When I first decided to study abroad in college I thought that I would go somewhere like the UK or Australia. Somewhere that everyone knew about and would be impressed by. And then I saw the price tag. In fact, I’m ashamed to say it, but the thing that first drew Poland to my attention was the much lower price of studying abroad there. It was so low that it was cheaper than staying a semester at home in the U.S. There were a few other places that were also pretty low cost as well but after some research, I decided that there was no where I wanted to go and live for a few months more than Poland.
I was drawn to the stories and history. I was fascinated by how the architecture was a mix of eastern and western designs. But the more I found out, the more I was drawn too an element that I hadn’t initially thought of – their people. I became intrigued by how a people that had suffered so much had remained so resilient. Through the wars and the communist era, their people had come through it. I wanted to meet these people.
So off to Poland I went. And I was not disappointed. The people were all I could have imagined and more. In Poland I met the nicest, kindest, bravest people I had ever met. They were friendly people who would greet you warmly even when they barely knew you. Being a young woman who had been raised in a rural community in the Southern United States, I felt right at home with the tidings of “Cześć” and the warm smiles. Everywhere I went I could find someone who wanted to talk to me. One night we stayed much too late at a restaurant in Poznan so that the public transportation had shut down. We were at the table trying to figure out how to get home when the waitress offered to walk us across town to our dorms to make sure we got home safe! Talk about generosity! This was the common theme among the people I met in Poland. They really are the nicest people.
This is one of the reasons that I have become sort of distraught with the public opinion I have heard about Poland in the past year. I have started to see a lot of media portraying Poland and the Polish people in a negative light. This criticism has mostly been around the strong sense of national Polish pride and Poland’s unwillingness to accept some of the mandates from the EU around accepting refugees. I have heard people describe the Polish people as racist, bigoted, and fascist. I’m not even Polish and I find these statements offensive! These reports are so different than the kindhearted, resilient people that I met and lived amongst.
I wanted to share my own opinion of these reports because I don’t believe they are warranted. Polish people have a sense of pride for their country. I could see this very easily after I arrived. They are a united people who want to preserve their culture. I admire their spirit in this. They have a rich history going back 1000 years that is often overlooked by the more “mainstream” western countries. You rarely hear about the Polish soldiers that helped the Americans win their independence from Britain in the 1700s. You also don’t hear about how bravely the Polish fought during the crusades with their winged hussar units. They are swept under the rug. They have gone through so much in the past 100 years. In the past 100 years, they suffered as one of the main battle fronts for 2 world wars, and then went through 40 years of communist rule. Since regaining their freedom, the Polish people are eager to show their national pride. They are proud that they have regained what they had previously lost. And I commend them for it. I understand their conservative nature to change, their fear of outside forces. Given their history, it makes complete sense.
So with that in mind, please don’t take the reports of Poland you may hear in the news without a grain of salt. Poland and its people represent a type of diversity that is unusual on a global scale. A country with unity, that refuses to apologize for its existence. That holds onto its history and tradition instead of casting it away like trash. They should be allowed to exist in peace, without unfounded labels that exaggerate and serve to paint them as villains. They should be allowed to be proud of who they are without fear of persecution. I can truly say that when I chose to visit Poland I unwittingly chose a real gem. One that I become more and more proud of every day.