How was it to grow up as a child in Poland?
Well, first of all it was a great experience and most importantly a place where I have learnt the most. Poland
The city was also very silent, there are no trams in India instead there are buses. I could not hear loads of traffic sounds as in India J and most of all I did not have any friends at that time. I stayed at home all those days but I enjoyed looking at the view - it was very nice indeed! I remember, while my mom travelled on job for week or so, I sat by the window watching the colourful trams crossing the streets. is a nice country .I live in Wroclaw with my Mom and Dad, and now also my 2 year old sister. Actually, I was of my sister’s age - 2 years and 7 months old when I came to Poland. It is very different from India. Now if I think of it, I can imagine myself in a coop with no dear ones (apart from my parents) surrounding me. Back at home, I had my grandparents who were always, 24 hours around me and loved me the most.
Soon I was big enough to go to kindergarten! It was a nightmare to me, I kept crying on the first few days. All strangers, speaking in a language I did not utter a word of. It seems like the care taker at the kindergarten praised my loud crying voiceJ. However, I finally got used to it, good thing I learned to speak Polish fluently. I was not taught Polish but learnt it by listening to the kids. They were friendly, the care takers most of all were the best I had. I learnt to enjoy Polish food. When I returned home, I would speak few Polish words with my parents and they had no clue what I was talking about. I felt proud, that I had to explain them Polish. After one year, I was at regular school. Did I miss my kindergarten? Yes! Very much, the caretakers, my nap time, the toys, Polish food and Polish all around me. It was my second home.
The school’s name is BISC (British International School of Wroclaw), I had a warm welcome from the kids and teachers. In this school we are only allowed to speak English. So I was in the first grade which was quite easy for me, I learnt a lot in this class, the teacher was very friendly and I have forgotten Polish completely. In the third grade (I skipped the second grade), I had an easy school year because the teacher did not teach us or give us much to do. But then I attended extra Polish language classes and to my surprise, I had forgotten even basics of Polish. I started to find it difficult to learn Polish as a regular subject. It was much easier to learn the language as you speak with friends in kindergarten.
Fourth grade was harder, there was very strict teacher and she taught me a lot during all the lessons. In the Grade 5 there was a stable teacher, he was not too strict nor too lenient. I had all Korean classmates, not international in that sense.
Now I’m in the sixth grade. I enjoy the lessons however there are lots of tests which our teacher gives us. So busy days throughout the week. During play time we play all sorts of game like Tag, Traditional Korean games, made up games, and hide and seek. Our playground is quite big. Each class has its own garden, which is fun to grow plants and flowers budding. We get to use the shovel and other gardening tools. In my School there are lots of competitions like spelling bee, most beautiful garden, who reads the most books, costumes challenge, hair styles e.c.t. I am the topper in school, I always win competitions, get good grades and no complaints from teachers J. Last time I’ve won the spelling bee competition in the school (it is a prize for best speller in the primary school, we have such competitions in USA). Every Friday I play the violin with the teachers and some other students in the school orchestra. I like playing violin. I have many extra clubs after school like violin lessons, maths club, basketball, swimming. I like doing all of them. So overall my school is very good, the teachers are friendly, the children have games to play and the lessons are fun. My parents say kids must be always busy doing good activities apart from just playing video games on a computer. Now I have my little sister, so growing up with her is as fun as being with friends (if I had any).
I stay in an apartment, it has nice playground where I can play and ride my bike or rollerblades with my younger sister. Here I feel lonely still because other kids speak Polish and I forgot the language. During summer holidays, I could see a lot of kids around our apartment playing, but no one was interested in playing with me. My parents said, it is because they could not speak English and I could not speak Polish. But I found this very hard to accept that I had to play all by myself while the others were having fun cycling, roller skating etc. My parents also took me for cycling (I learnt skating on my own by observing), but then I had to just go around myself. Would learning Polish help me as my parents said? I don’t know, maybe other kids also could learn English as they have to learn it at school anyway, and then we could be friends. I started to feel bored during holidays, except when we went on long trips which was really fun.
