Finding Poland has been going since the end of 2019. Of course, the site is a little more than a travel blog. It’s an expat and travel blog all rolled into one. Nevertheless, I believe I’m well placed to answer the question: “Why write an expat blog?”
Some might argue that I am no longer an expat because my Polish citizenship was confirmed through descent back in 2018. However, as much as I love living in Poland, England is my native country. Therefore, let’s assume I’m an expat for the purposes of this post.
Allow me to share five reasons why you should write an expat blog based on my experience:
1. Journal life changes and begin to make sense of your transition
In recent years, I’ve written about the circumstances behind my first visit to Poland in 2005. Moreover, I’ve also written about the epic coach journey I took from Nottingham to Kraków in June that year. I was able to recall the main details surrounding my first jaunt to Poland when I wrote the posts a few years ago. However, when I was writing about everything that happened in 2005, it felt like such a long time ago. Therefore, I feel that nothing can make up for the raw emotion one might include in a post that’s written on the same day or the day after a momentous/life-changing event.
Frankly, I’m certain that keeping in touch with my inner self through writing would have helped me to make sense of the monumental life changes I incurred back in 2005. Various people appeared in my life left, right and centre. Moreover, I was overcome by culture shock in Poland (more to come on this issue in point 3).
After finishing my studies in Nottingham in 2006, I rocked up in the southeastern Polish town of Dębica to teach English. It was another huge transition for me. Honestly, it was a transition I should have journalled about as a form of psychotherapy because I faced some very difficult times throughout the tail end of 2006 and much of 2007. All was not well in my personal life and I struggled to build any meaningful rapport with students in the classroom.
Why write an expat blog? Well, I believe that blogging is a tremendous therapeutic tool for mental health.
2. Share experiences to bring out the soul of a country and its people
Wondering about the topic of why keep an expat blog, it’d be a wise move to share your experiences living in a new country as they can make for very interesting blog posts.
Kraków – A Place Full of Memories
I’ve just reread my post about the time I lived in Kraków for six weeks in 2006 and a further two months in the autumn of 2007. I saw it all in Kraków.
After finishing university in Nottingham in 2006, I went to Kraków to do the CELTA – a widely recognised qualification for teaching English as a foreign language. Let’s begin with my first days in the accommodation which the training centre had arranged for me.
If you’ve already read some of the posts I linked to in section 1 above, you would now know that a chap called Paweł, whom I met at university, invited me to Poland in the summer of 2005. Anyway, I stayed in his flat for a few weeks on Słowackiego Avenue in Kraków that summer while he travelled elsewhere to do what he had to do. Coming to the point, my training centre put me in a flat at the northern end of Krowoderska Street. Would you Adam and Eve it? I could see Paweł’s flat from my bedroom window. A few metres either side for either of us wouldn’t have allowed for such a possibility.
Paweł appeared in my life when my mental state was rather fragile. By offering me the chance to “get away from it all”, did he rescue me in some way? I’m not sure. I do know that waving to each other from our bedroom windows across a busy main road was both moving and spooky at the same time. I felt as if I was in a movie scene. In truth, I’ve never doubted that Kraków is the spiritual capital of Poland. If you immerse yourself in the city for long enough, anything could happen.
Busking in Kraków
October 2007 was a cold and snowy one in Kraków. Disillusioned with the way things were going in my teaching career, I turned to busking as a kind of escapism.
I had a repertoire of around fifteen songs – mostly soft rock and country – which I could sing and play on the guitar. It didn’t take me long to find my perfect busking spot – an archway with shops on Grodzka Street. The echo was excellent, the foot traffic was reasonable.
Busking out there in the cold, I learned a great deal about the mentality of Polish people. First of all, they’re not as frugal as some of the stereotypes make out. I was hardly Freddie Mercury there on Grodzka Street. However, the Poles donated, and donated generously. One evening, I earned a whopping 130 zł in just 90 minutes of strumming and singing. Not that it was my goal to make money. It never even crossed my mind when I first rocked up on Grodzka.
Most people who passed me by as I was playing were plain-faced. I’ve heard such a stereotype that Poles like to keep a neutral facial expression and won’t express their emotions very expressively. I’m probably plain-faced as well when I walk past buskers so I won’t tar an entire nation based on their reactions to a scruffy Englishman trying to sing American country songs.
