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Poland by Choice: Why I left America for Poland

Monica Wojciechowska

Celebrating Polish Independence Day (November 11th) with great friends

Hi. My name’s Monica. I’m Polish. And I'm American.

I was born and raised in New Jersey, studied in Philadelphia, worked in Washington DC.. and four years ago, moved to Poland. One question I get all the time - and one that I love to answer - is “Why did you move to Poland?” - usually paired with genuine interest and surprise (because a lot of people would give anything to go the other way).

That’s a pretty loaded question, but the super short answer? Because I always wanted to.

The slightly longer answer? Well...

Before I begin, I need to set something straight. Some people might think I’m anti-America for leaving, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t leave America because it drove me away. Nothing drove me away, something else just pulled me towards more strongly. Actually, it was precisely due to (or more accurately, thanks to) America that I left. Americans are a proud and loyal people. Respectful of their roots. Loyal to their hometown, loyal to their sports teams, loyal to their country, proud of their heritage. The America I know is the America of a country song. I’m not exactly talking about cars, or trucks, or beer, but about hard work, family, love, faith and appreciation of the simple things in life.

The Poland I know - and the Poland I fell in love with - is the Poland I think of when I listen to those country songs. The countryside. Where faith is a big part of life, where nature isn’t just a place to visit, but a place to be a part of. Where you wake up to roosters crowing, and fall asleep to a star-filled sky. Where neighbors are people you can count on. A place where people think for themselves, and able to stand up for truth when all the world around them is screaming lies.

To me, America is synonymous with opportunity and adventure. That’s exactly what I left to pursue. My journey to Poland and four plus years of living here (just celebrated my 4 year anniversary on February 15th!) have been just that - a beautiful adventure.

My decision to come to Poland may have seemed “sudden”, but it was really something that had been brewing in me all my life. For as long as I can remember, being Polish was something I was proud of. It was more than eating pierogi at Christmas or wearing red and white, it was all my family across the Atlantic, it was my secret language to talk to my parents in in a public places, it was what made me unique.

So the connection to my roots was always there... but in February of 2018 I finally had a chance to get back to them. After about a year of soul-searching, thinking about what I really wanted in life and out of life, I was ready to make the leap. I had just quit a job in marketing that made me super unhappy, and planned to pursue an interest I had begun to develop in college - data visualization. I applied to a couple of jobs but it was clear from early on that I didn’t have the software engineering background needed to fill these positions off the bat. So maybe some extra schooling could help...?

Orrr maybe a coding bootcamp...? Shorter and (potentially sweeter) if you can come out the other end with a job as a developer.

There were several options in the US, but since I had always dreamed of trying life out in Poland, I thought to myself, what better time than now! I applied and was accepted to the bootcamp, bought a one-way ticket to Warsaw, and figured I’d test out life in Poland for 10-weeks. “If I like it I can stay longer, if I don’t I can always come back.” Well, four years later, I’m still here. And still loving it.

So, that’s why I came to Poland, but I think the more interesting question (and more interesting answer perhaps) is why did I choose to stay? I think when most people ask “Why did you come?” they really mean “Why are you here when you have the choice to be there?”. The best way I can put it in Twitter 180-character-or-less format is that I quickly found myself here. There were pieces of me in America that were always looking for something deeper. Something truer. Truer to who I am. Poland gave me that dimension.

Friends, food, faith, adventure, family. I definitely had each of these to a certain extent in America, but what Poland’s really given me is depth**.** I find myself being the best possible me here. I guess my roots just needed to get back to their soil?

And in my experience, these are the things that make that soil so rich:

Foundation of Faith

I have to start with faith, because I believe no part of my Poland adventure - or all the other adventures in my life - would have been possible without God. I’m a Catholic and faith has always been a big part of my life, but in America (or at least in the parts of America where I was living) I almost felt like an outsider for my beliefs. As a college student or young working professional in a big city that would go to church every Sunday instead of bottem-less mimosa brunch, I definitely felt in the minority of my peers. It was breathtaking for me when I first came to Poland to see that there are still so many practicing young Catholics. And that “being Catholic” isn’t the only thing that defines them. Normal people - into sports, into music, into going out, into living a “normal” life. They had interests outside of church. But still went to church because it was gratitude, working through their struggles, and the desire to live a good life that powered all those other interests. It didn’t have to be so black-and-white: “all-religion” or “anti-religion”. That was always my perspective and it was so refreshing to have found such a large community in Poland of people my age that felt the same way.

Safe, Liveable Cities

I never thought of myself as a “city” person. Noisy, crowded, dirty, dangerous... But that was definitely motivated by my experiences of New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. So I was pretty shocked that I was able to live happily in Warsaw for over three years. Warsaw is the capital and biggest city in Poland, but it feels like the countryside when you compare it to the largest American cities. The streets are wide, there are plenty of parks, you can see the sky (not just the next skyscraper). As a woman, I always felt safe walking alone. And all of that in the most bustling city of Poland. Having spent a lot of time in other Polish cities, and now living in Gdańsk up north by the Baltic Sea, I can say that it just gets “calmer” and “greener” from there!

Easy to be active

When it comes to sport - in Poland’s big cities, there are tons of options available! From squash, to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, to canyoning, to salsa and kiteboarding (and even surfing) ← just to name a few that I’ve actually tried. Not only are the sports themselves available, but so are the people to practice them with! Each comes with their own community and active Facebook group. It’s not hard to make friends in Poland if you’re active.

