University of Wisconsin–Madison

Destination? Imagination! (and Poland)

For the past 5 years, I’ve participated and volunteered with an organization called Destination Imagination. For those of you unfamiliar with this organization, it focuses on developing creative problem skills in students ranging from preschool to university level. The official description according to their website is, “Destination Imagination (DI) is a non-profit, volunteer-led, cause-driven organization. Our purpose is to inspire and equip students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders. Annually, we offer seven new standards-based Challenges in STEM, Improv, Visual Arts, Service Learning, and Early Learning. Each Challenge enables student teams to learn and experience the creative process from imagination to innovation.”

In high school, I participated in DI on an Improv team that eventually made it to the global level competition “Global Finals” that takes place in Knoxville, TN every May. Here, teams from all over the world come together to compete in an international creativity competition to showcase their creative solutions.

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(stats and photo courtesy of globalfinals.org)

After high school, I began volunteering with DI through my regional and state tournaments. I was also selected to be an appraiser (or judge) at the global tournament in both 2013 and 2014- one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

In short, I knew I wanted to keep volunteering with the organization despite the fact I was studying abroad in Madrid. Being an international organization I knew this may be possible. The closest country that had a developed DI chapter was Poland, so I sent an email to the affiliate director, stated my experience, explained that I was studying abroad in Madrid and before I knew it, I was on my way to Poland to volunteer for their regional tournament March 7-8.

I left early in the morning on Friday, March 6 to arrive in Poland for training later that day. My flight was so early in the morning, I spent the night in the airport (working on homework) since boarding was before the metro system opened at 6am. It would be nice if Madrid had a 24 hr metro, but it’s something I can work around. I had a flight connection in London and was a bit nervous because I only had about an hour between flights. Since London isn’t in the EU, this meant I had to go through customs and security again. By some miracle, the line in customs was uncharacteristically short and after running frantically through the airport I made my flight connection with only minutes to spare.

Finally, I arrived in Wroclaw, Poland. The DI Poland affiliate director, Karolina, had it arranged that I would be picked up from the airport and brought to the hotel where the appraisers were staying. At the airport I met up with my friend Matt whom I met at Global Finals when I was on a DI team. He’s currently studying abroad in London for the year and like me, wanted to stay involved with DI during his time abroad.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we checked in and had a bit of down time. Destination Imagination Poland was so gracious as to provide appraisers with lodging and food throughout the duration of the tournament (Thank you!!!).

After a bit of rest (rejuvenating from the early morning travels), Matt and I decided to spend the afternoon exploring the town of Wroclaw, especially since the remainder of the weekend was devoted to our appraising duties. We took the tram into the city and were lost before we knew it. I felt a bit helpless because this was the first instance I’ve experienced where there was truly a language barrier. In every city I’ve visited, I’ve been able to get by with either Spanish or English. Here, it was Polish or nothing… and unfortunately that is not a language neither Matt nor I know in the slightest. I mean, who could navigate a tram system with tram stops like Uniwersytet, Univwersytecka, Rynek, when we weren’t exactly sure where to stop in the first place? The struggle was very real.

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After many failed attempts at asking for directions, we were pointed in the right direction of the city center by a store clerk with very broken English. At last we were in the center of the old town, Market Square (Rynek we Wrocławiu in Polish). I exchanged a few Euros at a local bank and thereafter proceeded to grab a quick bite to eat and coffee pick me up.

Walking into Market Square was like walking into a color-enhanced Disney movie. Each building had it’s own unique architecture, design, color, and personality. It was mesmerizing.

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There were also a few flower stands situated in the square which only added to the color spectrum and made me feel like I was standing in a rainbow. Even though the day was a bit dreary and overcast, the colors still managed to pop and bring a smile to my face. I didn’t know what to expect when DI brought me to Wroclaw, but I must admit I’m glad I got to visit this hidden gem of a city thanks to DI.

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We made a visit to the Wroclaw tourist center and purchased postcards and little souvenirs before I stumbled upon… you guessed it, BUBBLES!