I am fine with it because most of the time I am in school. If there are holidays I watch movies, play with my sister, draw or do anything creative. During vacations I go to different places away from the country, but in Europe. There were lots of places that we visited around Wroclaw, the city is so beautiful, with lots of parks, river side roads, rope gardens etc. This was all fun for me.
Let’s see … oh yes once I had gone to Bulgaria. It was amazing and I had a very nice time there. There was a swimming pool, beach, activities for children etc. During one of the Summer holidays, I had been to India, my home country - I enjoyed it. I picked all my favourite sweets and fruits and enjoyed till I was satisfied!
In Poland there are no temples like in India, only churches. That was one thing I did miss the most, and most of Indian festivals I miss a lot. Fortunately at home we’ve found a solution for that … we just bought our favourite gods idols from India and worship them as we do in temples!
Overall I think Poland is a nice country. Lots of good people who are kind and humble.
It has nice places to visit and beautiful things to see, but we need to speak the country language if we needs friends.
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One day I was talking to my Polish friend, he said that I’m not a Pole, but then he asked me did I know what we have in common, what got us sleepless nights? Well he said it is Swiss franc mortgage. He had a point there. I am not a Pole, either Hungarian nor a Croatian or an Austrian. But I still have got entangled in this Swiss Mortgage Trap – thanks to globalization.
No doubt! Buying a property is a risk especially in a foreign land, and with the currency speculation on top of it is even more risky. People who do both transactions make themselves vulnerable to these risks. We were the ones among them. Were we foolish or greedy to opt for these loans? No! When we took the mortgage loan in 2008 we had no global crisis on the horizon and also for the past 50 years of history indicated Swiss Franc as one of the most stable currency and at first Zloty was strengthening, which rather looked appealing. Why would anyone go for the high interest Polish Zloty Mortgage loan then, when Swiss Franc Mortgage Loans were so lucrative.
Now the people are debating about the state aid but why should other tax payers and the rest of those who have mortgages in Zlotys subsidize those who have taken a currency gamble? The answer is not who gambled, but the point is how the banks using aggressive marketing strategies sold these risky mortgages to the customers without warning about the risks involved in the deal – this was the one of the major factors triggering the financial crisis around the world.
As a home owner what options do I have on the table?
1) Do I need the wait for the government to come to my aid by converting my Swiss Franc loan to Zloty’s as the Hungarian government did? I doubt this will happen since Polish loans are not as bad as their eastern European counterparts. At the moment only about 3% of Poles are in arrears. That's partly because Polish banks tended to offer Swiss franc loans to wealthier borrowers.
2) Do I need to fear and spend sleepless nights? No, it is not sensible to do so. Mortgages are not the things which should be decided in haste, take a step back and think. Even today Swiss Mortgage loans are cheaper than the Zloty equivalent as in the past. Thanks to the very low interest rate. Also, I understand the exchange rate is rather appalling but the crucially the interest rates are significantly low. Having said that, I also feel sorry for those who are struggling to pay back their mortgages due to rise of Swiss Francs.
3) Can I sell my property once and for all, and get rid of the loan? Unfortunately, this cannot be done and is not the right choice now, unless you want to make some loss, since the property is not worth than much as the actual loan I owe to the bank.
4) If you are a foreigner another option is to rent the property out. You can do this by giving your property to property management companies for a very small nominal fee, which can cover your monthly installments to large extent.
5) The last but not least, the best thing what can be done is (which we are currently doing) to anyone who have a Swiss Franc mortgage is to have a separate Swiss Franc bank account and exchange your Zloty each month online or in a local currency exchange office (Kantor), which is much better than the rates which we get from the banks which is nothing but cutthroat.
