A Tale of Two Cities

Lodz, Poland and Hefei, China are two cities that 1) not many people have heard of and 2) don’t really seem like they’d share many similarities, but I feel it’s my job as a former resident of one, and a current resident of the other to share some interesting information about these two beautiful places, perhaps increasing their notoriety and proving that two very different cities can actually have quite a lot in common.

Maps
Putting Lodz and Hefei on the map so to say

Similarities: For me (and Tucker, as I’ve enlisted his help with the following comparisons), the most prominent similarities lie in the locations, reputations, and inhabitants of the two cities.

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Train travel in China

Location: Both Lodz and Hefei are somewhat centrally located within their respective countries. They are cities that are not known for their tourist attractions, but are instead used as transportation hubs. All the train routes and major highways, for example, seem to connect through these large, regional capitals. We have absolutely loved this feature in both locations because it has made our travels around Poland and China significantly easier (and cheaper). We have also found that both cities are surrounded by farmland. Unlike the US, which seems to be the land of never-ending suburbs, both Lodz and Hefei have a very clear line between city and countryside. This clear division never fails to amaze me as we ride a train out of the city, and I look down for a moment only to look up and see fields and tractors rather than high-rises. While, we knew both cities were geographically in the middle of their nations, the ease and plethora of transportation options and the stark city to farm transitions were not something we anticipated finding in one, let alone both cities.

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Cityscape in Lodz

Reputation: Another similarity we’ve run into is what the two cities are most known for. Lodz was described to us as the Detroit of Europe (or the Manchester of the Continent), a place where industry was king. In Hefei, it is and has always been about business as well; whether the tea or other Anhui specialties from the past or the engineered or technological goods of today, Hefei is also place where industry has thrived. Both cities are also well off-the-beaten track as far as travelers are concerned. Many people travel to Poland and to China, but far fewer have made it to Lodz or Hefei. For that reason, I think the two cities share a sense of undisturbed cultural “essence” that places like Kracow and Shanghai can’t quite advertise. We often joke that we live in “real” China as opposed to places like Beijing or Hong Kong, which have many international residents and conveniences that might not feel that different from any other large city. Lodz also felt like a part of “real” Poland, and no matter which country we’re in, Tucker and I have definitely preferred being one with the locals.

Inhabitants: A third similarity that has appeared in so many ways is in regards to the people. Both Lodz and Hefei, possibly as a result of their lack of tourism, are fairly homogeneous cities. I remember in Lodz feeling like I was missing out on the diversity that, to me, made a city like Atlanta something special. Hefei is similar in that the vast majority of people fit a very similar mold. Even the names fit very specific standardizations in both locations. In one of my classes in Poland I had six students named Marta, four Michals, etc. In China it’s the same but with the last names, I have seven students in one class with the surname Zhang, five with Liu, etc. We’ve also found hospitality to be very highly valued by the inhabitants of both Lodz and Hefei. People in both cities have been extremely welcoming towards us whether we have a connection (via friends or work) or not. From snack offerings and dinner invitations to personal tour guides and assistance with even the most mundane tasks, strangers, acquaintances, and friends alike went out of their way in both cities to be friendly and hospitable to us, the newbies on the block.

The last similarity that I want to mention, which may even be the reason I’m writing this post, is that people from Lodz (Lodzites, as we call them) and people from Hefei (Hefeians) both regard their cities as “nothing special”. When people asked me what my favorite city in Poland was, truly my answer was Lodz, and they didn’t believe me! Now when I talk about all the things I like about Hefei, I’m met with suggestions for other cities to visit in China. Maybe this can be boiled down to the “grass is always greener” adage, or maybe some form of modesty, but really I think both Lodz and Hefei are great places to visit or to live.

Honorable mentions for similarities: Some other things that stick out as oddly similar between the two cities include:

The prevalence of shopping malls, the of ubiquity of uneven pavements (it’s unclear as of yet whether I’ve tripped more often in Poland or in China), the common appearance of cars on these uneven pavements (i.e. sidewalks, store fronts, etc.), and the the popularity of duck (as opposed to other poultry).

Differences: I don’t think my information about the cities would be entirely complete if I didn’t at least briefly outline some of the differences we’ve encountered as well. When thinking about the ways the two cities are not alike, interestingly, I still come to the features of location, reputation, and inhabitants.

