Every year, thousands of international students travel to Poland as part of an exchange program. For example, in 2014 alone, the biggest university in the country, University of Warsaw, had almost 3,000 international students on academic exchange. While the fact that you are not the only foreign student in Poland should be comforting, it can be a nervous process when you are unsure what to expect. Whether you just want to know how to make life easier or are feeling homesick, paying attention to the following tips will definitely help.
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Depending on where you are from, everything from the length of an academic year, school rules, learning methods and subjects you will study could be different. Getting around, adhering to the laws of the land or making friends may not be as straightforward as it is in your country. Read books, use online material, join an international students club, watch the news on Poland and utilize other material available to you in order to stay informed. Information lessens anxiety and eliminates your chances of running into trouble.
2. Adopt an Open Mind
You will have some culture shock at the beginning, but the Poles are not known to have any extreme cultural practices. A few surprises may include their skills at celebrations and large meals that can last seven courses or more. Their warm interaction can be disconcerting if you are from a nation where people keep to themselves. For example, the first few minutes of a meeting are for greetings and shaking hands. People familiar with each other will share embraces and pecks on the cheeks. Keeping an open mind will help you learn the culture more quickly and get comfortable easier.
3. Prepare for the Weather
Preparation and adoption to new weather plays a critical role in how pleasant or miserable your stay will be in a foreign land. Poland is known to have warm summers and frigid winters. The country experiences heavy snowfall and temperatures far below zero during winter. You will need waterproofing all year round, light clothes for summers and heavyweight clothing for winter. Since weather patterns may vary in different cities, get as much information as you can on weather seasons, special clothing, and regular outbreaks if any. Speak to your doctor if you have any medical conditions that can be aggravated by extreme weather.
“A guest in the home is God in the home” goes a Polish proverb. Due to a historical mixture of ideology and culture, Polish people are considered to be open-minded and hospitable. The best way to know your way around the country, its culture and rules is to mingle with the locals. You do not need to speak fluent Polish since there is a large variety of school programs in English, unless you are taking a course in Polish. The Poles are also keen on English, and it is the most popular foreign language. However, learning the local dialect can make your everyday activity and interaction much easier.
5. Know Your Host Family
Families host most students on exchange programs in Poland. Discuss your preferences with your chaperone. Speak with your host family beforehand on religion, house rules, food arrangements, what they expect of you and vice versa. If your host school offers accommodation, speak to the boarding department for a briefing on the conditions of living, utilities, terms and conditions, as well as sharing arrangements. This will ensure that you carry any extra items you may need that the school does not provide for you.
6. Plan for a Medical Care
A health cover is mandatory in Poland for the entire duration of your stay. You will need to buy medical insurance from your home country or immediately after you arrive in Poland. Free medical care is only available if you are an EU citizen, and you present your European Health Insurance Card. Bilateral agreements between Poland and from some countries such as the United Kingdom, Slovakia and Sweden enable citizens from these nations to get free medical care. Contact the Nation Health Fund to find out any special arrangements for people from your nation.
7. Carry Money
The cost of your stay will vary depending on your lifestyle, habits and arrangements with your school and host family. The Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education estimates that a student may need between EUR 350 and EUR 550 per month. This amount will cover rent, food, transportation, telephone, study materials and other essential expenses such as leisure and entertainment.
There are great ways to meet people, discover new things about a foreign place and experience a new location. Get involved in societies and sports, look out for student discounts in theaters and malls, travel and meet new people. Remember also to make your stay count by also achieving the best in your studies!
Are you an exchange student in Poland? Share below your experiences and help others who are interested in these exchange programs.