Also, if you happen to work at a Polish company, a lot of times you’re lucky enough to get a benefit card (like Multisport for example) that gets you free or super cheap entry into a lot of gyms, pools, saunas, rock-climbing walls, dance schools, the list goes on) Hands down my favorite benefit. I feel like it was made for me. Lots of companies (especially tech companies) these days try to keep their employees happy with free food - endless snacks, sponsored lunches, etc. Well, I’d would gladly trade all that in for some free ways to workout instead! So, ‘Go Poland!’ for having these sport benefit cards!

Beautiful mountains, lakes and sea

And as much as I love my organized sports, my love for spending time outdoors is probably even greater. Sometimes I would think to myself: if I could choose to live by the mountains, by the ocean, or by a lake, which would I choose? Always a super difficult question for me to answer, because I love them all! But in Poland, I don’t have to! It has access to the Baltic Sea, several mountain ranges (from the more hardcore Tatras to the more-easygoing summits of the Bieszczady). Not to mention, rolling plains, lake districts, forests, etc. And not only can you find all these things in one country, you can even find them in one city - where I’m living today in Gdańsk, I have 15 minutes by bike to the sea, lakes and forests all around, and all the hills for walks, runs, and mountain biking my heart desires.

Work (and work-life balance)

Working hours in the US can be crazy. And in my case they were (or at least in my opinion they were). People would get into the office at 8am and usually stay until 8pm.. Twelve hours a day is not healthy in my mind. And that sort of culture brought me to tears on multiple occasions. I just couldn’t live with the knowledge that work was literally taking up the majority of my life...

In Poland I think there’s a healthier approach to work-life balance. I’m sure there are some companies that still uphold more “big-city-America” style hours, but most of the people I know don’t work over 8 hours a day. Compared to the US, I think in Poland it is more common that people “work to live” rather than “live to work”. Passions outside of work and strong family ties tend to make people more willing to leave the office at a normal hour of the day. And I think that’s a much healthier approach. I remember when I got my first job at a Polish company, how grateful I was to have to work only 8 hours! That first company, Netguru, actually deserves a special shout-out because it had a huge impact on me - and I think a great company culture (remote-first before remote-first was a thing) that valued output, not hours in an office.

Growth opportunities

So in many ways, Poland can offer a “simpler” life. Not just in terms of having more hours to live that life outside work, but also having more options to do so in a way that’s distant from consumerism, shopping malls, your phone.. But other things are more difficult. One of those, is the Polish language. Polish is a difficult language to learn and speak, but for me, this is actually a beautiful thing. It’s a challenge. And I’ve always been drawn to challenges.

I had grown up speaking Polish, but speaking isn’t the same as reading and writing. Since coming to Poland, everything is slightly more challenging for me in my “mother”-tongue, but that also makes each day more satisfying, each conversation more interesting. It’s not just about speaking the Polish language perfectly. About having the vocab and grammar down to a T. It’s more about the confidence that it takes to speak it - despite imperfections, despite speaking with an accent.

Speaking Polish has helped me grow confidence and courage in ways that living in English never could.

From family to friends, from friends to family

Poland is a much smaller country than the US, so relatives are generally more accessible. Even if you go to study in a different city, you are still not that far from home. The culture is very family-oriented. I was lucky enough not only to be living with family (my now 98-year-old until, then 94-years-young) and strengthen the relationships with my cousins, aunts, uncles, but also to be “adopted” by other families as well - one of my favorite things is meeting my friends’ parents. Might be a factor of the incredible friends I’ve found here, but their families are so willing to open their rooms to someone they don’t know very well. In the US we have a notion of ‘southern hospitality’. I think it’s safe to say that this extends to Poland as well.

The Land of Pierogi and Kiełbasa

And speaking of family gatherings, the answer to “Why Poland?” wouldn’t be complete without a mention to the food! There’s the things that everyone generally knows Poland for: The pierogi. The kielbasa. Kasza, kapusta, gołąbki, żurek. Yup, those are defintiely all here, and definitely all amazingly tasty. But to me what’s most special is the “everyday” groceries that just taste different (and better!) in Poland. Butter, bread, pickles, ketchup, kefir - just to name a few. To say that I moved to Poland for the food would be a bit of a stretch, but I definitely can’t say I’ve been complaining about my options ;)

So, as you can see, I’m quite the fan of where I’m living.

No one is holding me here by force. And I know growing up Polish makes me a little biased, but I also think I’m not the only one that sees Poland for the beauty that it is. Objectively speaking, not only does Poland come with an inspirational and rich history of perseverance, bravery, solidarity and a promising future, but it’s also a country:

  • that has a low cost of living (as compared to other European countries)
  • that is well-connected with the rest of Europe - buses, trains, planes - which often translates to cheaper travel
  • that is safe, clean, and commuter-friendly
  • that’s a leader when it comes to IT talent and innovation
  • is welcoming of those in need (which can especially be seen now as hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed the Polish border since Ukraine-Russia war broke out)
  • where a large percentage of people speak fluent English and/or are actively learning a second language
  • has a healthy(er) dating scene - where young people are more likely to be looking for a steady partner than a hookup

But what’s most beautiful in my mind, is that many Poles feel the same way about where they are from - in awe of the world and happy to explore it, but happy to return as well.

There’s no place like home and I consider myself lucky to have found one in Poland. After all this time, I still feel like I’m on an adventure - exploring a country filled with natural wonders and (generally) kind-hearted people. So to myself and others living in Poland, I say, let the adventure continue. Let’s set a high standard for ourselves, for our country, and try every day to live up to it. To those that have yet to visit to Poland I say let the adventure begin. I hope you will feel welcome here and will grow see Poland the way I see it. A beautiful place, with beautiful people, and all the pierogi you could ever dream of.

© 2022 — The Polish American