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I snapped a few photos and danced around in them before leaving the bubble man a small tip. When I did so, the bubble man asked me if I wanted to try! How could I pass up such an opportunity? I’ve discovered bubbles in almost every city I’ve visited but this is the first time anyone asked me if I wanted to try. The bubble man even gave me guided instruction as to how to create the perfect bubble. At first it’s a lot more difficult than it seems, but once you get the hang of it it’s so much fun. Both Matt and I got to give it a try and it was a very cool and unique experience. I’m now considering a future career in blowing bubbles… stay tuned.

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To keep the energy flowing, we grabbed another coffee on the way back to the hotel and encountered what probably is my favorite “quirk” or unique characteristic about Wroclaw; there are hundreds of tiny dwarf statues scattered all around old town and the city center. I wish I had more time to explore because I would have loved to spend an afternoon wandering around the city center trying to find as many dwarves as I could. Sadly, I only saw a few as we made our way back to the hotel.

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The evening hours were spent at the competition site (Wroclaw Congress Center) in preparation for the tournament the next day. I received my “ekspert” credentials and was introduced to my appraisal team.

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In addition to the team challenge component of Destination Imagination, there is also an additional component called Instant Challenge.

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This is what I appraise. This challenge is always different and completely top secret. In fact, I am under an oath not to discuss my instant challenge until the DI competition season is complete at the end of May. We spent the evening getting the challenge ready for each team and working out little discrepancies that may potentially arise. Then it was back to the hotel to get some much needed rest in anticipation of tournament day the following morning.

Saturday began early at the competition site with opening ceremonies in the morning. During this ceremony, 112 teams were welcomed to the tournament including 10 international teams from 7 participating countries that were introduced in a short parade of nations. Countries included U.S., Israel, Germany, China, Ukraine, and of course, Poland. With such diverse representation, it really makes you realize that creativity has no language barrier.

My day was filled with back to back teams showcasing wonderful creativity, problem solving, and teamwork skills (like I said, I can’t go into too much detail).

When day 1 of the tournament concluded, I hailed a cab back to the hotel and ended up sharing a it with the Destination Imagination International coordinator. It was one of those cool happenstances that are perfect for future networking. In the cab we got to talking and she invited me to come out with her and a few of her International DI friends to celebrate her birthday that night. It was so nice to enjoy the evening and make DI friends from all over the world including Singapore, China, Poland, and U.S.

On Sunday I spent the day finishing up appraising the 40-some teams at my Instant Challenge site. Once we finished, we cleaned up the challenge and followed our noses to the pizza party happening on the main floor to celebrate the completion of a successful tournament. I even noticed there was a bubble station outside where kids were going wild at the opportunity to play with enormous bubble wands.

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It was finally time for the closing ceremonies of the tournament. The auditorium was filled with anxious kids, flashing toys, and upbeat music. Winners from each of the 5 challenges and levels were announced. 1st place teams have the opportunity to go to the Destination Imagination Global Finals tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee in May.  It was so heartwarming to watch how excited teams would get when they learned that they placed, or were moving on to Global Finals. It brought me back to the days when I was on a team and experienced those same emotions.

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Appraisers were also called onto the stage and thanked for their services. Matt and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a “selfie” with the audience during our time on stage.

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Once all the thank-yous had been said and all the awards given out, the tournament was officially over. Matt and I expressed our gratitude to the tournament coordinator, Karolina, for the incredible opportunity to allow us to appraise at Poland’s tournament. 

Back at the hotel, dinner was filled with the classic Polish cuisine: pierogies (not as good as my grandma’s- I must say). The remainder of the night and my time in Poland was spent in the hotel sitting area conversing with my new DI friends until the wee hours of the morning. I had a very very early flight the next morning and only ended up getting about an hour of sleep as a result. I can sleep whenever I want, but I need to take advantage of the limited time I have with people… even if that means staying up until 4:30am cracking jokes and swapping stories. Those are the best nights anyway.

As my 7am flight took off Monday morning, I reflected on the wonderful experience I had over the weekend. One of my favorite aspects of Destination Imagination is how it has the ability to unite people from all over the world in the sprit of creativity, friendship, and fun. I believe in everything Destination Imagination stands for and I know I’ll keep participating with this organization for the rest of my life.

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To learn more about Destination Imagination; how to start a team, become a team manager or volunteer with the organization, please visit www.destinationimagination.org

~Bailey