Trading Egyptian sands for Polish snow

Moving away from Egypt is the dream of every young Egyptian but when he finally made the leap and settled in Kraków, living in Poland changed him in more ways than he expected.  

Why did you decide to move to Poland?
Every Egyptian my age wants to leave Egypt because the situation there is not very good. In 2015, I went abroad for the first time in my life to take part in the Digital Participation Summit in Münster, Germany where I met a Polish girl. We started dating and I wanted to know more about Poland and its culture. I visited her in Katowice a year later and I decided to move to Poland to be with her.

How did your family react to your decision?
My mom was very happy that I moved to Poland. She actually loves my girlfriend and was accepting of my decision. It was the same for my girlfriend’s parents as well. She actually told me to be prepared to meet them because their daughter was bringing home a Muslim boyfriend but they were accepting and they loved me. We are on very good terms and it’s something I was not expecting but it worked out great for both of our families.

What was the toughest challenge you had to overcome?

Besides learning the language, obtaining a visa was the hardest. It took a lot of time and hard work because there are laws that make it harder for immigrants to enter, especially after the refugee crisis. I spent two years going back and forth between Egypt and Poland on a tourist visa. A big factor was the lack of English speakers in the government offices. It was frustrating because after not seeing my girlfriend for a year, I applied for a tourist visa and was rejected. I made an appeal, had another interview and finally received the visa. Now that I have a job at TTEC in Kraków, I was granted a work permit but it took two months longer than it should. When I applied for a national visa, I was asked for documents and certificates that weren’t listed in the requirements. It seemed like they didn’t trust me.

How do you like living in Kraków?

Kraków is amazing. I love this city because it’s like you’re living in a huge part of history. Kraków has a lot of incredible places and sections that remind you of really significant moments in its past. There are also a lot of foreigners here and it’s easy to meet interesting people from different countries. I like the diversity.

‘I remember my first time seeing snow and it was magical – I felt like a little kid.’

What do you think about Poland’s weather?

It never snows in Egypt, so I always dreamed about building a snowman and doing winter sports. I remember my first time seeing snow and it was magical – I felt like a little kid. During my first visit, I went hiking in the Bielsko Biała region and the experience was really amazing. So I really like the weather because in the winter I can going skiing and the summers are nice, unlike Egypt’s unbearable 45 degrees.  

What was the first Polish food you ate?

Pierogi. I love pierogi. I had pierogi the first time I came and it’s always been my all-time favorite. Then comes żurek, a kind of soup, and Kiełbasa – Polish people are crazy about it.

Do you miss Egyptian food?

Yes, but I found a lot of restaurants in Poland that are owned by Egyptians and Arabs and they sell shawarma, kebab and a dessert called kanafeh. The only thing I miss about Egypt is my family and friends, and maybe my neighbourhood. But apart from that, my happiness at being in Poland and finally starting a life and a career in Europe is more powerful than the feeling of leaving Egypt.

Has living in Poland changed you in any way?

I have become a more open-minded, accepting person and my beliefs have changed a lot. I used to be extremely defensive during discussions about religion, especially Islam because I come from a Muslim family. But now I am comfortable not calling myself a Muslim because I now embrace all beliefs and I consider all of them equal, without one religion as a point of judgment for the others. This was a big change and I struggled with it, but living in Europe made me look at things from a different perspective.

‘I love Polish people. It’s really astonishing because I’ve encountered the opposite of racism.’

Have you faced any racism?

Surprisingly no. I say surprisingly because a lot of people told me Poles are racist, but actually no, not at all – I love Polish people. It’s really astonishing because I’ve encountered the opposite of racism. For instance, I was walking in Katowice with friends and an old man approached me, hugged me and said “Wszystkiego najlepszego” which means best wishes. Maybe he thought I was a refugee because from what I understood, he said it must have been hard for me to get here and I must have suffered so much but he wishes me luck. This was the most heart-warming experience that I’ve ever had in Poland.

What are the similarities and differences between Poland and Egypt?

Religion is a big part of life in both countries. You can walk the streets in either nation and spot religious symbols and places of worship. Another similarity is football – people in Egypt and Poland love football. A big difference is the mentality. Because of the poor conditions, bad political situation and education, some people in Egypt are less open-minded and are not open to new ideas or ways of thinking. Another difference is people’s approach to shopping. I noticed that Polish people prefer to buy local products from Poland, while Egyptians like to buy imported items and go to chain restaurants.

What advice would you give an Egyptian moving to Poland?

I would say learn Polish, buy warm clothes because it will be hard to adjust to the winter, and to live in Europe in general, a person needs to have an open mind and be ready to accept the differences. For someone who has never been outside of Egypt, coming to Poland can be a really big culture shock and it’s something to be prepared for.

Mohamed Ibrahim was born in Cairo, Egypt. He left his small neighbourhood of Abdeen for Giza at 20. Before emigrating to Poland, he studied computer science in Egypt and worked in programming, graphic design and advertising. As an Arabic speaker, he landed a job as an accounts strategist at TTEC in Kraków, liaising with clients in Middle Eastern countries.

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Written by: Monica Zielinski

Monica Zielinski is Poland Today's online editor and social media manager. She is a Polish-American journalist who also works on international projects headed under Rzeczpospolita. After earning a journalism degree from Southern Connecticut State University in the US, she moved to Warsaw to reconnect with her Polish roots and work in her field.