Cleaning Mirror in Strange Land: How Does it Feel to be Yourself – pt. 1

Refuge of Lost Souls

I lifted the train’s window and reached out to see my students. Six were standing there, five Polish girls and a Polish boy in their 20’s, each held a Vietnam postcard. They waved their hands at me. Their eyes were full of tears, even the boy – who I gave a red lipstick print from a kiss on the postcard. Tears filled my eyes.

Just an hour before that we were all sitting on the green grass grown in the yard of Krakow’s University of Economics, under the warm sunlight of early May, in the last class of the course. There I asked them to look carefully around for a minute, and then close their eyes. “How many lines of trees are there on your right?” I began to ask. They answered but all incorrectly. “What are the colors of the flowers in the patch on your left?”. They also couldn’t recall the colors. “Can you describe the beautiful earrings Alina wears today?”. Alina smiled, though no other student had noticed the sparling emerald she wore. I told my students to open their eyes.

An immense emotion grew inside me as I spoke: “All my life I’ve tried to be perfect so that others can love me, and so that I can be happy.” Alina began to sob, she understood. I said to my student and also to myself. “But I did not understand that I was chasing rainbow. The moment I be truly myself and let go of what others think, and notice the richness that has been around me all along, Love comes to me. I realized that happiness is here and now, in every moment. I simply need to be true.” Tears started rolling down my cheeks. “This is the last class. I have nothing more to teach you. Thank you for being the most wonderful students.”

They walked with me to the train station where I would leave for Warsaw in order to board the plane to Vietnam. I pulled out a stack of postcards with Vietnamese scenery: the golden rice field stretching to the horizon, the cheerful boy sitting on a water buffalo crossing a stream, the deep green water and the floating mountains of Ha Long Bay… I sat on the ground and scribbled down a wish on the back of each postcard. I  hugged each of them as I handed the postcard. I told them that they must leave the moment I got on the train. And I ran to my seat, holding back my tears. I tucked my luggage in the upper-shelf. I sat down. I peeked through the window, hoping they’d already left. But they hadn’t. I gestured for them to leave. But my students kept standing there, looking at me, looking at each other, holding the postcards tightly in their hands. The girls started crying. They wouldn’t go.

I came close to the train window and reached out to see them for the last time. Those minutes seemed like a bittersweet eternity. A Vietnamese twenty-two-year-old girl who went to Poland to teach English, and six other Polish boys and girls of her age – who’d only known her for ten weeks – at the platform of an old train station, everyone were crying, not out of despair, but out of love. We didn’t say anything to each other, love is speechless. The train’s wheels began to turn, and quicken. We waved our hands.We smiled in tears. “I love you all!” I said. “I love you too!” my students replied. “Good bye!”


That was how my internship in Poland ended. You may ask how is that all possible. I’m not quiet sure. Whenever I look back at those three months, I think of them as something quite magical.

I came to Krakow through an AIESEC internship to teach English communication, and my students’ feedback said that I did it well. I’d wanted to see European ancient cities and their magnificent architecture, and they took my breath away. But I was rewarded with something greater than any of the above, something beyond all expectations: the experience of being myself. And I tried to make my students experience it too, each day in English classes. I had three classes, 14 students each, and I meet them twice per week. I asked them to write and talk in English about their childhood dreams, about the happiest moments in their lives, and also about the saddest, about their fears, about their values, about how beautiful life is and how ignorant most of us are with the wonders that surround us. I secretly named my class “Refuge of Lost Souls.” I was one lost soul too.


Part two: This is it

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