International Students Feature: Poland
This week, Weronika Halicka, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, was asked about the differences between her home country, Poland, and life at Illinois Tech. As has become a clear trend in this section of TechNews, Halicka expressed that she missed the food from her home country more than anything else. “It’s just food, I miss food the most,” Halicka explained. “It’s so much different. My parents are always sending me packages with candies and stuff.” Her favorite dish, Halicka said, was pierogi: a kind of dumpling stuffed with fillings such as potato. Also, Halicka mentioned, “I think the chocolate is different. I think in Europe we got used to chocolate from Switzerland, that’s the most common, and it just tastes different. That’s why my parents are sending me so much chocolate.” Halicka also said that the portion sizing in America is much different than in Poland, and that a ‘large’ here is much larger than you would find in her home country. She recounted a memory from her first trip to the cinema in the United States, saying, “Usually [when people in Poland] come and order a large soda, it is maybe 0.75 liters. Here I got two liters of soda, and I’m like ‘oh my god! When am I going to drink it? It’s going to take me a whole week to drink it!’” Halicka also said that in Poland, people go out to eat much less frequently, only going out on special occasions like birthdays. Because of this, in Poland, they don’t have breakfast places at all, because breakfast is always eaten at home. A fun fact, she added, “We don’t eat sandwiches with two breads, just one bread on the bottom. People laugh at me when I eat a sandwich here, because I open it.” In addition, she mentioned that while coffee shops exist in Poland, people do not use them to the extent that they do here. “They think that ‘I have a coffee machine at home, I’m just going to prepare it at home and take it to go.’”
The hardest part of the transition, according to Halicka, was the language barrier. Although she started learning English in kindergarten, Halicka said that it was mostly grammar and reading. “But when it comes to talking, I was so scared to say something, ‘oh, they’re going to laugh at me.’ It was terrible. One sentence took me like five minutes. People were like ‘oh, okay, nevermind, she doesn’t speak English.’ Like, no, I do, I just need time! I was so shy. I am not a shy person, but I was so scared to talk.” Halicka spoke of two years that she spent in Missouri, which she said was a terrible experience because no one spoke Polish. “Here it’s fine, I have friends who speak Polish. They were born here, but it’s still nice to talk in your language to someone.”
Academically, Halicka explained that Europe in general has a different education system than in America. “First of all, we start primary school when we’re seven, and that’s why we finish high school when we’re 19.” Because of this, she remarked that people in America always thought she was old for grade. Also, Halicka said, there is a lot less flexibility when choosing your classes in Poland. In her words, “The school gives us a schedule and that’s it. We have nothing to say.” Additionally, Halicka explained, “In high school, we don’t have finals, we just have exams, tests, quizzes, we don’t have one cumulative at the end of the year. So that was new for me in university.”
Holidays and celebrations also differ in Poland. On the first of November, people in Poland dedicate the day to visiting cemeteries and remembering those in the family who have died, and students typically get the day off of school to do so. Halicka also thought that Easter was a bigger deal in Poland, especially the day after Easter, which is called ‘Wet Monday.’ On this day, Polish people make a game out of chasing and pouring water on others. “It was always so much fun to run away from people,” Halicka remembered.
On a positive note, Halicka mentioned that “I think people here are more open minded. Here, you can dye your hair pink … you go on the streets, no one will care. In Poland, people will look at you like a stranger. Especially the older generation will ask why you look different than others. ... I like it a lot. You can look how you want, you can do what you want, and nobody’s going to point at you.”