Everything Between Me and Poland
What comes to mind when you think of culture? Elements that are tightly compatible with culture, of course. Food, religion, manners, folklore, clothing and more. So what we call culture shock is being surprised by these elements of another culture. In this article, I will examine this and try to explain to you the "Cultural Shock" and my experiences as a student who came to Poland from the Kurdish side of Turkey. Before I came to Poland for the first time with the Erasmus program, I knew very little about Poland, it was definitely not enough. Naturally, for this reason, I had a few Polish stereotypes in mind: "Poland is a small country, it is very cold there, and because it is a cold country, its natives are also cold; hair and eye colours are very beautiful, people are not very friendly, they drink a lot of alcohol, there is very little food in their culinary culture.” These were some stereotypes that Turkish people thought of and that I thought of before I knew Poland. After coming to Poland, while living here and learning about it, I realized that most of these stereotypes are wrong. In this context, I will discuss the situations that I describe as "culture shock" and share my experiences.
When I came to Poland, which is described as a very cold country in my research, I realized that this was an exaggerated view. Yes, it is cold in winter, but there is no need for us to wear 3 layers of trousers. 😄 That's why I never even took out of my suitcase a lot of winter clothes and equipment that I’d brought from Turkey to Poland. Neither did I take them with me on my 2nd visit to Poland. On the other hand, I thought that Poland, which is large compared to other European countries, is still relatively small country, but I was surprised to realize that I was wrong about this. These were the experiences I had on my first days, and after that, after I settled down in my student dormitory, I started to go into Bydgoszcz, among the people.
At this very moment, another prejudice I had before was broken. People were definitely not cold. They were definitely friendly. The lesson to be learned was that the people of cold countries are not cold. After all, countries are not refrigerators. 😄 This friendliness I'm talking about is on a very respectful level. In order to explain this better, I think I need to make a comparison with Turkey. The people of Turkey are very sincere and warm-blooded, this is a known fact, but when exhibiting these behaviours, people care more about being warm-blooded than respectful. The importance given to social distance is not enough in this context, the way people talk in Turkey is as if they’d known each other beforehand. However, I was quite surprised and pleased that this situation was slightly different in Poland. People here really care about respect. I haven't had a single moment when I was disrespected, people are pretty relaxed, they also like to have fun and laugh. Even people who are overwhelmed by their daily life and really stressed out have entertainment in the back of their minds. Another point is alcohol. My opinion on this has not changed because, as I predicted, Polish people really do drink a lot. This is the case for Slavs in general, but it can be surprising for someone coming from Turkey. Alcohol is also quite common in Turkey, but I was pretty surprised by the situation in Poland. Especially when I see alcohol being consumed during the daytime. However, I later adopted to this situation. For me, the process of adopting to Poland was quite easy and fast, although I am generally someone who has trouble getting used to new situations, but I got used to Poland quickly. And as I got used to it, I was really upset when my Erasmus program ended. I was already starting to miss feeling so comfortable here, traveling easily, helping people and many more things even before I left.
What’s more, I can say that I really liked the train transportation system in Poland, which surprised me and made me very happy, perhaps because using railway is not common in Turkey. Train transportation between cities is very easy, there are many connections during the day, trains are very fast, comfortable and punctual. Also if you are a student, you can get your train ticket for half price, which is really excellent. Thanks to all this, I had the chance to travel a lot in Poland and I visited a lot of beautiful places.
Speaking of student discounts, I would like to explain this a little more. If you are a student in Poland, you are really advantageous as this country provides serious support to students. Although I found Turkey sufficient in this regard, I was very surprised when I came to Poland. All public transport has a 50% discount for students, most of the museums are included, you can get a student discount in some restaurants, you have a 50% discount on intercity train travel. If you are both a student and an employee, you earn more because you do not pay taxes. In short, I was really astonished by the advantages that Poland offers to students. Moreover, the economic situation of Poland is good. Maybe when I put all these reasons together, I can easily explain why I wanted to come to Poland for my master's degree.
Now let's come to an important issue for me, food. As I said, I had heard that the food culture of Poland was not very extensive before I came, I cannot say that my opinion has changed after I came to know it. The food culture of this place is not very good in terms of variety and richness. It can be a little difficult to get used to, especially for someone coming from Turkey. At first, I started to think that the people here eat monotonously. But of course, there are some points I can't miss out on - pierogi. Pierogi is one of the most famous of local delicacies of Poland. When I tried them, I really liked them. The best feature of pierogi is that there’s a wide variety, from minced meat to strawberry; my favorite was the ones with potatoes and onion. As a student, I can say that I do not have enough knowledge about food culture, so I did some research in addition to my own experience, but it still may not be enough, so my opinion here is completely personal.
To summarize, in general, when I came to Poland, a lot of things surprised me, I learned a lot of new things, I added a lot to myself and a lot of things made me happy - these were all good things. I got used to all novelties very quickly, none of the stereotypes I mentioned or the things that I was surprised to discover had a negative effect on me. I believe that a sense of belonging and comfort is very important for living in a new place and I have all of these feelings in Poland. The only big problem for me was the language of this country. Polish is a really difficult language, pronunciation and some other language aspects are very different from my mother tongue, so I can say that I am a bit hopeless about learning Polish. 😅 I got used to and assimilated into this country, its culture and the "culture shock" I wore off. I feel very lucky to have had this experience.
O autorze: Serhat to student anglistyki odbywający staż w naszej szkole latem 2022 w ramach programu Erasmus+. Pochodzi z tureckiej części Kurdystanu.