Places that “Made” Me: Installment Two

By Troy Headrick

If you read my first installment, you know that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and was sent to PĨock, Poland, a beautiful and fascinating city located on the Vistula River, to complete my Pre-Service Training (PST), a demanding educational regime that was designed to see if I’d be up to the various challenges I’d certainly encounter once I was sent off to the town or city I’d be living and working in. 

A very exciting moment came in late summer, at the conclusion of the third month of PST.  It was referred to as “placement day.”  I’d already successfully survived what amounted to the Peace Corps’ version of “boot camp” and was about to be told the name of the place in Poland I was going to be sent off to do my service, which amounted to teacher training, educational consulting, among other duties.

On this day, we gathered together in the “aula,” the auditorium, the location where much of our training had taken place—the Peace Corps had contracted with a high school in PĨock to use their facilities.  The mood in the room was electric but oddly subdued.  We were told that our names would be called, one by one.  Once this happened, we would come forward to be handed a sealed envelope that would contain the name of the town or city that would become our new homes.  There was also a bit a sadness in that room, too, because we were about to be disbanded and scattered to the four winds after we’d spent some intense months forming deep interpersonal attachments to one another.

My name was called and I went up to get my envelop.  With shaky fingers, I tore it open while moving toward the large map of Poland that had been taped to one of the auditorium walls.  I pulled the slip out and saw the word “Tarnόw”—a place I’d never heard of before—written there. 

When I got to the map, I had to scan every inch of it until, finally, down south, not far from the magnificently beautiful city of Krakόw (Cracow), I saw what looked to be a rather smallish metropolitan area just to Krakόw’s east.  I could see that my home-to-be was located on a major train line that ran west to east, all the way from the Germany to the Ukraine.  Of course, as you can easily imagine, this discovery brought a smile to my face because I knew it would make traveling—I ended up doing a ton of it—very easy.

The next morning, on a cool and foggy August day, a fellow named Krzysztof Rusnak, along with a car and driver, arrived in PĨock to carry me 385 kilometers, about five hours by automobile, to Tarnόw.  Krzysztof worked at the teacher-training college, called the Nauczycielskie Kolegium Językόw Obcych w Tarnowie, and would soon be a colleague in October when the college opened for classes.

I liked Krzysztof from the first moment I met him.  He was a handsome guy who wore glasses with thick lenses that magnified his eyes, giving him a geeky but endearing look.  He helped me load up my stuff and we took off.

It was my first car trip through Poland, and I felt terrified most of the way.  Our driver, a fearless fellow who clearly felt braver on the narrow roads of Poland than I did, never slowed down even as approaching traffic flew toward us at unimaginably fast speeds.  I recall, all these years later, closing my eyes while nearly pushing an imaginary brake pedal through the floorboard, as we zoomed along.  Luckily, several hours after departing, we arrived with life and limb preserved and intact.

They moved me into a tiny, communist-era apartment on the fifth floor of what the English-speaking Poles called a “block of flats” located on Ulica Reymonta.  I spent the first night exploring my neighborhood.  I didn’t wander far until the next morning, so I had no idea, at that moment, what a wonder city I was now living in.


I promise that there’ll be much more about magnificent Tarnόw in the next installment.


Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here and his business page can be found here.

27 thoughts on “Places that “Made” Me: Installment Two

  1. I remember back in the 70s trying to get into the Peace Corps and then into VISTA. I didn’t have a 4 year degree at the time and they just were not interested. I felt a little bit bitter about it.

    1. I can understand that. It’s never too late. There were people of all ages in our group, and that’s generally true about those who become Peace Corps Volunteers. That experience changed me and my life forever. Being a PCV is one of those truly transformational experiences. Some get sent to a place and never return to the US again. Thanks, man. I always love hearing from you.

  2. Great read! The thought of waiting for your name to be called, how nerve racking! I am interested in that train line from Germany to the Ukraine 🤔

    1. I traveled all over Poland and that part of Europe by train during that period. I was lucky. Some of my buddies got sent off to places that were way off the beaten path. They’d have to take a bus (or two) to get to a town that had a train station. The train station in Tarnow was about 10 minutes away from my first apartment by foot. I went to Krakow about every ten days or so. The city is one of the undiscovered gems of Europe. My favorite trip was from Tarnow to Budapest, Hungary. I went with three other PCV friends. We stayed in a cheap hostel and wandered the city like vagabonds.

      1. Thank you very much! I love that about the blogosphere, getting to know other people through their stories. Looking forward to mutual sharing to come.

  3. Great stories Troy – I love traveling as you might have guessed. I’ve not been to Poland but would love to visit. I’ve heard good things. Looking forward to the next instalment!

      1. No I hadn’t – thanks for letting me know and congrats! I’ve no doubt you’ll continue to make the blog a great success. A big thank you to Bogdan for all his hard work too. He’s helped develop a gem in the WordPress community. Feel free to contact me anytime. Kind regards, AP2 🙏

    1. Thanks, Cheryl. And I forgot that you read the first part and commented! So I guess we’re in the same boat. I hope you have a great evening! Take care and be safe!

  4. Oh how I can relate to that feeling of pressing the imaginary floor brake in the Balkan countries! A great write up as usual, looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. It’s completely amazing. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can remember that terrifying car trip like it happened only moments ago. It must have really traumatized me to have remained as a deposit in my memory bank for so long. Thanks for stopping by. Did you live in the Balkans? I regret that that’s the only part of Europe I haven’t visited.

      1. No, not live, but have done a tonne of travelling around there. Beautiful part of the world, as most of Europe is. When all this craziness of the world is over, definitely head over there!

    1. Thanks, Snapdragon. Poland is one of those underappreciated European countries. It’s beautiful, but the politics have been getting a little ugly recently. I hope it keeps its shit together.

  5. I am loving hearing about a country I know very little about. And the way you are telling your story draws me in to learn more.

    Thinking more about the places I have been, I think time spent in Ireland really spoke to me. The quiet villages in the countryside and the wonderful music in the pubs reminded me a bit of her at home in New Zealand, and showed me just how much music really is a universal language.

    Thank you for your words.

    1. Your Ireland blog sounds like a piece waiting to be written. If you write it, let me know because I’d love to be a reader. Several years ago, I visited Scotland during the summertime. I thought Edinburgh was cool. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it out into the countryside or to any small village. Would have loved to, though. For my money, you can’t beat the European pub scene. Thanks, Hamish. It’s always nice to hear from you.

      1. I think you’re right. There was so much that inspired me when I visited back in 2012, even if I didn’t know it at the time. I think in the near future it will be something that writes itself. When it does I’ll be sure to let you know!

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