“I am thinking of taking up that job in Poland”, I told my friends. All of them were shocked with different reactions.
“You are going to where? Are you crazy???”
“Where is Poland? Is it in Europe?”
“It is my country. Don’t go there! Bydgoszcz is just a tiny village with nothing in it”
“They beat up and kill foreigners of colour there” “They are racists”
“Oh la la! You are going to freeze there!”
“The people there are perpetually drunk. They drink vodka for breakfast”
“What is Poland? Is that where Polar bears live”
“I can’t believe you would even consider going to Poland, Romania, Russia, Middle-East kind of countries”
“Think of it, the people there are all running to the UK to take up whatever kind of job! There must be something to that”
“Aww! That’s my native country! We are hospitable people! There are a lot of hidden gems in my country”
After toying with the thought for a while, I decided to give the move a try to the surprise of my friends and the disquietude of my family. If I don’t like it, I said to myself, I would just “run” back to Paris.
Finally, I reached Poznan, a city in Poland. I had come in with 4 heavy suitcases, none of which I could actually lift myself. The border control had seemed pretty interested in me much to the amazement of the American girl who was sitting next to me. “I was expecting this”, I said to her. “I was told to expect this”. My passport was stared critically at and I was asked many times for my final destination and what I was going to do there.
Getting a train to Bydgoszcz was so stressful. As I was tired of tugging 4 bags (one mostly filled with shoes which turned out to just be excess luggage), I left them somewhere and tried not to look as dead as I felt and ignored the curious looks I got. From nowhere, a not-so-clean looking boy, started to point at me shouting something. I froze. Others did not seem interested in what he was saying and so I added him quickly to my list of “things” to be ignored.
I met so many helpful people in Poznan. There was a girl who talked her head off of how she doesn’t see colour and how racists could go “fuck” themselves. There was a really nice priest who spoke English haltingly and was really surprised that I was headed to Bydgoszcz.
I had two friends (I was meeting for the first time) come meet me at the Bydgoszcz train station and we headed to the apartment I had rented.
Work: My name was wrongly spelt which affected all legal documents and office-related applications. Things also weren’t as cheery as the HR had painted.
The people: It was like I was in a movie. At least, that was how I chose to see it. Some people I came in close contact with were nice and pretty helpful. Others just pointed at me and stared openly. I would walk towards people; see them giving themselves nudges and then turning to stare.
Living conditions: My landlady spoke very little English and was the kind of person who smiled at you while lying through her teeth. The house was extremely dirty with leftover food in the oven when I moved in. The cupboards had stuff (iron, soap, tea bags, plastic bags, pasta,…) in them. All these things were probably left over by the previous tenant. She even had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to have the toiletries and food. I politely asked her to trash it. Some days later, it turned out that she hadn’t paid the utility bills and I came from work freezing to an apartment with no electricity and no heating. She brought me a candle. A week after that, the water supply was cut.
By then, I had enough and was completely fed up. As I sat extremely miserable in my flat, I started to check out flights to Paris. After all, I had a job there waiting for me too with the promise of another. As I was checking for flights, I remembered a friend betting that I would not survive in Poland for more than 3 months. Now, I hate losing bets and so I decided to stay for 6 months just to prove her wrong and that I could be tough when put in not-so-pleasant situations.
Over the course of the next few months, things actually started to look up. I learned to ignore the curious looks from people. I moved into another apartment. I made more friends. I went out more without being too scared. I toured the city with expat friends. I started to block out the complaining attitude of the Poles. Then the light bulb moment came! Things aren’t so bad here. There are nice and not-so-nice people everywhere. Every city in the world has its good and not-so-good sides. It just depends on how you choose to see things and what your priorities are!
Till date, I keep thanking God for the fact that I hate losing bets. I would have left this quaint city with nice people missing out on making genuine friendships. Bydgoszcz also offers the opportunity to take a break from the hectic city life and reconnect with the truly important things in life.
Over the course of the years, I came up with ideas of helping other expats find it easy to settle in a country with one of the hardest languages in the world especially for native English speakers.
To be honest, I have had and still have my highs and lows here.
Am I glad I stayed? Yes!