-Where were you born?
Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Ireland
-In which country and city are you living now?
Currently living in Nowa Huta, near Kraków, Poland
-Are you living alone or with your family?
Living with my girlfriend Karolina and our smelly 17 yo dog, Pampers
-How long have you been living in Poland?
Almost 2 years
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Poland?
I briefly visited the country in 2006 and fell in love with it. Poland is becoming increasingly westernised, but to Irish eyes, life is a lot simpler here with an emphasis on the things that are important - Family, Friends, Good Food. It wistfully reminded me of the Ireland of my youth before the celtic cat started roaring. Back when we consumed less and had more of an identity. I had always wanted to try teaching as a way of giving something back to the world that I had used and abused previously.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Being an EU national means you can work here legally. A lot of schools will give you a contract of employment if you nag them enough. Some will even employ you off the books and you don’t pay tax. But I of course don’t engage in such illicit activities.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Yes, nigh on impossible. Contracts with employers in the teaching game will rarely include free health insurance. I have my European health insurance card and just hope for the best that nothing serious happens. You can pay for ZEUS here if you set up your own business, but it is expensive at 300 zyl a month. Some employers will pay a percentage of this for you too. It entitles you to free GP visits and heavily reduced prescription costs but the standard of public doctors varies wildly in my opinion and many folk take out private health insurance in addition to the public.
-How do you make your living in Poland? Do you have any type of income generated?
I earn money teaching. Whilst not one of the better paying professions here, you can certainly get by comfortably enough. I knew I would teach, so I did my qualification in a private school in Kraków. They luckily offered me work after I completed it. There is a plethora of native speakers wanting to teach in Kraków particularly. Stray 30 km down the road and they are starved for English-speaking teachers. Still, with that said, if you have a proper qualification you will have little problems picking up more work than you can handle, including private lessons.
-Do you speak Polish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
It’s part and parcel of living in a foreign country that you try to integrate. Part of that process is learning to speak the language, no matter how ridiculously difficult it is. I should be a lot more advanced in my Polish than I am, but I can get by and am learning more all the time. Polish people really appreciate a foreigner speaking their language which they are immensely proud of. You will get plenty of practice with the over 30's age bracket (who were mainly forced to study Russian in school). They rarely have any English and even though they will laugh at you sometimes (it’s still a novelty in some parts of Poland to hear a foreignor speaking Polish) it's all in the name of cross-cultural enlightenment.
People who live and work here certainly respect traditions, etc. The fleeting weekend crowds can have a different idea of respect though...as any walk on the Rynek on a Saturday night will tell you.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Yes, I miss family and friends of course. When you go home though, it's always reassuring to see that few things ever change and people are still doing the same things they always did. Luckily, my girlfriend’s family are very supportive and friendly. They speak no English, so it's an extra incentive to get better at the langauge.
In the warmer months I really enjoy walking and cycling around Krakow and playing a little football.
Also living on the continent is quite liberating. For someone who spent the majority of their adult life on an Island, it’s exhilarating to jump in the car and just drive to Slovakia or Italy, the possibilities seem endless and you can do a lot of dreaming.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Yes, we intend to travel around Europe a lot more in the coming years. We have been to Ukraine twice already, which is stunning. I’d like to convert an old camper van and be complete wandering hobos for a few months. Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are all on the list.
It’s a good time to start a business in Poland. Yes, we have some ideas but I am not telling you what they are.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We haven’t bought an apartment due to a shortage of money but rent from a friend of mine who bought. This time last year you could still pick up a 2-room apartment in some areas of the town for under 300k zly. That is no longer the case and prices are spiralling with foreign investors pushing prices up even higher. For most Krakowians, buying/renting in central Kraków is simply not an option anymore and they are being pushed further out into the suburbs - to where we are living!
-What is the cost of living in Poland?
You earn at least a third less what you would in Ireland yet things are roughly 3 times cheaper - except for some imported stuff, and clothes are incredibly expensive. It’s relative. In a bizarre twist - Irish alcohol like Baileys and Jameson are cheaper here. It gives me an excuse, I suppose...
-What do you think about the Poles?
My main gripe with living here is I haven’t met and socialised with as many Poles as I would like. More Polish friends to practice my Polish on for sure would be nice. Yes, I have some folk from my classes that I occasionally socialise with but being a teacher, in a small town you tend to see the same folk, in the same places and they all speak English and teach. The locals are generally friendly and Poland is not that ethnically diverse yet, so you get some odd looks at times, but it would be the same anywhere. The Poles are strange fish, at first they may seem a bit standoffish, but once they get to know you they are very welcoming.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Poland?
- Frequent, reliable and cheap transport infrastructure (trains, trams, buses)
- Cheap and delicious locally grown seasonal produce
- Proper seasons
- Opportunity to travel around Europe without restrictions from a strategic base
- Mind numbing public service bureaucracy
- Unreliable postal system including stuff going missing occasionally
- Tricky language with many different cases/sounds and inflections
- Driving/cycling on the grid locked poor roads with poorer drivers
- Queues and queuing and old people who don’t want to
- Price of imported foods
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Poland?
Yes. If I was to move here again and know what I know now, I would have learned some Polish before arriving. Never underestimate how lonely and isolated you feel when you understand nothing of what people around you are saying.
Don’t bring your Irish/English right hand drive car over here. You will not be able to register/insure it (why - I have no idea) and will have to drive it the whole 1800km home and sell it to some Lithuanian folk.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Poland?
www.konina.blogspot.com. Adventures in the land of mushrooms
Musings/rantings on life in Poland and other completely useless and unrelated stuff.
www.pinolona.blogspot.com. Travels without my spaniel
Humorous blog about one girl's mishaps and adventures of life lived in Kraków.
www.british-in-poland.blogspot.com. British in Poland
Really informative and advice packed blog on how to do some of the more difficult bureaucratic stuff in Poland.
Collaborative blog written by expats living in Poland to offer advice and debunk some common Polish myths.