Coming to the city of Wroclaw, in South-Western Poland, on Erasmus, has been quite the experience, even after only four days! One question often asked of me is ‘why Poland?’ as if you would be a little mad to do an Erasmus year in a country that isn’t by the Mediterranean. To that I would answer ‘why not?’.
I was attracted by the history and culture of the place, and the hearty, thoroughly decent but often neglected cuisine. Erasmus appears to be a minority interest at best, and the Third Year Abroad website, in so many other respects a useful source of information on going abroad in general and coping with difficulties, turned up an utter dearth of information about Poland, and especially Poland outside of the major cities of Warsaw and Krakow. My sense of adventure, however, made this seem almost a challenge to be risen to.
Getting to grips with the language would be a start. Fortunately the university runs excellent language evening classes as part of lifelong learning, including Polish. I spent the whole of second year doing at least two hours of Polish classwork a week as well as homework and revision. Polish is a notoriously difficult language, however I found it got a bit easier once you understand the pronunciation. Grammar is harder than French or German but not a thousand miles away from Latin, for those that way inclined. It is a fairly pleasant language to listen to once you have an ear for it. I am currently in a pre-sessional language course, which is very intense but I am improving for it. I would suggest such a course for any student going on exchange to a non-English speaking country.
Paperwork is a core part of life for Erasmus. A few hiccups aside, I was able to get through this. The main thing is to just slog through it and ask about things you are unsure about, rather than making mistakes that can come and bite you on the arse a few weeks down the line. Then, more paperwork for Wroclaw University, including for accommodation. It is all doable however and the international office are capable of dealing with virtually any problems you might encounter on either end.
Flying to and from Poland is very simple. The large Polish population in Britain has made flights between Britain and Poland cheap, frequent and serving a great many airports. I am anticipating some visits from friends and family while I am out here, it actually takes hardly much longer to get to Wroclaw from my family home in Nottinghamshire than it takes to get to Southampton.
Accommodation was easy enough, student halls. I had spent second year in a house with my best friends but we struggled in the face of dodgy landlords and questionable house quality, an experience all too common in Southampton. I did not feel like repeating this. Halls of residence in Poland are not too dissimilar to our own, however rooms are nearly always shared and keys are left in reception when you leave, using a system of cards to keep track of them. It is fairly easy to get used to. Sharing a room was the big change for me, having never really done this for more than a couple of weeks before. It is quite fine however, the rooms are not too small. Sharing a kitchen with just three others is nice, about the right number. 22 to a kitchen as in my halls was a little on the large side.
In the next instalment of Silesian Exposure, I will talk more about the city and university of Wroclaw.