Updated: Mar 16
So, I decided to skip a couple of countries to write about life as an expat in the Polish capital city, Warsaw, Poland. I know you've been wondering about it. I've had many questions about what my experiences have been like, so I thought I'd go ahead and share!
Life in Poland definitely reminds me a lot of life in Abilene, Texas. Warsaw is a lot like Abilene. Very conservative, with heavy religious influence, buuuut definitely a lot to do! I travel largely in part for the history I can learn in a new place as well as the culture. I've been able to massively succeed at both here.
I have visited some of the museums in the square, attempted to learn to ski down the slopes of some gorgeous mountains in Poronin, Poland, tried DELICIOUS Polish pierogi (among other traditional dishes I'm learning how to spell), met MULTIPLE Polish friends, learned a handful of useful words and phrases, partied in Krakow and visited Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Oświęcim (the Polish way to say Auschwitz), even got a tattoo at an LGBT (ladies) dance party (marking my first tattoo abroad)!
Now, I have to be real honest with everyone as well about the not-so-amazing parts. While overall I have loved the opportunity to experience my first living experience abroad, it hasn't all been easy or packed with fun. I think I've finally been experiencing my first ever REAL culture shock. Besides the language barrier that I've been actively chipping away at (I find it incredibly important to learn however much of a new language as I can in a new country, and I'm doing quite well from what people have told me, so yay), the Polish freeze (but really, they're actually quite friendly, they just don't smile much at first and this native Texan is still getting used to that), heavy conservative influence (come on, you know me by now), and traditional lifestyle that doesn't resonate with me (me? Settle down with a husband and kids??) and for me, most importantly, the lack of acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community (there are actually anti-LGBT zones here in Poland).
Now, with that heavy dump, you must be thinking, "why on earth would she choose to live there??" Well, ladies and gentlemen, I most definitely have answers to that. Apart from the fact that it is probably common knowledge now how much I LOVE a challenge (always a chance to outdo myself), I also know I don't travel with the idea that my experiences are always going to be easy. In fact, much of my experience abroad so far has been incredibly challenging, to say the least. And while I firmly believe everyone should try it at least ONCE in their lives (given how possible it is for your particular circumstances), I also understand that long-term, this life isn't for everyone. For me, it's what I've been dreaming about for years, and I'm stubborn enough to see it through.
Apart from the challenge, I'm learning SO MUCH I wouldn't learn in a single classroom EVER from the comfort of American soil. I have FULLY immersed myself in a totally different culture, full of differences and similarities with its very own history that sometimes makes me feel like a small child because there's SO much to learn that I didn't learn before I came here. And I really enjoy that.
Growing up, my Grand always taught me the importance of learning at least one new thing every day. He is a MASSIVE inspiration for everything I'm doing now. Because of his influence, I actually thoroughly enjoy reading the fine print of everything, attempting to speak the language, and hell, my mom carries on his trademark question of "what's the population of _____?". Because of him, I'm reminded daily of questions I know he would ask and of things I know he would do. He's inspired me to leap out of my comfort zones and explore cultures and lifestyles far outside my own. Because of him, I don't feel that there's a single challenge out there that I can't face and overcome. And I sure as hell don't have the slightest notion of giving up on anything I know deep down I want more than anything.
And I must say, there's been SO MUCH here. I've learned facts that I'm not sure I would ever know about this country had I not decided to live here for a while. As an example, "Auschwitz" is actually the German translation of the Polish town of "Oświęcim". And yes, that was to date the hardest tour I've ever been on, not to mention going the weekend after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp. If any of you Americans reading this remember learning about the Holocaust and Concentration camps in WWII and Nazi Germany, let me just share how different it is to actually physically BE there, to actually visit the camp. Don't get me wrong, it felt like a museum, but, it was also incredibly surreal and heart-wrenching to be walking the grounds of over 1.1 million (nobody knows the exact count due to Nazis getting rid of evidence during the liberation) innocent victims who were once imprisoned, tortured and inevitably slaughtered there. I went alone, and I can't say I'd ever visit the camp again. It's not something I'd recommend doing more than once, especially if you are as sensitive to the history as I am. The very first words out of my mouth when I arrived back at the hostel were, "I need a drink" and I feel like I would need an entirely separate blog to talk about the camp experience itself.
Apart from that heavy history, one of the many highlights I've experienced happened to be learning how to ski in Poronin! At first, I felt like a toddler or a baby penguin trying to get a handle of the skis, and I was awkward AF to start out. I STILL wish I had captured on video me accidentally pummeling a smaller child (who handled the collision WAY better than me, I have to add), repeatedly yelling "I'm sorry" in anticipation of what was to come, with his only response being, "why me". I, of course, fell backwards into the snow when I had the slightest handle on things, laughing because same, kid, same. I figured it out later, of course. But I HAD to be an awkward penguin, first, obvs. But alas, adventures of Fernweh.
