Oświęcim & Auschwitz

It is Day 13 or so as I write this, which is wild to think about! I have trouble believing that I am nearly halfway through this program after so much anxiety going into it – because I have come to really appreciate my being here – but I am also acutely aware of how exhausting it has been to partake in the program. I cannot think of a time where I was this tired for this long. Days come and go where I am exhausted all day through lectures and walks and the like, but there has not been one day where, upon returning to my accommodation, I have not wanted to sleep immediately.
The constant intake of information – heavy, frustrating, inspiring, and complicated information – in addition to the frequently lengthy walks and long periods of sitting and taking notes is much more tiring than one might think. However, it wasn’t long before all of us in the program realized how much work it is.
“How is Poland? How is your trip? What do you think of the country?” These are difficult to answer right now. I can tell you factually what has been going on in the program, but processing my thoughts and emotions has been a delayed process due to how busy and tired I am (this is a shared sentiment among every student I’ve spoken to). The program is certainly a very unique and amazing opportunity, but I haven’t really had any “down time” to explore how I feel about it, nor to physically explore this part of the world outside of my program requirements so far.
I wrote the above reflections a little over one week ago, when we were spending the majority of our days in the former concentration camp complex and surrounding area. A few things have changed.

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Warsaw 1: Reflections and Photos

Warsaw was a long time ago relative to the length of the program and how long we have stayed at our next stop. Due to the demands of the program and the levels of exhaustion that accompany them, my communication in all forms has been broken and very tiring.

With that in mind, I’ve included some photos of our short stay in Warsaw with a few thoughts about the experience so far that came up during our time in the old, demolished, and rebuilt city.

On our way!


Warsaw looks older than it is due to the efforts undertaken to rebuild it to its (mostly) former self prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where the city was mostly leveled to rubble. The architecture is beautiful and while deeply connected to its past, does not exclaim that it is built on an incredibly tragic history.


I have not been to a medieval-era part of the world before! It was exciting to see evidence of an era that did not exist for my own homeland.


A “waiting room” inside the Gestapo interrogation and torture “prison.”
A room that would often be crowded with up to 20 individuals, despite its construction being intended for 2 -3 individuals.




I found a vegan Polish bistro where I was able to try some of the greatest vegan pirogies I could ever imagine tasting! I didn’t know that dessert pirogies existed!

I think that visiting the Gestapo “prison” and the Pawiak Prison had the most impact on me while in Warsaw. I saw and walked through spaces where hundreds and thousands of individuals perished for no justifiable reason. I read postcards written in the last moments of one’s life and heard translated readings of illicit letters that were recovered, intended for loved ones. What was very striking oftentimes were the items created within the prisons by prisoners – chess sets made out of hygiene products and writing material, which were certainly illegal but gave a sense of normalcy and direction in chaotic and unpredictable circumstances.

Learning about Yiddish literature and culture was also fascinating – our lecturer was amazing and really conveyed a lot of passion for her area of expertise! It was very sad to learn about how much Yiddish the world lost through World War II, but I feel lucky to have learned about it from someone who cares deeply for it.

It is remarkable the work that has been done by scholars and other professionals to delve into specific facets of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as by others who have studied Poland’s history, and the effective ways that they share their knowledge with all of us Canadian students. It is a true privilege to be learning in the physical spaces in which the content of our studies transpired.

Poland: Warsaw I

It’s been three days of content for the course and as I write this we are preparing for a travel day that will be wrapped up with a seminar in Auschwitz, our next destination and residence for 12 days.

The city of Warsaw is beautiful, and it is difficult to comprehend how much of it has been destroyed and rebuilt when you look at the style of the buildings and the composition of the streets and towns. Some of them look very classic while others are more modern. We started our learning in Warsaw inside the Jewish Historical Institute, which is one of the only buildings that in part survived the Warsaw Uprising destruction. Burned portions of the floor in the entrance hall remain visible and a part of what the institute stands for.

While in Warsaw, we are staying in Pokoje Goscinne Zwiazku Metalowcow – a place that definitely struck us as decent-but-not-great upon our arrival. However, we received a small lecture and saw a documentary about the building, and learned that it was a part of a bigger story of Hotel Polski, a story that isn’t clear on where the “good” and the “bad” people are, and who ran it (despite the article’s position). This certainly increased my appreciation of the space! I do still itch quite a bit, but that’s okay.

We have aleady visited multiple sites, as Warsaw is an epicenter of Holocaust activity. We have visited Szucha Gestapo Prison (an interrogation and torture chamber), Muzeum Więzienia Pawiak (a prison where mostly Jewish individuals were held captive and where death was usually imminent, and the Polin Muzeum (where we received a special-guest curatorial tour of the Holocaust portion of the exhibit from Jacek Leociak). There have also been a handful of walking tours to acquaint us with everyday aspects of the city (such as where to get food, drinks, and produce) as well as historical aspects of the city to help us understand where we are situated and what has occurred in the space.

I will update with photos and more details on my experience later on! For now, as usual, we are on the move and are all feeling quite tired but ready for more learning.