It is also worthy to note that policy makers have ordered the banks should abide by a pain sharing agreement, like passing on the Switzerland’s negative interest to borrowers and refrain from demanding additional collateral and extended loan maturities for clients having difficulty with debt payments. The banks who have been demanding extra security fees to cover their risk in the past cannot do that anymore. One last thing, as the saying goes “As the going gets tough, tough gets going.” Just don’t give up.
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A particular society at a particular time and place, the tastes in art and manners that are favoured by a social group, all the knowledge shared by the society – all of these can be considered as a culture.
When you arrive in India, it just takes only few minutes to understand that its biggest problem is omnipresent chaos, and it takes few years to understand the good sides of the country. When arriving in Poland however, the peaceful atmosphere is striking you during first minutes but after some years of living here you understand what is actually wrong about the country.
This brief introduction sums up our personal experience with two different cultures. No two cultures are the same, and Polish and Indian cultures differ a lot. It seems impossible to define and to understand every aspect of any culture. However, I’d try to point major cultural differences which me and my family have experienced.
Although India is a land of many religions whereas Poland is mainly a land of one creed, beliefs are the most important aspect of both Indian and Polish lives. The majority of Indians are vegetarians due to their belief in Hinduism, Jainism or Buddhism. It's worth to mention that even though Buddhism was founded in India, there are less its followers than in other Asian countries.
India has 22 official languages and many religions. Now, try to imagine moving from one province to another within Poland and that you need to a learn a different language – this is something beyond imagination of the Poles since, almost whole country speaks one language and follows one religion. This makes the social system coherent whereas in India system adopts to many languages and religions which in turn makes it more complex. Besides local languages, most of Indians speak English (in fact there are more people using English in India than anywhere else in the world) so you can get along pretty easily even though if you don’t know the local language. At the same time in Poland, if you don’t know Polish it is not easy to communicate.
We have found a common ground between Polish and Indian cultures – the family relations. Indians are very much family oriented, just like Poles. In Indian culture family values are given more prominence than the individual ones. For the sake of family, Indians may even forsake their individual wishes and one’s happiness. All the decisions made are concentrated around the family, and I think that Poles share the same feelings. However, time, place, tastes of society and exposure to other cultures are changing India fast. More and more Indians are becoming self-oriented and individual values are getting more prominence than the family values. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence...
India is a service based culture in every way. Walking into a store customer can find people following him around and offering help, even with the smallest things. There is virtually nothing that could not be done by a hired help at a relatively low cost. This is probably (and partially) a legacy of the caste system, which is deeply embedded in Indian culture, and most certainly a result of India’s two largest commodities, people and time. India is a home for more than 1 billion people now. Because in Poland labour costs are high, people are more independent than in India. Companies in Poland – from Biedronka to Costorama – are constantly developing self-service strategies so in the result their customers become more self-sufficient.
In Poland few people snub the road rules. If you are driving in India, you can notice quite easily that almost all Indians violate the road code, including red lights and obligation to wear helmets (on the contrary, the very same people are law abiding citizens when abroad). In India you need a skill to drive whereas in Poland you also need to follow the rules.
Judges are respected members of society, but this does not help in land disputes which in India can last generations without chances for solving the problem. Poland relies heavily on the law when settling down all disputes – one have to sign agreements for almost everything in here. The common factor between the countries are red tape procedures, in other words the bureaucracy. Currently Poland is adopting the western standards – from our personal experience we can say that it is now possible to find an official or a police officer who is able to speak a foreign language.
Indians are bold in cooking and there is nothing that could be over spiced in their cuisine. Indian food is not only about being “spicy” – it is important to distinct the heat of the taste, from the richness of the spices. In India, the heat is generally applied selectively with the use of chilli, whereas adding spices is about flavouring.
