Life & work
Family couldn't believe I was moving to Poland – Bernard, USA
What are your ties to Poland? Have you ever lived abroad apart from your home country and how does Poland compare to that?
I am currently married to a Polish Native, Ania, and we currently reside in Gorzów Wielkopolski. Because my father was in the U.S. Military our family did live abroad during his tour of duty in Canada and in Puerto Rico. Living abroad in those early years on a US military installation is not really comparable to living in an actual foreign community like I do now in Gorzów. On a military base, everything is really like it is in the US. And because I am bi-racial and not white, living in a Polish community means that I have be aware of my surroundings because some Polish people aren’t always open to dark-skinned people immigrating to Poland. Also living in a Polish community means that I have to be able to speak Polish and understand local customs in order to integrate and be able to get around without my wife interpreting everywhere I go. I have chosen to learn Polish and while the language is difficult, I really want to be able to communicate with the people living around me.
You are in the process of learning Polish – how do you find the language and all its nuances? Is it difficult for a native English speaker?
For me learning the Polish language has been a difficult task because of all the complex grammar and the feeling that I wasn’t making much progress. At first it was easy to get frustrated because of the difficulty; now I try to focus on vocabulary so I can understand different words. My wife and I try to speak Polish as much as possible so I am familiar with different Polish words and phrases. I have a long way to go but I hope to be able to carry on a conversation hopefully in a year of study. I think that pronunciation is also very difficult; English speakers have learned how to say different letter combinations that don’t sound like we would say them and then we have to remember to say them that way. It can prove to be challenging.
Career-wise, what does Poland look like from your point of view? Was the local labour market able to satisfy your professional needs?
I have applied for my temporary resident card and since I don’t have it yet or a work permit, I am unable to work. I left a very good paying job in the Environmental Health field to come to Poland and be with my wife. I have savings that we use in order to get by; my wife Ania has a great job as a teacher which provides for much of what we need. I think eventually I will find a small job in order to help out. It’s my belief that in order to get a local job here in Poland I think it’s necessary to be able to speak Polish on a very basic conversational level. I reviewed job searches and there are jobs in the larger cities for English speakers but here in a smaller town like Gorzów it would be difficult to find a job that doesn’t require you to speak Polish.
How did your family and friends react to your move to Poland? Have they visited you here? What was their impression of the country?
My family and friends really couldn’t believe it when I told them that I was moving to Poland but they understood because I was previously married to a Polish native who was killed in the US. I have visited Polish several times before moving here so I knew what I was getting into when I finally made the move here. It’s hard on the closest members of my family; I have 3 adult children who live in the US but we communicate all the time via various social media applications. My two daughters came to Poland to be in my wedding and they liked the country but found the weather to be cold because they live in Southern California where its rarely cold. Because their visit wasn’t very long, they weren’t able to enjoy all that Poland has to offer someone living here. They like the fact that there is a lot of greenness here and that it’s really quiet compared to Los Angeles where they live.
What about all the paperwork? Did you need a visa to come here for the first time and what other legal steps did you take after arriving in Poland?
Because I am from the US. we are able to come on a tourist visa to visit Poland and in order to stay here I would need to immigrate. So, when I arrived here in Poland in September 2017 we started filling out the paperwork immediately for my temporary resident permit and submitted it as soon as we were able. Since then we had a very pleasant visit from the local police representative to verify my living accommodations but have not heard anything since the visit. It’s been about 5 months since submitting the application and we called the local office to find out the status of the application but they said the results of the application are taking 6 to 9 months to process and that they are back-logged.
Are Poles easy to make friends with? Do you know any other expats living in your area?
Unfortunately, it is not easy to make friends here in Poland, especially if you don’t speak at least basic conversational Polish. Some of my new extended family speak English and that has been helpful. I attempt to speak Polish whenever I can and wherever I am; sometimes I don’t get it right but I’m not going to stop trying. I find the Polish to be less willing to be open and talk to people; it’s different here in Poland as opposed to in the US. I have ridden buses and trains all over Poland and I rarely see anyone carrying on conversations. I have to guess it’s because many Polish are proper and keep to themselves. I accept the fact people are different here in Poland; it’s a different culture and way of doing things. I do have one friend who is in the business of teaching English and I have been able to help them out by meeting with their students and speaking English with them; they are always excited to speak English and get better at speaking it with a native English speaker. Gorzów is a smaller town and found that there are not many expats living here, and if they are, I have not met any here in Gorzów or the surrounding community.
Bernard Franklin lived in Pasadena, California where he worked as a Chief Environmental Health Specialist in the Recreational Health Program for Los Angeles County for more than 25 years. He enjoys traveling, hiking, camping, ultra-running, cycling, doing anything outdoors, technology and cooking. He has 3 adult children who continue to reside in California.