As a way of building intercultural connections between Poland and the United States, we have started an interview series with Americans who have lived in Poland to find out more about their story. We will learn about things such as what brought them to Poland, some of their memorable experiences and their favorite things about living in Poland. Follow along with us on this intercultural journey!
This week we spoke with Leah Morawiec. Leah is from Orlando, Florida and currently resides in Gliwice in southern Poland. She runs a popular blog called Polonization, where she shares with her readers about her life, experiences and adventures in Poland. She also owns an online English language school in Poland called TalkBack.
Leah, first of all, thank you for finding the time to answer our questions! You run a blog called Polonization about life and work in Poland, so we thought you would be the perfect person to talk with. Can you briefly share your story with us about how you ended up in Poland?
I originally came to Poland for the first time in 2010, with a volunteer program called WorldTeach. It was meant to be only 2 months, but when I was there, I met a guy and fell in love (typical, I know). I had just finished university, so it was an ideal time for a big move, and I figured why not try. We were together a couple years and then I met my husband at one of the companies I taught in. Now we live in Gliwice with our two kids, Maks and Maja.
Can you tell us about your first impressions of Poland after moving from the United States?
Well, WorldTeach put me in a village in the Beskidy mountains, Pietrzykowice, so it was quite different than where I’m from - Orlando, Florida. I loved how slow the pace of life was and that you could just enjoy little things like a walk in the village or eating scrambled eggs fresh from a neighbor’s chickens. There was a rooster right outside my window, which I’d never really heard or seen before, and the stars were so bright there. It was incredible. People were really warm andfriendly, even if we couldn’t communicate very well.
What were your thoughts on Poland prior to moving there and how does that compare to how you see it now?
Honestly, I didn’t have much of an idea of what Poland would be like. I figured it was cold and had lots of cool, old things we don’t have like castles, but, other than that, I really didn’t have a lot of expectations. I chose Poland because it seemed like a safe place to travel on my own. But Poland has really changed even since I moved here. At first, it seemed like it was hard to find a lot of things we had in the States, but things have developed so much in the last 10 years that I don’t think we’re lacking in anything anymore.
You run an online language school called TalkBack. Do you have any tips for those who would like to learn the basics of Polish? Do you have any funny stories that you have associated with speaking Polish?
Pewnie, że tak! I speak Polish quite fluent nowadays, but that’s something I can only say in the last couple years. I don’t mean that I speak without errors or always use the correct words, rather the opposite. But now I can communicate freely, without feeling stress at every interaction, and can do basically anything I need to. I have my parents-in-law to thank for that, as our countless hours together, especially since having children, are what really taught me to use the language. And now, as a result, I actually feel like I’ve assimilated.
I have general 3 tips for speaking better Polish - get started immediately, get a teacher who can explain what normal people can’t like grammar, and get someone in your life who doesn’t speak your native language. That way, you have no choice but to use Polish with them. That’s the only way it works. Just multiply that by thousands of hours and you’ll see progress!
Of course I’ve had all the silly language mix ups like using “ruchanie" instead of “ruszanie” or asking for “fiutki” instead of “frytki” (sorry for the vulgarity), but I think the biggest language mishap for me was when I went on Dzień Dobry TVN, a popular morning talk show in Poland. They had me and my husband on to talk about my blog, Polonization. This was in 2016, so I spoke Polish but not very fluently. My husband convinced me to do it in Polish, as he’s in marketing and thought it would be good for me and my blog. They sent me a list of questions to prepare for, so I figured that they’d ask me those and I’d be all set. It’s live, so I was pretty stressed and did lots of preparation. Anyway, on the day of the show, the first question they asked wasn’t one from the list and I didn’t understand it. And I had to ask the host to repeat the question. He did and I understood it the second time, but after that I was so upset that it was hard for me to carry on normally. Luckily, my husband kind of took over for me. After recovering (it took me a while), I realized that that’s what normal life looks like. You can never prepare for what someone’s going to ask you or what you’re going to have to say, so I knew if I didn’t finally learn Polish to an extent that I would be comfortable in everyday life, I would never be happy here. All in all, in some way, it was a good experience and I’m grateful for that.
Key To Poland promotes sustainable tourism. We support local businesses as well as share authentic culture and nature. Can you tell us about a few of your favorite places in Poland that you wouldn't necessarily find in a travel guide?
We try as much as possible to spend time in places without too many people. That can be really hard to find in Poland sometimes! People are always out and about here, especially on long weekends. One thing I love about Europe is that people really take advantage of their time off. Anyway, mostly, we love the mountains and spend a lot of time in the Beskidy Mountains, picking mushrooms and blueberries in the summer and fall. I also think the mountain shelters are an amazing way to experience Polish culture, as the food is often really good. If you decide to stay the night in one, you may experience a party you’ll never forget!
We can't really talk about Poland without mentioning the food! Pierogi is obviously one of the best known Polish words among Americans, and of course Pols are proud of them, but Polish cuisine is so much more than that. Do you have a favorite dish you can tell us about? Are there any foods in Poland you can't bring yourself to eat?
It might sound weird, but I really love soup. My mother-in-law is well aware of that fact and supplies me with multiple soups on a weekly basis - bless her. The best are rosół (Polish chicken soup, let’s say), barszcz (beetroot soup), and żurek (sour rye soup). I’m not really the kind of person to turn down a new dish, so there’s nothing I wouldn’t try. I’ve never gotten around to trying flaki (tripe), but I would if someone made it themselves and offered it. I know a lot of people are also freaked out by kaszanka (blood sausage), but my neighbor makes it from his rabbits and it’s actually really good. This is why I love Poland!
It is very challenging and a difficult decision to move so far away from friends and family (I know form personal experience). What do you miss the most from home since moving to Poland?
Other than family and friends of course, I miss the communicating everything the way I want to. That might never go away. I also miss eating Mexican food and BBQ. Those are two things you can’t really get in Poland or at least it’s not the same. I miss shopping in the States, as I think there are more options, better quality goods, and cheaper prices. That’s a good excuse to visit every year or so and take an empty suitcase with you.
After reading Elizabeth's text about Polish Weddings, I realized how unexpected and unique Polish traditions can be for Americans. Listening to her stories, I have an opportunity to look at my "normal" reality through her eyes and it always intrigues me. Can you describe a Polish tradition, event or story from a Pole's perspective that seems normal, but was different for you as an American?
Yeah, sure! How much time do you have? :) I think it’s interesting that people always organize their own birthday parties - great idea. I don’t understand the giving specific wishes thing, so going up to someone and wishing them lots of health, happiness, money, whatever. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t know what the hell to say, especially as it should be in Polish, so that’s something I’ll have to master in the coming years. The same goes for giving wedding wishes to the couple right after the ceremony and on Christmas Eve while sharing the opłatek with family (wafer).
What are your plans for the upcoming months?
In the upcoming months I’m planning on enjoying the beautiful Polish summer, tending to my garden, visiting the Bieszczady Mountains finally, as it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, and also searching for a piece of land to buy in the mountains to build a house on. So lots to look forward to! Thanks a lot for the opportunity to share my experiences with you.
Thank you Leah!
Read our other interviews with Americans living in Poland. We have spoken with Russell who runs a popular Youtube Channel about life in Poland and Lois who runs a food blog and has published a cook book on Polish cuisine!
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