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Skyline in Hefei

Location: The size of the two cities is quite different. Lodz has a population of about 100,000, while Hefei has between 6-8 million. With the population difference, of course, comes a difference of area. Lodz was fairly walkable; usually we chose to take buses or trams, but if it got too late, we could walk home if we needed to. We were also able to walk to the grocery store, a nearby mall, several parks, etc. In Hefei there is no way to get around solely by walking. It takes us over an hour to get to the other side of the city in the best of circumstances, several hours by bus. In Hefei we end up taking taxis a lot more than we ever have before (cheap, reliable, and fast – can’t be it!). Another locational difference is the fact that Poland is surrounded quite close on all sides by different cultures. Europe, in general, has been mixing the cuisines, festivals, etc. of its various nations for quite a while. China, while also surrounded by other countries/cultures, is much larger and only newly “open” for mixing. The difference these facts have made on the cities is quite evident. In Lodz we could go to an Italian, French, Turkish, German, Chinese, or any other restaurant we might want on any given night, while in Hefei, it’s pretty much Chinese all around. There is variety to be had (Sichuanese, Canton, Beijing-style, etc.), but ultimately to me, it’s still all Chinese.

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Skyline in Lodz

 

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Church in Lodz

Reputation: Another difference would have to be the government systems, and perhaps even more than that are the views towards the government systems. In Lodz, I talked about politics more than I ever had previously in my life. We talked about Poland’s history, laws, elections, etc. all the time. I learned that Poland had the world’s second democracy, I heard the word “solidarity” more often than I would have thought possible, and of course, I observed all the negativity surrounding the ideals of communism (which is really no wonder given Poland and Russia’s history). However, now that I’m in Hefei, politics are pretty well avoided. Solidarity has perhaps been replaced with “CPC”, and communism is viewed completely differently, which makes sense, as it is completely different than the former Russian system we’ve all read about. Another large difference in regards to reputation is the presence of religion in Lodz and the almost complete absence of it in Hefei. I took hundreds of photos of churches during my time in Poland, and I think I’ve seen maybe four over the past seven months in China. It’s also interesting to note that in Poland many people loved arguing over the influence the church had/has on the government, but in China that’s just not even possible.

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Temple in Hefei
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Polish offerings

Inhabitants: Finally, there are definitely some differences among the people of Lodz and Hefei. While I mentioned both populations were incredible hospitable, their ways of showing it are completely different. In Poland people had a motherly way of treating guest: Did we want something to drink? Something to eat? Are we cold? Etc. We were asked over to people’s houses for the holidays, and we had no trouble connecting to people on a casual, friend level. In China, we’re treated more like honored guests. We are given the best seats in the house, gifts, toasts, red-carpet treatment (sometimes literally). While hospitable, occasionally we feel a little isolated by this guest-treatment, which has taken a bit of time to overcome and finally allow us to reach the friendzone. Another obvious difference would be lifestyles. In Lodz it seemed like a quiet life was desired. Most people in the city kept to themselves and enjoyed quiet activities like reading or silently playing mobile games while making it through the day (the great exception to this being when a Polish sports team was on TV). In Hefei, however, I’m not sure there’s ever a truly quiet moment. Cars and buses blast their horns around the clock, people listen to surprisingly loud audio messages wherever they are, and with the singing street sweepers and an abundance salespeople armed with loudspeakers, it’s safe to say people here aren’t concerned with the quiet life.

Honorable mentions for differences: Some other notable differences include:

The amount and importance placed on alcohol as a form of socializing, the ability to regulate indoor temperatures (in Lodz we couldn’t cool down our apartment, and in Hefei we can’t heat it), the emphasis placed on the quality of food, and last but not least, the language (there’s way too much to say about the differences in this aspect, so I’ll save it for a later post).

I’m not sure if anyone really wanted quite that much information about Lodz and Hefei, but when I start talking (or writing) about these two places I always find that I have so much to say! Ultimately though no matter the similarities or differences we’ve found, the most remarkable things we’ve taken away form our time in both Lodz and Hefei are the things we’ve learned, the memories we’ve made, and the people we’ve met. And personally, I can’t wait to find out which city we’ll be adding to the comparison list next!

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I ❤ Lodz & Hefei

What Am I Doing Here?

I’ve been living in Poland for two months now, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am! I will be forever grateful to Fulbright, to the University of Łódź, and to each and every person who helped make this dream a reality (which come to think of it, is quite a lot of people). To most of you reading this, it isn’t surprising that I’m loving every second of living abroad. Many of you have heard me ramble on about the places I’ve been and the places I’d like to go, or maybe we’ve traveled together and you’ve seen my excitement firsthand. Or maybe you’ve had classes with me, where I incessantly and passionately discuss every topic within the realm of language and culture. It’s fairly obvious that I’m in my element just being in a foreign country, but what exactly am I doing with my time spent over here? And why did I choose Poland as my second country of residence? These are just a few questions that I’m asked on a regular basis, so I thought I’d take some time to explain what led me here and what exactly I’ll be doing for the next year.