On to THE LANGUAGE. Ya'll, Polish ain't easy to learn. I'm constantly impressed at Poles who can speak English so well. Which brings another great observation I've made since traveling abroad. YO AMERICA, CAN WE START INTRODUCING SECOND LANGUAGES TO EVERYONE FROM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ON? THANKS. Seriously, I don't think I've met one SINGLE European (or even Moroccan) who couldn't speak at LEAST two languages almost fluently. I've seriously had multiple conversations with my mother thanking her for forcing me to learn what I did when I was a kid. When I hear Polish, I blink several times because the language is just so different. I've learned a large handful of basics, and can understand the general context of some things that are said, but I currently have ZERO foundation. It's really true what they say though about just picking up on the language when you're fully immersed. If you're not, you're just not trying.
I can greet people formally and informally, say "goodbye", thank them, say "you're welcome" and "please", "yes" and "no", and a handful of other useful (or random) words and phrases at this point. Keep in mind, I've been here probably about 3 months collectively. Fun fact: I can thank someone in 14 different languages now (I can figure out where the bathroom is on my own, usually, but I like to spread gratitude in every language). The Polish language is NOT easy to learn. There are some pretty major differences between Polish and English.
For example, in the English language, a person place or thing, a noun, is going to have two genders. In the Polish language, nouns have three genders which include feminine, masculine and what is called neuter. One of the oddest aspects of this gender pattern is that even inanimate objects are referred to in this way. It is only the very young, both human and animal, that are referred to using the neuter designation.
Another example, the spelling of the words that you will be using in either language will be extremely different (night and day in some cases), but verbs are even more difficult to understand. Verbs are action words, and this is true for most European languages, referring to who is doing the action. If you are referring to something in past tense, you will also refer to the gender of the thing that is accomplishing the action. In English, there are different verb tenses, a total of 16, and are all derived from imperfect and perfect tenses.
I would happily give you visual examples of the above, however, I am still a beginning student of this language attempting to learn the foundation as opposed to just contextual clues. But this is how a lot of it has been explained to me. It's beautiful to me, and I definitely get excited when Poles tell me I'm pronouncing things well and surprising them with how quickly I'm picking up on things.
Next stop: the currency. Polish people use the zloty. By comparison to the American dollar, or the European euro, €1 = zł4.37, and $1 = zł4 (based on current exchange rates). In a day in the life of a new American expat, I am constantly determining what good prices for things are here. Some have told me to use the złoty as my method of determining costs, which is honestly a great idea, but also a slightly difficult transition as I still have an American bank that I transfer any income to through Transferwise. Yes, Poland is relatively cheaper than most parts of Europe, and even most of America, buuuut if you're working a barely minimum wage job trying to save money again, it can be a bit pricey. So yes, I still live on a budget, despite my job(s). Ya girl still has a lot of traveling to do!
And let me tell you about the FRIENDS I've met here! Anytime you move to a new environment, one of the first things you want to do, especially as an extrovert, is to MAKE FRIENDS. It can make or break your experience, easily. I've been blessed to not only live with great flatmates, but also meet some really great friends here that are either A) also expats or B) travelers like myself. Moving somewhere new can be really daunting, but having a support system around you makes it a lot easier. I've actually been dating a Polish girl here who has taught me more in the 3 weeks I've known her than the entire 3 months I've been living here.
I'm really grateful for the people I've met here. They've significantly aided in many aspects of my experience here in Warsaw, Poland, and I can't thank these people enough. Really, it IS the connections you make with people that make such an impact on the perspective you can have on a place.
Living abroad can really change your perspective on so many things, including life itself. I miss my family daily, and recently have actually been experiencing my first real bout of homesickness, which is relatively new to me, but with the birth of my first biological niece, year anniversary of my Grand's death, and now COVID-19 that's interfering with my travel plans, being abroad has taken an extra toll it normally doesn't. It's been challenging in brand new ways I never expected, and sent pangs in my heart of wishes that I can't currently manifest into reality, but honestly, I still maintain how much I know that everything is happening as it's meant to. I'm exactly where I'm meant to be, and I am far beyond grateful for every opportunity presented to me. I love being abroad, exploring new cultures, foods, and experiences far beyond anything I could have dreamt up. I love my life in general. I'm living one of my greatest dreams, with no intentions of stopping anytime soon.