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Cambridge students at the University of Warsaw


In summer 2019, thanks to the generous support of the University of Warsaw, two Cambridge students spent a month in the Polish capital taking an intensive course in Polish language and culture.

Celia Hobbs and James Barr were selected to participate in the course for their outstanding performance in the University of Warsaw Prize for Literary Translation. The two students have written accounts of their time in Warsaw.


Celia Hobbs:

[winner of the University of Warsaw Prize for Literary Translation]

After entering this year’s Translation from Polish competition, open to all students of SL13, I was thrilled (and surprised in equal measure) to be awarded a place on the month-long ‘Polonicum Summer Course of Polish Language and Culture’ at the University of Warsaw.

Despite initially feeling intimidated upon realising that all three hours of the daily language classes would be taught entirely in Polish, and wondering whether my language skills, (which had become somewhat rusty over the summer), were up to the challenge, this immersion into the language quickly came to be one of my favourite aspects of the course. Though tiring, the daily improvement to both my vocabulary and level of understanding was tangible, and made speaking Polish - both in and out of the classroom - a far less daunting prospect, and definitely cemented my desire to continue learning Polish.

The course also offered plenty of free time in which to explore the city independently. Aside from the chance to improve my Polish, a personal highlight was the art housed in Warsaw’s numerous and almost ridiculously cheap galleries. (Entry for students cost roughly 20p!) Seeing pieces I’d loved studying over the course of SL13, and discovering many more by artists I’d never heard of, was definitely one of the most memorable parts of my time in Warsaw.

I’m looking forward to planning another trip to Poland soon​.


James Barr:

It was a great privilege to be offered the chance to study on the Polonicum Summer Course of Polish Language and Culture at the University of Warsaw. While the Polish Course at Cambridge had given me a fantastic introduction to the language and literature of this fascinating country, studying in Warsaw provided an excellent opportunity to put my fledgling language skills into practice as well as further develop my knowledge of Polish culture.

The Polonicum Course struck a good balance between language work (3 hours of language classes a day) and cultural exploration thanks to an assortment of workshops on various aspects of Polish contemporary life and culture as well as excursions to the city’s numerous museums and even further afield to a traditional Polish folk village.

My personal highlight of the trip was witnessing the commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising — at 5pm on 1st August (Godzina „W” or ‘W’ Hour) the whole city came to a stop and alarm signals and sirens blared to mark the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Varsovian rebellion against Nazi occupation in 1944. This was a powerful reminder of the city’s tragic and war-torn past.

Other highlights included attending a concert of Chopin’s music at the foot of the monument to this favourite son of Warsaw in Łazienki Royal Park, learning some more ‘colloquial’ Polish phrases at Legia Warsaw football matches and, of course, sampling Poland’s world-renowned and varied vodkas.

It was an unforgettable month which has only further fuelled my curiosity about Poland and its language and culture. My thanks go to Dr Bill and to the University of Warsaw for this amazing opportunity​.