Good things are on the way
Poland Today sits down with Paul Chen, an American living in Poland, to ask him about his unique perspective on the country
When did you first come to Poland?
I came to Poland for a visit in July of 2007 and then moved here in August 2010.
How closely did your preconceptions of Poland match your first impressions?
To be honest, I didn’t have any concrete preconceptions of Poland prior to that visit. I just heard a lot of good opinions from my friends who had come here before me. Having had some Polish-American friends, I had the idea that Polish people were nice and intelligent, and that the food was really pretty tasty.
Looking back, have those first impressions proved right or wrong?
In general, the food is pretty tasty. I love racuchy (a type of pastry) with apples. In general, people are nice and intelligent, but as with everywhere, you do get some dodgy characters as well.
What about Poland was unexpected?
I didn’t expect how much red tape was involved in every aspect of life. I am up to my neck with paperwork! However, the cost of living is relatively low. You don’t have to earn a lot of money to remain sheltered, clothed and fed.
Was anything surprisingly familiar?
Did you know that you can get American style hamburgers in places other than McDonald’s now?
What was the thing that was hardest to adjust to when you moved to Poland?
The lack of good customer service was hard to swallow at first. It is getting better – very slowly though.
What has been the strangest or most memorable experience from your time in Poland?
Something that sticks out was the border crossing between Ukraine and Poland on foot. I did not expect there would be so many Ukrainians trying to get into Poland to sell their goods. Having to deal with such a large crowd and getting squeezed and crushed was definitely something I will remember – trying to get across the border in time to catch a late train made things exciting.
What Polish thing do you wish they had in the United States, and vice-versa?
I would like to have one of those Polish milk bars where you can get good food cheaply. And I wish they had American style diners here where you can get a Lumberjack Breakfast any time of the day.
‘The lack of good customer service was hard to swallow at first’
What are the most striking similarities between Poles and people from the United States, and what are the most striking differences?
I think that like Americans, Poles can be pretty clever in coming up with different ways of achieving a target. I guess the biggest difference is that Poles have a hard time walking a mile in another person’s shoes.
What advice would you give someone from the United States coming to live in Poland?
I would advise them to have a lot of patience and keep an open mind. If you haven’t done so already, having a Polish companion or best friend will prove to be very helpful when trying to manoeuvre through the little everyday things.
What advice would you give a Pole going to live in the United States?
Save up before you get there; just about everything costs money. Maintain an open mind, and expect that things from one part of the country can be quite different from another part.
In what ways has Poland changed you for the better or for the worse?
It made me more resourceful and assertive, on the other hand it has made me even more cynical than I had been.
What keeps you here now?
At the moment, I am a journalist for the website web.gov.pl. I also blog about start-ups. You can find me at www.ksup.co. I see a lot of potential in Polish start-ups. I feel that I am part of a movement and good things are on the way. I am also a member of the American Chamber of Commerce, so I am trying to make more meaningful connections between the Polish business community and their counterparts in the US . I teach at the AGH, a major technical university in Kraków. I see my job as a university teacher as a chance to change the future of Poland for the better.