Now that I have been in Wrocław, Poland for nearly two months at the time of writing, I have come to notice some things that are far different than my home university in Lincoln, Nebraska as well as my general culture differences between Poland and the United States. Though there will never be an exhaustive list of interesting topics to discuss, I will do my best to describe the biggest differences and surprises I have experienced thus far in my study abroad journey!
When discussing my time in Poland with my friends and family back home, one the most common questions is, “what’re the biggest differences you see in Poland compared to the U.S.?” Besides the obvious difference in geographic location and language, there a few major things that I always mention.
- Goodbye, Car Culture
Of course, like many places outside of the United States, owning a vehicle isn’t necessarily commonplace, especially for those in my age group. Not only is owning a vehicle expensive for a multitude of reasons (maintenance, licensing, fuel, etc.), but in a city like Wrocław where there is an extensive tram and bus network at affordable prices, there is simply no need to drive.
The pace of life here is far slower than that back home. At my university here, courses usually meet once a week for an hour and a half coupled with optional (yes, optional!) weekly lectures instead of the U.S. normal of three class meetings per week for fifty minutes (generally speaking). Additionally, professors here see no need for day to day busy work other than the occasional reading assignment. In the U.S., I am usually scrambling to finish multiple assignments for the following day’s class. Meanwhile, lectures and course readings in Wrocław are centered around student engagement with aim of producing a final term paper rather than multiple small assignments.
- No “Nebraska Nice”
At first glance, one might see this heading and think that I am implying that the Polish are an unfriendly people, and I can’t stress enough that this is NOT what I mean. Having grown up in a small town where speaking to one another on the street, in line at the store, or literally any setting at all, one could say speaking openly with strangers is not a rarity. In my experience in Poland thus far, however, this simply has not been my experience. It is incredibly rare for someone to speak to you casually in public if you are strangers and, at times, the language barrier between myself and the older generations here does not help. Again, this is not to say that the Poles are an unfriendly bunch. For instance, my roommate here is Polish and one of the friendliest people I have ever met in my life. The difference is, in my opinion, that many here keep their guard up until you get to know them on a more personal level, and once that happens, the cheery Midwestern attitudes that I’m used to are reincarnated 5000 miles from home!
In addition to the differences between U.S. and Polish culture that I have noticed, there have also been some instances where I was surprised by what I have seen in Wrocław, for better or worse!
- U.S. Influences
When I first decided to study in Poland, I had imagined that there would still exist the occasional McDonalds, but I could never have imagined the the extent to which American based franchises and culture existed in Wrocław. Not only are there multiple fast food franchises (a surprisingly large number of KFCs and Pizza Huts) and Starbucks to boot, but American movies in English dominate the cinemas and the brand names of common household items are never too far away.
- The Dryer is… Where?
I didn’t realize how many creature comforts I was accustomed too until I arrived in Wrocław and one of those comforts was having a dryer to do laundry. In Poland, a dryer is not something typically found outside of a Laundromat here and if you request one, you will be promptly directed to the nearest drying rack to hang your clothes. It’s not the end of the world, but getting used to laundry being a day-long ordeal is something that I’m still not quite used to!
- The “Native Speaker”
My program of study in Wrocław is conducted in English, which is great considering the fact that the majority of international students here are also in this program. What I have learned, though, is that many people (Poles, international students, professors) can quickly identify who is a native English speaker, causing a number of results. There are times where some become self-conscious about their English, others take the opportunity to clarify their burning linguistic questions, and I enjoy the experience of simply being able to interact with a such a diverse group of people in my native tongue. There is always a small tinge of guilt knowing how comfortable I am with the other international students in English while I don’t fluently speak any other language, but the more that you take the time to simply live, laugh, and learn with each other, the less it matters what language it happens it.