My First Impressions of Poland and its People

I really should have written something about my expectations of Poland prior to our arrival, but alas I did not have that foresight. What I can share is that I did not expect what we have seen/experienced thus far. Maybe my prior experiences in Europe shaped my preconceptions, but I learned very quickly that Poland is not like anywhere else I have been. When traveling, it is impossible for me not to make comparisons. Comparisons to the life I know in the United States, comparisons to my time abroad in other countries, and comparisons to what I have been told about the destination. To me these comparisons are extremely interesting and informative. They always show new ways of thinking and living, but they also shed light on how I view myself and the world, which is why travel and intercultural communication is so awesome! Many of us already know all of this, but some people might not have ever had feelings or experiences like this, so despite my aversion to 1) creative writing, 2) using technology more than absolutely necessary, and 3) sharing personal details about myself online, I have decided to write and share this blog-like thing about my time living and teaching in Poland.

So, Poland. What do people think of when they think of Poland? I thought of long, cold winters, colorful traditional dresses, accordions, vodka, potatoes, and my dad’s family. And maybe those things are associated with Poland (and other places), but what I realize now is that I had a very superficial understanding of Poland. I knew where it was on a map, and I knew a little of its history, but I did not take much time thinking about how those things would translate into a culture. You may or may not be surprised to learn that Poland highly values security and order. They seem to obey even the most trivial (to me) of rules. For example: jaywalking. We’ve been here 24 days and have yet to see someone walk across a street without getting the OK sign from the little green man. Even when it’s snowing and there are no cars in sight, everyone patiently waits for the crossing symbol. I’ve never seen anything like it! But it completely makes sense when you think about their history. Security and safety are relatively new concepts here, and the people respect that. We now do, too.

Another virtue I have seen in the people of Poland is hospitality. This surprised me because in other European countries I have noticed a certain value placed on independence. Sort of a keep-to-yourself-and-don’t-bother-anyone vibe. But in Poland, we’ve had several people ask us for directions or just start up a conversation on the sidewalk (both in Polish and English). We’ve seen strangers chatting and joking while waiting for a bus, and on the day we arrived (with our 5 suitcases and 2 carry-ons) we had people at every turn offering to help us get up the stairs or on the train. The hospitality here is also shown in their attitudes towards foreign languages. Last week I witnessed the tech-person at the University correctly observe that I “feel bad” when I have to use English in Poland. He was right, and he went on, “You feel that way because in your country everyone is expected to speak the native language, but we do not feel that way here.” I was blown away with how concisely and accurately he summed up my feelings, and with how quickly he diminished my angst. Poles really try to make everyone feel comfortable, and for someone who rarely feels comfortable around people, I’m amazed with their success.

There really are so many things I could say about Poland, and so many stories I could tell (and we’ve not even been here a full month!). I will do my best to share some of my experiences, thoughts, and reflections with you in this form, but, of course, I will also be continuously posting things on Facebook and in the captions of my many photos. Please, ask questions if you’ve got them, and I would love to hear what you think about what I’ve shared. Until next time, Do widzenia!

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