POWIDZ Air Base, Poland --
The classroom buzzed with excitement as Polish elementary school students eagerly waited their turn to ask questions like, “What part of America are you from? What sports do you like?”
This in-class discussion was one of several activities that comprised a visit from U.S. Airmen from the 94th Airlift Wing, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, and the 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Elementary School No. Nine in Gniezno, Poland, Oct. 18-19, 2016.
The Airmen are currently in Poland working with the Polish air force during Aviation Detachment 17-1 in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve and took time from their normal duty day to visit the school, volunteer with campus cleanup and share in a cultural exchange with the students and teachers.
“We had a lot of fun interacting with kids that hadn’t spent time with Americans before,” said Maj. Scott Hendrix, 37th Airlift Squadron pilot. “It gave us a chance to build on our partnership, spend some time together and become more familiar with each other’s culture.”
Despite a language barrier, communication was easy. Polish teachers translated for the two groups, while some of the students got a chance to practice their English-language skills with native speakers.
Joanna Pokladecka, an English teacher at the school, also expressed the importance of the visit and explained that this was the first time a group of Americans had visited the school.
“As foreign language teachers, we always tell our students how important it is to learn languages to be able to communicate with people from other countries. Knowing is one thing, but seeing and experiencing is another – it’s more important. I know some students have finally understood how useful it is to speak English,” said Pokladecka. “Visiting the classrooms and talking to kids helped them learn more about your country and your work.”
According to the Airmen, the students were not the only ones who learned something. During the discussions, the kids also taught the Americans some words in Polish.
“They had a lot of fun watching me struggle to pronounce words in their language,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Sterchi, 700th Airlift Squadron loadmaster with a laugh. “They were so hospitable and seemed very happy we were there.”
“Visiting the school and interacting with the students gave the Airmen a greater appreciation for the reason the U.S. Air Force is here – to build a stronger relationship with our Polish allies,” Hendrix added.