Originally published Aug. 16, 2012.
When most teenagers think of how to spend their summers, a two-week trip to Poland doesn't top the list.
Unless you're Huntington resident Rhyan Geiger, who spent June 25 through July 8 in Poland as part of a team of 4-H exchange students.
Geiger says the yearly program is familiar to her family.
"We have previously hosted exchange students from Poland and Japan," she says. "Our team of nine had kids from Allen and Wells counties, one from Plymouth and another from Indianapolis."
She says that after she read through the 4-H newsletter with her mother, they both decided that it was time for her to become an exchange student.
"I didn't really think about the trip until the night before I left," Geiger says. "I knew it was going to be a fun experience, but I didn't really think much about it."
The adventure began even before the team left the airport, she adds.
"We flew out of O'Hare Airport (Chicago, IL), but the flight was delayed for three hours because there was a problem they had to fix on the plane," Geiger says. "That caused us to miss our connecting flight."
The team connected in Frankfurt, Germany, and then flew to Krakow, Poland.
"The first thing I saw was a Camel-brand smoking box, with people smoking in it," Geiger says. "That's something you wouldn't see here."
After the team arrived, the students spent the first night exploring the city of Krakow.
"It was pretty cool to see the city at night," she says. "The architecture is so much different from what we have here. It was really pretty."
On the second day of the trip, the group visited the former concentration camp at Auschwitz.
"The camp is exactly the way it used to be, minus the people," Geiger says. "It's hard to put into words how I felt. You just have to be there to understand."
The team spent time visiting other landmarks, including cathedrals and a horse farm.
"Some of the other kids went to the salt mines," Geiger adds. "We also spent the night in a haunted castle. That was a really cool experience."
The students were then situated with various host families, staying with them for the final four days.
Geiger says she was placed with the Gos family in the village of Konskie. The mother, Renata Gos, was the 4-H coordinator for the region. Her husband, Pawel, worked in the military. They have a daughter, Samanta.
"The parents didn't speak very much English, but Samanta did," says Geiger. "Most people in the area could speak at least a little English."
Geiger adds that the village of Konskie had one main road that was paved. All other roads leading to homes were made of gravel.
"The village had one deli and a church and that was about it," she adds. "Life in the village was a lot different from what it is here."
For starters, Geiger says, the Polish are a lot more energy conscious than the average American.
"They always make sure to unplug any electrical equipment not in use," she says. "There was no air conditioning or fans where I stayed and it was about 90 degrees every day."
She adds that the Gos family relied instead on opened windows and crosswinds to cool the house down.
"They also don't use ice and drink they beverages at room temperature," Geiger says. "Because we couldn't drink the tap water, we had to drink what they call gas water, which is basically carbonated water."
She says showers were not of the long and luxurious kind, as most people took quick showers.
Although the trip was not focused on 4-H-related activities, Geiger says she did get to see a few of the Polish 4-H poster projects.
"They're pretty much the same, except they have a lot more vertical projects, where here, we have a lot of ours set horizontally," she says.
She adds that she also had the opportunity to accompany Pawel Gos to the military base where he worked.
Geiger, who will be a senior at Huntington North High School this fall and is 10-year 4-H member, says the experience is one that she will never forget.
"It was cool hosting other students, but it's a whole lot different when you actually get to go yourself," she says. "On of my favorite things about the trip was getting to tour the city of Krakow at night."
Geiger adds that she would recommend that 4-H'ers take the plunge if they are considering being an exchange student.
"Don't think about it, just do; you'll love the experience," she says. "Also, interact with your host family and try to learn new things, even if at first you don't want to do them."
Geiger is the daughter of Kristi Geiger, of Markle.