. But it does seem to be something we seem to do, good observation!

I love what your son said about wanting a teacher guru! It's so much easier to just sit back and let the teacher tell you things and "inspire" you. But the real challenge and learning comes from the student actively engaging and working, not just listening. Since it's relatively new, many teachers never had teachers like that so they are unsure of how to teach like this. They are more comfortable standing in front and having students take notes, raising hands, etc. It's a lot of hard work to create projects where every student will be busily engaged and learning. The teacher's role is different and that's often not easy for teachers to be able to do.

I wish I was with you too. A croissant museum, how amazing this is!
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As for learning foreign languages, I have just been amazed by one of our Dutch visitors. She's 14 years old and only started learning English a year and a half ago. It's true Dutch is a Germanic language, just like English (and unlike Polish), but still her command is excellent. Her parents told me she's exceptionally gifted, which certainly makes things much easier for her, but I need to investigate further how exactly she is being taught and what makes her so successful.

I agree the ability to travel definitely motivates one to learn another language. I'm quite good at English and Spanish, but I also speak some French, German and Russian. Now that we have so many immigrants from Ukraine, when I hear them speak on the tram or on the bus, I can also grasp bits and pieces. So you're right: the ability to travel to other countries in short periods of time definitely helps.

On a different note, I feel what my son means is that he needs to be sure the person who teaches him is truly an expert. He doesn't want a companion on his way to knowledge. He needs to be sure that whoever is guiding him, is already "there".

Yesterday we took our Dutch visitors to a beautiful arboretum nearby. The magnolias are nearly gone, but here are some for you ☺:

@Magdalena Brzezinska , it’s incredible how many languages you are familiar with. My Polish mother came to the US able to speak English, French and Latin, was able to easily pick up German. I always just thought she was so talented in languages. But now I have come to learn that it is not unusual for Europeans to speak and understand several languages. I wish there could be a Universal language we could all speak, although it is very exciting to visit a place with a whole new language and culture!

What your son means is something else to think about.....In many areas, such as being a music instructor, having the skills to demonstrate is very meaningful. If I wanted to study violin for example, I would expect my teacher to be able to play it well. But there have been times I had teachers who were experts in their fields but they were boring and couldn’t transmit their knowledge. Just having extensive knowledge doesn’t make you an effective teacher, but you do need to have some expert knowledge in your field. One of the problems with the “guide on the side” philosophy is that schools think they can put anyone in the class since the work is “personalized “ . Any questions or problems need to be worked out by the students without teacher help. This frustrates and angers students.

The question I was going to pose was: Would you rather have a teacher who was an expert in the field but struggled with motivation and communication or would you rather have a teacher who was very inspiring and motivating but lacked subject knowledge?
After writing this, I decided I wouldn’t want either teacher, LOL! What do you think?

Thank you for sending me the beautiful flowers.Here are some for you, which reminded me of fallen stars...make a wish! They are magical, the very first flowers of the season !

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I'm very sorry for the delayed reply, but I was visiting my father in the north of the country and had no access to the internet.

Yes, a universal language would be awesome! I wonder why we all got rid of Proto-Indo-European. It made things so much easier! 😉

I completely understand what you mean by teachers who are hopeless despite being experts in their field... Sadly, I used to have a university professor like that... He knew everything about Noam Chomsky and his theory of syntax, but not only was he exhausting: he also lectured with his back turned on us! Having extensive knowledge definitely doesn’t make you an effective teacher...

No, just like you, I wouldn't want either an ignorant but passionate teacher or an expert lacking social/teaching skills. 😀

Thank you for asking me so many inspiring questions and for answering some of mine! It's been a great pleasure discussing things with you!
I feel the exact same way! You always answer my questions so thoughtfully and add so much to the discussion. It has been so wonderful to interact with you here once again 😀.