The quantum leap
Moving to Poland was a big leap, but perhaps not the biggest I have taken so I was prepared better than some for the jolt that comes from uprooting and moving to a new place and into a new culture. Like other places however, Poland has its own unique culture and identity in the quilt-work that is the European Union and that is never more evident than in the city of Gdańsk. When moving here, taking into account my ability to integrate into society & the work environment here was important to me and my success and happiness in it. Fortunately, no matter where you are, people are people and I found myself in the midst of a country and people who are both exceptionally polite and also very warm hearted.
I love it.
History and something new in every step
Many people (myself included) are guilty of focusing on the history of the city, but that is just because it is something we don't really see to the same extent in North America. At least not so predominantly. There is a very modern and chic European side to this place as well. From the really cool 'amber' stadium (they play soccer there) to the really modern and well-put together malls, it sometimes made me laugh that I could be walking down a once (and still busy as it has ever been) Prussian street, where time almost seems to have stood still and then end up in a modern mall where I can buy pretty much anything I can think of. Gdańsk is next to the Baltic Sea, so the Atlantic Ocean. I love that. The beaches are amazing. Warm summers and mild winters. The food is brilliant, the night life is exciting and flying inside of Europe is way cheaper than inside North America. You can easily jet set to other places in Europe for pretty cheap and see a lot. Gdańsk and the Tri-City area have lots to see and do as well. Poland has a rich history and a lot of things to see. It really put the foundations of North American society and its origins into perspective for me.
The daily grind-ski
Then comes the working side of things. Working in Poland is quite similar to working in Canada and the United States, the only difference is you get a lot more days off per year here. It is common to get a month's worth of vacation days on average. The currency exchange rate might not be on par, but that is more than made up for with purchasing power inside of Poland. Where a loaf of bread might cost you 2 or 3 dollars, here it is about 1/3rd of the price, or priced the same numerically but in 'złoty', the Polish currency. When you start your inevitable working career here, the only real difference between here and North America is the mandatory medical test. They poke and prod you, take some blood and other samples to make sure you are healthy. They don't test for drugs like in the US, but this process is mandatory by Polish law.
A few things that are different:
- The government bureaucracy and endless red tape. I found myself swearing under my breath waiting in line for hours on end to just fill out paperwork to get permission to do something. You need to wait in line to get a ticket to be able to wait even. That sounds crazy but it is entirely true. I have come to learn that this is a common thing in Europe however.
- If you lose your wallet in North America, you can go and get every card replaced in the same day. Your driver's licence, your bank card, membership cards, no problem. In Europe you have to wait weeks for them to send everything by mail. Things move at a very different pace from a government and financial institutions perspective.
- Going to the bank? Opening an account? Visiting a government office? You need documentation for everything. The old cliche 'let me see your papers' is actually a thing in Europe. If you go to a government place to do something you better have every official document you can think of with you. If you set up a bank account with your passport, any time you want to change anything in your account, up to and including your phone number you'll need to show that passport. From what I have learned it has gotten better at a lot of institutions from the way it was long before my arrival, so I think that means it's getting better with time.
- Gas is more expensive (that's more of a pain than a major problem).
People are people
Aside from that, people in Poland really value tradition and family, which is something we as North Americans can really relate to. I think it is things like that that make places livable, not to mention the warm acceptance of Canadians and Americans here. At the end of the day, we are all human, and humans are humans no matter where you go. When you come to Poland however, you get the added plus of experiencing a very bold, vivid, beautiful and sometimes emotionally intense part of our collective story. I recommend it to anyone with an open mind and a love for the human story.
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