We had this intriguing question, why do Poles eat relatively cold meat and food in general, mild in taste and without much seasonings. The answer may lie in the climate. Cold meat serves to produce heat which is essential to adopt to the climatic conditions. In India chilli's heat is valued for its ultimate cooling effect on the body while evoking perspiration. Other spices are used to bring the flavour to the food. Eating habits are entirely different in our countries. Indian food is full of spices and truly diversified as its culture. Polish food is bland and lacks variety. What is more, in India people who are obese are mostly wealthy. A box of cereal or a meal at KFC/McDonald’s costs equivalent of 40 to 50 PLN, while a bag of carrots or yoghurt costs less than 2 PLN. Water is served free in most of the restaurants across India – in Poland coke costs less than water. Snacks like crisps or fries, are cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables.
In India drinking alcohol in a company of your elders or family members is a taboo whereas it is socially accepted in Poland. Our law does not allow companies to advertise products related to alcohol and tobacco, which is a common practice in Poland.
In Poland any street of a city is identified by a unique name. Usually, you can get into a cab and say where you want to go and most likely you reach your destination. In India a passenger almost always has to know where he goes and this almost always includes landmarks, as only few streets are properly labeled. In India you can find streets by numbers like “1st Cross” or “2nd Cross”. This may be a bit different in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore but in the other agglomerations maps are useless.
India being a huge country is diverse in every aspect of its culture, geography and climate, since we have many religions and due to the vastness of the land. Poland is unique in its own way (one religion and one language); also geographically it is less complex than India. But we are happy that we have experienced both worlds, and that for the last 7 years we have been calling Wroclaw our home.
By Preethi Nair
Projekt ‘MIEJSKI SYSTEM INFORMACYJNY I AKTYWIZACYJNY DLA MIGRANTÓW’ jest współfinansowany z Programu Krajowego Funduszu Azylu, Migracji i Integracji oraz budżetu państwa. Wyłączna odpowiedzialność spoczywa na autorze. Komisja Europejska nie ponosi odpowiedzialności za sposób wykorzystania udostępnionych informacji.
Projekt LOKALNE MIĘDZYSEKTOROWE POLITYKI NA RZECZ INTEGRACJI IMIGRANTÓW realizowany był w ramach programu Obywatele dla Demokracji, finansowanego z Funduszy EOG.
Projekt LOKALNE POLITYKI MIGRACYJNE - MIĘDZYNARODOWA WYMIANA DOŚWIADCZEŃ W ZARZĄDZANIU MIGRACJAMI W MIASTACH był współfinansowany ze środków Unii Europejskiej w ramach Europejskiego Funduszu na rzecz Integracji Obywateli Państw Trzecich oraz budżetu państwa. Wyłączna odpowiedzialność spoczywa na autorze. Komisja Europejska nie ponosi odpowiedzialności za sposób wykorzystania udostępnionych informacji.
Projekt LOKALNE MIĘDZYSEKTOROWE POLITYKI NA RZECZ INTEGRACJI IMIGRANTÓW był współfinansowany ze środków Unii Europejskiej w ramach Europejskiego Funduszu na rzecz Integracji Obywateli Państw Trzecich oraz budżetu państwa. Wyłączna odpowiedzialność spoczywa na autorze. Komisja Europejska nie ponosi odpowiedzialności za sposób wykorzystania udostępnionych informacji.
Projekt ‘WARSZAWSKIE CENTRUM WIELOKULTUROWE’ był współfinansowany ze środków Unii Europejskiej w ramach Europejskiego Funduszu na rzecz Integracji Obywateli Państw Trzecich oraz budżetu państwa. Wyłączna odpowiedzialność spoczywa na autorze. Komisja Europejska nie ponosi odpowiedzialności za sposób wykorzystania udostępnionych informacji.
LOKALNE MIĘDZYSEKTOROWE POLITYKI NA RZECZ INTEGRACJI IMIGRANTÓW Projekt realizowany był przy wsparciu Szwajcarii w ramach szwajcarskiego programu współpracy z nowymi krajami członkowskimi Unii Europejskiej.