To this day, I find it hard to believe that I lived in Poland for 4 years. The initial plan was to stay in Poland for 6 months and then reapply to an MBA program in Germany. Little did I know that I was going to find my passion - teaching English.
After living in Poland for 4 years, I learned a whole lot of things about myself and I’m thankfully to come out of this experience as a more empathetic and patient woman, among other positive adjectives :)
Asking for help
I believe many women can resonate with this - their parents telling them not to rely on anyone. So of course, when I moved to Poland I had the mentality that I could do anything on my own. Boy was I wrong! Asking for help when needed is not a flaw in your character. We should all be comfortable when asking for help, especially if it’s really needed. Of course, like every foreigner living in Poland, I struggled with my Karta Pobytu (aka: residence card). I asked my friends numerous times, especially Jarek, my ex-roommate. Although I always thanked those who helped me, I don’t think they know how grateful I am to this day that they were gracious enough to lend me a hand when I needed it.
Not speaking loudly
Okay, this one I learned in Poland but I have long forgotten! But I wanted to write about it because it’s something that every non-American will laugh and understand. Americans, we are loud and sometimes even obnoxious. I do apologize for all of us who tend to behave like this. I was one of them. In Europe it is easy to notice that people speak quietly when they are in public, specially if they’re on a bus, train, etc (except if you’re Italian). I remember when I was fresh off the plane, I was the typical American, speaking on the phone loudly and immediately realizing that I’m the only person yelling. So that lesson was quickly learned. Although, like I mentioned earlier, it has been quickly forgotten. I guess old habits die hard!
Dressing WAY better
I always believed that I dressed more or less well, until I landed in Poland and traveled around Europe. Being well-dressed is the norm in all of Europe. In Florida it isn’t. A person in Florida dresses on the weekends like this: flip flops, jeans, t-shirt. That’s on a good day! Now, when they’re grocery shopping it looks something like this: flip flops with pajamas. Do you get my point? We don’t know how to dress! We don’t even own proper shoes! I have to admit, I wasn’t as bad as what I described, however, I do remember the first time I got invited to a bar. I wanted to put on jeans, a nice top and sneakers. My roommate looked at me and said “you’re wearing that?!” And I then looked at myself and said in a timid voice “yes?” I also got Jarek to tell me at one point that I had no fashion sense. After those two instances, I learned that wearing jeans and a nice top wasn’t/isn’t enough. If you’re a woman, you must not only have a nice dress with according shoes, but also gotta accessorize! Thankfully, I did learn this well and I’m still implanting it while living in Denver.
Taking More Chances
I know you’re probably surprised with this one, but I really did learn to take more chances while living in Poland. Although taking chances may sound risky, I always did a cost-benefit analysis. Before moving to Poland, I would have never gone out by myself to restaurants, parties, etc. Living abroad without knowing anyone teaches you to get out of your conform zone, which was the best lesson I learned thus far. I was able to become comfortable in my own skin. Going out by myself, striking conversations with strangers, and even traveling alone. It also teaches you to be wary of others when you get a negative vibe from them and relying on complete strangers who show you kindness. I was always very lucky to have met people that showed kindness to me and, again, I feel so fortunate to this day to have met them! (Gosia, Jarek, Ted, etc).
Using the Public Transportation
This one was one that I was really excited to learn. If you haven’t been to Florida you’re about to be surprised. In Florida we don’t really have public transportation. Sometimes there’s not even sidewalks on the streets! And the buses pass every hour, if you’re lucky. What I mean is, in Florida, it seems that the only people who use the public transportation are: people that are mentally ill, people with suspended licenses, or just crazy people. And if you know me, you know that I hate driving. So naturally, I was ecstatic by the thought of using public transportation. And surprise, surprise, I had no idea how to use it! I asked for help here and there, and got the hang of it. Although, it was great not to drive places, I must say it was not always peachy - there were a couple of times when drunk men entered the bus/train, which was an absolutely gruesome experience (the smell, the chaos, and again, the smell).
That is all! What have you learned while living abroad? Do you think I missed anything? :)