Poland: Before (Good-byes and Panic)

Allegedly I am going to Europe tomorrow.

In the autumn, on a bit of a whim, I applied to a unique opportunity to study the Holocaust through a psychological lens. The application was free to submit and required some commitment to fill out but not so much that I felt obligated to go if given the opportunity. As a risk-averse individual with no noteworthy travel experience or history studies under my belt, I became a little more nervous when offered an interview for the course. I learned how intensive and challenging it might be, but also many inspiring aspects of it that would ensure it was a memorable and worthwhile experience. However, as a graduated student outside of the program’s scope by a year I was not certain I would receive an offer. After a great delay, I was told I would have to submit an appeal; I submitted the appeal and waited a bit longer.

Then the offer came.

I will not lie to you, reader friend, I cried. Not from joy, but from the sudden onset of fear that resulted from my general anxiety around decision-making and the weight that seemed to come with this particular decision. Days passed, but within hours of the allotted time to do so, I submitted my acceptance documents and pushed the reality of travelling to Poland to study a topic I knew little about from my mind.

In the last month and a half, wrap-up for my work and the dispersal of beloved colleagues commenced. I had by now been able to ask questions about the course and had physical evidence of the fact that I was going (currency, a bus ticket, and a gift for experts abroad); however, the distractions that come with saying good-bye and packing up one’s apartment allowed me to deny reality for just a bit longer.

Cue: Monday morning. It’s go time.

Goal: Move out by Saturday evening whilst managing to gain closure with team.

Tasks: Pack up entire apartment; mentally prepare for flying to Poland on Sundayfeel satisfied with time spent with colleague friends.

Accomplishments: Packing up entire apartment; moving out by Saturday afternoon.

Still to do: Feel satisfied with time spent with colleague friends; feel mentally prepared for flying to Poland.

I anticipate the next series of posts will be a flurry of reflections that I haven’t processed from the past year as well as personal observations and teachings as I move through the journey of this course. Thank-you to anyone who has been a part of me getting to this very scary but (so I’ve been told) also very exciting place. Some of you pushed me to the end of the application and some of you will help me to the airport. More of you will certainly help carry me through the next several weeks.



Being Cognizant: Celebrating the 5-Year Veggiversary!

A series about the ways I work towards being cognizant through decisions that make me more mentally engaged with various facets of my day-to-day life.

Cognizance (noun): Awareness, realization, notice, knowledge, perception.

On March 1st, I celebrated five years since I started following a veg*an lifestyle!

I am not perfectly inside one dietary box, in that I do not exclusively eat vegan but I do not eat meat and I try to purchase items that are friendly to animals in addition to not eating meat or consuming many animal by-products. It has been a journey for the mind and body as I try to find balance of protein, exercise, iron, vitamins, and satiation. I haven’t been the best at finding this balance, but I have really enjoyed the journey and the way it has caused me to reflect on what I eat more often (and the food blogs I have discovered for vegan baking along the way).

Each year, I celebrate by going to a beloved vegetarian restaurant. For three years, I did this with my vegetarian partner-in-crime before he returned to the omnivorous side, but he joined me each year to celebrate my personal continued commitment to keep vegging out. This year, a different partner-in-crime joined me for a new celebratory location – C.C. and I went to Meet on Main for a late-night vegan dinner!

We shared a plate of Hot Chiggin’ Things before moving on to a bowl of goodies for C.C. and a BLT Croissantwich for myself, followed by a chocolate raspberry crumble (tears of joy).

Hot Chocolate Festival VII: Stops 21-27, Farewell

When it launched in 2011, The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival was the first city-wide festival of its kind in the world.  This January it returns for its 7th year, bigger and better than ever, with Vancouver’s best chocolatiers, pastry shops, bakeries, cafes, gelato and ice cream makers coming together to make the humble hot chocolate hotter than it has ever been before.

This Festival is a fundraiser for the Downtown Eastside women’s job training
program of the PHS Community Services Society and East Van Roasters.

Hot Chocolate Fest


Stop #21: Pretty in Pink, Bel Café


Always a lovely stop to find a seat at one of the daintily decorated tables in Bel!

The flavour for this half of the festival had no non-dairy option if I wanted the full experience, so I braced myself and dove into the rose-infused beverage first thing in the morning.

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Hot Chocolate Festival VII: Stops 16-20

When it launched in 2011, The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival was the first city-wide festival of its kind in the world.  This January it returns for its 7th year, bigger and better than ever, with Vancouver’s best chocolatiers, pastry shops, bakeries, cafes, gelato and ice cream makers coming together to make the humble hot chocolate hotter than it has ever been before.

This Festival is a fundraiser for the Downtown Eastside women’s job training
program of the PHS Community Services Society and East Van Roasters.

Hot Chocolate Fest


Stop #16: D’Oh! ft. Grassy Roots, Soirette


Soirette has gotten better every year after the first time I visited for the festival! I’ve always enjoyed the flavours, but the interactions with staff have continued to make it a more and more pleasant experience.

Continue reading “Hot Chocolate Festival VII: Stops 16-20”