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Sunday, 25 June 2017

6 Years In Poland, As An Expat

Dearest hearts,

Sometimes, in life, you don't always get what you want but rather what you need. I'm sure that's God's way of working his mysterious ways, getting all worked up for nothing but rewarding us to our hearts content. I wasn't one of those girls who wanted to go out, see the world; I've always loved my family and family for me was always number 1. It's true, I've always loved to travel and see new places, meet new people and get into all sorts of new situations / experiences. Something new was always exciting, good, even if it scared me. I've always thought that the best way to destroy your fears was by facing them. There was no need to beat behind the Bush, if I knew something was wrong I would say it, if I had a question I would ask it, if I would disagree on an idea I would prove my point as best as I could. It's important to stay strong by your opinions and faith. We should not be like the willow in the wind. Experiencing life abroad, being all by yourself, maintaining your own budget and taking care of the house/apartment by yourself, it's a challenge! A challenge that will make you trust yourself more and develop skills you never thought you had. There might be moments when you would have to survive only on soup or pasta with tomatoes... but you'll make it through! And what's more important: you will learn!
No-one wants to be an expat due to the amazing conditions one has home, in their homeland. Everyone has a choice that they made, everyone faced a decision bringing them on the path of being an expat - some did it to get a better job, others to see the world and experience new cultures, some did it because they got better played or because they have better benefits, others (like myself) did it just for the opportunity that arose at a certain point in their life, some (like my Ukrainean friends) did this because of the economical/political situation in their country... Everyone has a reason, but I think the common denominator of what everyone truly misses, when they become an expat, is the FAMILY. You might jump in and say you can move your family with you, you can start a new family in the country you made yourself stable... that's true, but you can never move your entire family, your whole roots, your family tree with you - can you?! I'm lucky I have found my better half here, in Krakow; we have a family together an a little Ladybug Baby Girl that we love dearly. I'm more than happy that this year my mum and granny came to Poland, to stay and help with the wee one. I feel as if truly I am Home. But I have to thank God for that - many expats throughout the world have to manage it all by themselves.
6 years ago to this day, I had moved to Krakow. I was both excited and thrilled. Now, in retrospect, I see that I was not scared even a bit... it was all a big adventure! I never once thought about all the consequences and I think, weirdly enough, that's what got me through it a in such a positive attitude. I am grateful I had already great, warm and caring friends here - the first month I was actually hosted my my awesome Team Leader, Magda. I was "ciocia" (Polish version for Auntie) for her 2 bundles of joy (Now she has 3!). I would wake up in the morning, with her little boy standing over my bed, watching me sleep, telling me I look like a princess (I used to let down my hair while I was asleep, to let it dry after washing it). What wake up is sweeter than that?! Being payed compliments early in the morning, by a little boy (kids never lie! They tell the truth, the world, as they see it!), that truly brightens up your day. How can one not be upbeat and positive?! We would have long talks into the night, with loads of gossips and laughs - listening to Polish language back then was a terrific experience and it sounded to me so much like J.K.Rowling's developed parseltongue... it was like snake language with all those consonants... and groups like sz or cz or rz... it looked like a language without vowels!
Then I started to listen more and more... I would of course speak only English and do shopping in big shops and supermarkets - avoiding the social contact with people who spoke Polish 24/7. In time, by listening, I started to understand the sounds and how certain letters would sound as well. I started to figure out where a sentence started and where it finished. The next step was understanding words. Then remembering certain words and asking their meaning to my friends. Then I would, if people talked slowly and not in dialect, to understand the meaning of a phrase. That made me thrilled! To know I accomplished that on my own, without having any language course whatsoever and without watching TV; just by listening to people talk. Active listening! It worked for me ;) I remember a  dear friend coming to Krakow, 2 years and a bit after I settled in... and he was very surprised I could already understand most things, without having a tutor. 6 years in, I'm not afraid anymore to talk Polish even though I know I'm screwing grammar really bad - there are so many exceptions to the rules! I understand almost 90% if people don't speak very fast and they don't start using archaisms... I'm good with doing any kind of shopping, ordering in the restaurant, watching kids movies :p and giving birth in a public hospital while speaking with the doctor, nurses and midwives.
If there is something  that Poland, that Krakow, that life as an expat / being an expat taught me this past 6 years... Well... there is a list, but I'll just choose 10 things that might make you consider trying it out:
  1. You become independent & you trust yourself more and more - no more mummy and daddy helping out, your wings can spread out and even if you fall (and you will!) You will be the one picking yourself up, and that makes you stronger!
  2. You learn that you can handle a household by yourself - you might have some problem the first month(s) but in time you'll get a hang of it. You'll understand why paying bills is so important and...
  3. You'll learn the true value of money - you might have lived with mum and dad before, so no costs for the housing not the food (most probably). Once you move out on your own, you'll figure put what it takes to live/survive through the month. You'll learn that you don't actually need 12 pairs of trousers or that new bag you saw in the shop (you already have 10!)... You'll realise how much you get payed, how much you need for housing, food and for entertainment. You'll figure out your salary needs deriving from that as well. 
  4. You're going to find balance - you're going to figure out eventually that you need to split your day in 3 big chunks of 8 hours: one for work, one for rest (not necessarily sleep) and one for play. You're going to find balance in your working day - you will juggle a bit at the beginning but you'll find your way through ;) have faith! 
  5. You will make new friends and a couple of lasting friendships, you might also get your heart broken (maybe even by expats like yourself) but you'll live ;) You are in a country that does not speak your language, might have different customs and you will start your life from scratch, having to learn all the rules and laws of the country. Hang on, it gets better and easier in time! Mingle with your workmates, get a hobby/craft and talk to the locals! It helps!
  6. You will travel, discover new places and you might even fall in love and feel at home in a certain city you pass through. You might even want to relocate there - if you work in a corporation you might find it even easier to do a change like that, if they have multiple locations. I fell in love with Krakow, got proposed the job and said Yes! in a heartbeat. 
  7. You will learn a new language - it's not a must, as many countries speak English and of you work in a corporate environment you use English language in official communications. But... in Poland it's quite a positive thing if you try to learn the language. In smaller cities and even in big cities, not in the city centre, people might have issues understanding you. Of course polish people are warm and sign language never fails, but... they love it when you make an effort and you try and speak Polish. You get extra points for that ;)
  8. You will learn that you can do things you never thought you could do: you will push your limits! You can do whatever you set your mind to, whatever you can believe and visualise you can do. You are strong and capable and you can be thrown in any situation: you will prevail! 
  9. You will learn to discriminate less. In the end, it one God made us and we are all brothers and sisters on this world. You will learn to care and keep and open mind. You will find surprising how warm and gentle and caring people can be. You will learn that home is where your heart is, and if your heart left a piece along the world than you will love everyone. 
    Limanowa, Poland
  10. You learn that you are not defined by things but by experiences and you will learn not to get attached to physical things. You will not be able to take many physical things with you anywhere (including the grave!), but you will always carry with you the experiences, the memories and the feelings you have. Invest in that! Invest in things that last!
Happy anniversary / celebration to all those expats throughout the world, who celebrate victoriously each year! You are brave, you are bold, you are strong enough to face any challenge life throws at you!

P.S. You might wanna read the post I did when I celebrated my 2nd year in Krakow, Poland. 

Yours always sincerely,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Poland