An insight into the life of an Erasmus

Within this report, I am going to write about the perception and experiences concerning Poland, Bydgoszcz, and the University which occurred during my stay as an exchange student. Studying Political Sciences and Economics at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe – University in Frankfurt / Main, Germany I stayed at the WSG from September 2009 till July 2010. 

Living in Poland

When I first arrived in Poland I did not know much about this country. All my knowledge was gathered together from books and stories. Hence the image of  Polish mentality and countryside, besides the familiar stereotypes, was very blurry. However, I could not wait to get to know this country since my family has roots in western Poland and I had not been to mid-eastern countries before.

Today I think I have gotten a big insight into Polish culture which really fascinates me. This impression is based on different experiences.

The biggest influence is granted to people I have met so far who, most of the time, have been outstandingly friendly, helpful, and hospitable. It is really great to experience the openness and interest you can get towards yourself once you are open and friendly approach in relation to Polish people.

Taking the language into consideration, it has been nice to experience that even with little knowledge people you address always try to understand and help you and are almost enthusiastic that you are trying to speak their mother tongue. You can easily get help and support by just trying to talk and people will immediately show you respect, interest and talk to you as if you were fluent in Polish.

 During the time I visited some of the major cities in Poland, and the more I saw the more it got to my attention that between eastern and western Poland you still have a major difference based on the historical division and occupation of the country by the Prussians and Russians. This means that the further you go into the east the less developed and rebuild the regions are. It is still a very big problem, I think, and more and more people are moving to the bigger cities in the western part.

Besides the cities, Poland has great nature. You can find many national parks and very quickly you are away from any city and within areas of forests and lakes.

For me, this has been amazing as in Germany a great amount of the landscape is covered with streets, houses, and so on.

As far as the perception of people is concerned, what I do not like is the fact that especially in the smaller cities people that look or behave differently are being frowned upon. What I think is that many people are very adapted and behave and act in the way that society wants them to.

What goes in line with this impression is the idea that especially young people are not much involved in social or political initiatives starting with not being interested in those issues at all. This has been really hard to observe as I am used to being engaged in social and political projects in order to change existing grievances. In my opinion, especially the younger generations have to step in for things they believe in and not just accept everything but try to see what you may change within your environment. This culture of just taking existing perceptions as unchangeable really annoyed me.

 Staying in Bydgoszcz

As Bydgoszcz is estimated to be the eighth biggest city in Poland I have always been asking myself where those 400.000 inhabitants could probably be as especially in wintertime very few people were on the streets and the size of the city center is relatively small.

Apart from the size, I think that Bydgoszcz has really some very nice and beautiful places, especially visited in the summertime. The Myślęcinek park or the city center with all its wonderful cafes and restaurants are always great to be at.

And of course, the nightlife that you are able to experience here is always fun. All those cozy pubs and bars where you can sit in very comfortable sofas and armchairs and later on just go dancing was always very nice.

As for my friends, it was always great to be in Bydgoszcz. They always were waiting for some occasion to go out or do some traveling. In particular, the contact with Polish friends that I could build up and maintain was very enriching and they easily made me understand the way of Polish thinking very well. If I had been to a big city like Kraków or Warsaw I think this kind of contact would have been much harder to establish since there are a lot of international students and young people who are living there, which makes it much more difficult to discover the real Polish mentality.

 

Studying at the University of Economy

Upon arriving at the University I was highly surprised by how warmly welcomed we were as Erasmus students. It was from the very beginning that there was a very personal relation, especially between the staff of the International Office and us Erasmus students. Coming from a big university where you are completely responsible for setting up your studies and the organization, it was very surprising for me to have people that take care of you in order for you to have satisfying studies and moreover, are concerned about your personal feelings whether you are comfortable with your stay and so on. That individual interest was a totally new approach to me and of course very nice.

The university facilities and equipment are very modern and of high quality. We were accommodated in guest rooms right at the campus of the university which was very convenient in terms of getting to our lectures fast. But also the localization of the university close to the city center, within short walking distance, made it very easy for us to reach most of the important places and attractions.

The studies themselves were interesting because of the fact of attending classes with local Polish students and also having lectures within a new field of study. Furthermore, the very personal contact with professors was a great experience as they would often ask us, students, how we were and whether we would need some help or anything else. In Germany, you rarely find such personal approaches towards the relationship between a teacher and student what I have experienced so far.

The lectures were interesting and taught with different methods. Holding presentations as well as writing exams were normal daily tasks.

What really surprised me was the difference concerning the level of teaching meaning the required quantity and in-depth knowledge sometimes much less in comparison to my home university.

What I did not like was a long time that passed until the final schedule was set up. It was the same with both semesters, always a long process in which different lectures were canceled or newly established. This situation made it difficult to easily get in line with the somehow fixed requirements given by the Learning Agreement.

Apart from the regular course of my studies, the university offered us to take part in different international workshops and courses.

The first one was the “Entrepreneur cup” in which several international teams stood in competition with each other to build up their own business concept within the shampoo industry. During one week our group consisting of four Erasmus students had to come up with a creative and efficient idea which we needed to set up through substantial financial calculations and a business plan. During the week we learned a lot about the real process of building up a business with all its possible pitfalls and tricky processes coming up when getting self-employed.

The second and for me one of the highlights of my stay was the participation in “PIM” (Promoting Intercultural Management for working life in the Baltic sea region) which was a two-week intensive course taking place for one week in Tleń and the second in Bydgoszcz at the WSG.

This time was really intensive, a group of 40 people coming from 6 different countries working and living together during the whole time was just great. We learned through group work and lectures a lot about intercultural communication and a final practice work taught us to adapt those theories to reality.

Furthermore, the atmosphere within the group was just great. We had a lot of fun together and exchanged much about our different backgrounds and perspectives towards life. It was a highly enriching time and I am very grateful to have gotten the chance to take part in this program.

In general, it was easy to participate in those kinds of courses and activities beyond the normal daily life of study. Through the openness and ease with which our professors were supervising those activities, it was never a problem to miss some of the classes or postpone an upcoming presentation.

Within my home university, this attitude would have been a major problem in terms of passing subjects.

 

Acknowledgment

 

This time spent in Poland, Bydgoszcz, and at WSG was really great. In the beginning, I would have never considered it to become such an enriching and joyful time. The fact that it turned out to be such an unforgettable experience is mainly due to the people I was allowed to meet during my stay, to whom I would like to thank now.

At first, the International Office which are Łukasz, Gosia, Natalia, and Mr. Zielinski. Thank you for all your support, help, and openness. It was always great to be around you and you really gave me the feeling of being welcomed and a part of your team.

Furthermore, thanks to Dawid and Agnieszka for all your intense care, consideration, and fun times especially in the beginning and during my stay.

Also thanks to my professors and local students for all the interesting fun seminars and the effort, openness, and interest that all of you put in us Erasmus students.

Furthermore, I want to thank my friends who really made me feel integrated and at home in Bydgoszcz and Poland through the many great meetings, fun evenings, and trips I was allowed to enjoy with all of you.

And last but not least, thanks to my family and friends at home. You gave me in the first place the opportunity to take part in this exchange through your unconditional support and belief in my decisions. I am very grateful to have you as such a reliable and loving background.

  

 

July 2010

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