As many people already know, I am in Poland on a Fulbright grant. What many people might not know is that Fulbright is an amazing program that promotes international exchange by selecting students, teachers, scholars, professionals, researchers, and artists to share their talents and establish mutual understanding between their home and host countries. Fulbright Grantees include some of the most brilliant and ambitious individuals I have ever met, and I am extremely thankful to be a part of this prestigious family.

My role within Fulbright is that of an English teacher, thus most of my time is allocated to the teaching of Philology majors at the University of Łódź. I teach four classes in total: two sessions of Integrated Skills to BA students in their final year of study, and Academic Writing to first year MAs and last year BAs. My students fall into the Philology department, but are divided into different specializations including Linguistics, Methodology, Translation, and Literature. The majority are from Poland, but several are from other European countries and a few from as far away as Colombia. I love getting to know my students, and I am thankful for their positivity and support while I continue to navigate the challenges of teaching in a completely unfamiliar system.

University of Łódź

While my paying job is at the university, I am also here as a representative of Fulbright and of the United States; therefore, I spend a good amount of time volunteering in the community. Most of my volunteering thus far has been within public education – I am a teacher after all! So far I have been able to visit two inner city primary schools in Łódź to talk about US holidays and customs, play games, sing songs, and just be a part of the kids’/teachers’ day. I have also been helping out in the American Corner in Łódź, which is a resource center created by a partnership between the university and the Public Affairs section of the US embassy. In the American Corner I help lead a conversation club each week, where we discuss a variety of topics and subsequently keep our English language skills sharp. I also give presentations on topics related to the United States and the English language, which have allowed me to share my culture and experiences while gleaning information about Poland’s perception of such subjects.

During this time in Poland, Fulbright also gives us time and resources to conduct research. At first, my mind was spinning with all the possibilities, but after many long, thoughtful hours on public transportation, I have decided to research grammatical gender in language and its effect on gender roles and societal perception. I would like to take both a quantitative and qualitative approach with this project: quantitatively measuring grammatical gender in a language and qualitatively assessing the effects through interviews and observations. Obviously I will begin with Polish, which is highly gendered and eventually move on to a moderately gendered language and finally a gender neutral language. I’m hoping to see a correlation between the amount of gender in a language and the fluidity of gender roles and perceptions.

Another goal of mine (partially research-driven) is to learn as much Polish as is possible. I absolutely love the language and am lucky to not only have Polish classes every week, but to also be fully immersed in the culture. It can’t get any better than this! I do have to admit, however, that while the Polish language is a linguist’s dream, it seems to be a learner’s nightmare. Seven grammatical cases, three genders, a multitude of consonant clusters, many conjugation exceptions, and the list goes on. To give you a taste of what I’m working with, here is a list of the 17 grammatical versions of the number “2”: dwa, dwie, dwoje, dwóch (or dwu), dwaj, dwiema, dwom (or dwóm), dwoma, dwojga, dwojgu, dwojgiem, dwójka, dwójki, dwójkę, dwójką, dwójce, i dwójko. Who wants to learn Polish with me?!

Last, but not least on my to-do list is travel. I’m living in Europe! How could I not take advantage of this amazing location? While I’m here, I am hoping to see as much of this continent as I can; however, I am starting with Poland. I chose to apply for a Fulbright grant in Poland for several reasons: my heritage, my love of Slavic languages, its location in the heart of Europe, etc. Everyday I’m here my connection to Poland is increasing; I want to get to know this country and these people as well as I can. To me, that means spending time as they spend time and getting to know the places they know. I am lucky enough to have gone through this process in the United States, and I feel like it gave me a great view of my country and the people who live there. Now I’d like to repeat the process in Poland. So far we’ve visited Warszawa, Łódź, Łęczyca, Kraków, Gdańsk, and Sopot, but there are many more cities on our list!

Łęczyca

Well, that was probably more detail than anyone (except my family) would have wanted! If you’re still reading and have any questions, I’d love to answer them. It’s difficult to share absolutely everything I’m doing over here, but I’m happy to try. Fulbright is a program of international exchange. Half of my job is sharing my experiences with the people I meet in Poland, but the other half is sharing them with you!

Dziękuję za przeczytanie!