Anyway, getting to my point, an artist who sold his pictures on Grodzka, came up to me one night and uttered something along the lines of: “You’ve stamped your heart and soul on this street”.
Experience has taught me that Poles don’t mince their words. This artist really meant it. What a compliment and what an experience that night.
If you’re wondering why write an expat blog – this is why. If Finding Poland had been well established before that night, I’d have opened up my laptop when I got home and proudly wrote a post along the lines of “Grodzka is Mine!”
Mszana Dolna – Where the People are so Open, so Emotional
The first place I ever visited in Poland was Mszana Dolna – a town situated in a picturesque mountain valley some 60 kilometres south of Kraków.
You can check out the bulk of my experiences in Mszana in the post I linked to in the previous paragraph. However, I’d just like to relive one more experience.
Staying in Paweł’s family house with Paweł, his sister, his mum, as well as a few guests, I remember sitting with everyone in the kitchen one evening. I was invited to play and sing a few tunes on a guitar that was in the house. Just before performing “Blowin’ in the Wind”, someone turned the lights out. Apart from me, everyone seemed to lose themselves in the song. It was a most humbling experience. The openness and emotiveness exhibited by people in this house in Mszana that evening was unforgettable.
3. Embrace Culture Shock – Don’t hide away from it
If you decide to jump in at the deep end by going to live in a country at the drop of a hat, as I did when I went to work in Bosnia and Ukraine early on in my teaching career, then writing an expat blog will help you to cope with all the unease and emotional reactions connected with culture shock.
I’ve already linked to my write-up on culture shock in section 1. So I’d just like to elaborate on some of my experiences of culture shock in my early years in Poland.
First of all, I have to mention the hospitality and kindness Paweł and his family, plus guests, expressed in a humbling multitude of ways in Mszana Dolna. We can go from plying me with tasty treats (including the ubiquitous Polish open-faced sandwiches), to Paweł’s mum attempting to communicate with me in English despite being a low competence speaker.
Again, many intricate details are missing. That’s why I wish I had kept a diary or blog right from the get-go in 2005. I knew that Poland would become a big part of my life in years to come so Finding Poland could now be ten times as big as it is now.
4. Offer your own unique perspective on expat life in a foreign country
The ‘why write an expat blog’ topic hots up further when you consider that there’s always room for those who can offer a fresh perspective on expat life in a foreign country.
To exemplify my point, let’s consider the topic of acquiring residency in Poland. It’s typically easy to find expats’ experiences of applying for residency in a capital city where waiting times to receive a permit might be very long. However, if you’re in a small town or another major city, do share your experience of applying for residency as it will interest readers. I’ve written about my wife’s experience applying for residence permits in Gdańsk.
Moving on – I can also mention the topic of learning the local language. Ask any expat in Poland what it’s like learning Polish and their typical reply would be: “Impossible!”. However, in my write-up on the perceived difficulty of the Polish language, I offer practical ways to conquer the language based on both rationality and my experience learning foreign languages. For example, I strongly believe that grammar rules are eventually internalised if deep immersion in a language takes place. Moreover, when a learner meets a new vocabulary item (word, phrase or collocation), it’s important to personalise it. By that I mean, it’s vital to create true personalised sentences about yourself, your experiences, your current life situation and people you know. With regular revision of these sentences, they will be “swimming in the brain” in future conversations ready for you to say.
5. Offer potential and new expats a glimpse into everyday life in a country
The Everyday Life section of Finding Poland is expanding nicely.
I take pride in sharing vital factual information to expats planning to move to or already living in Poland. Moreover, I try to supplement this information with some very forthright opinions. I want expats to get the full picture about whatever area it is they’re interested in or struggling to get to grips with.
From residency matters to gaining citizenship, and the cost of living to quirky customs and traditions, try to put yourself in the shoes of an inexperienced expat. How can you help them? What unique insights can you share with other expats?
Why write an expat blog?
Writing an expat blog is one of the most fulfilling things you can do.
Ultimately, it helps you to make sense of your transition and the culture you have decided to immerse yourself in.
Apart from developing your inner self, you can change the lives of many other foreigners by keeping an expat blog. Wouldn’t it be rewarding to contribute to solving a bureaucratic nightmare for them through a vital piece of information you’ve shared? Or perhaps your knowledge of a city’s districts can help them decide where to rent or buy a flat?