Poland And The UK, Miles Apart Or Closer Than You Think!
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since I first visited Poland. As my plane descended into Krakow in 2004, I gazed out the window at the long line of fighter jets parked at the airport, relics of the Cold War era when Poland was part of the Eastern Bloc. For someone born in 1960 like myself, Poland was an unfamiliar place. My only impressions were formed by watching the annual May Day parades on British television – stoic crowds watching endless regiments marching outside the Kremlin. It was a sobering image for a boy growing up in the West.
Stepping off the plane that day, I realized how little I knew about Poland. My assumptions were clouded by stereotypes and geopolitical divides. Little did I know then how my perspectives would change over the next two decades of visits. Reflecting now, I can better appreciate Poland’s strengths, its cultural identity, and its similarities to the UK. What have I learned? Quite a lot I hope, as I recount in this retrospective on 20 years of experiencing Poland.
Work Ethic of Poles
When several thousand mostly Polish bus drivers came to work for First UK Bus, where I was Senior Manager of Strategic Recruitment at the time, I witnessed first-hand the strong work ethic of Poles. These individuals left their families, friends, and culture behind. They did this to move to a new country and for better opportunities. And to earn higher wages to support their loved ones back home.
It took tremendous courage and fortitude for them to make such a drastic change in their lives. Back in 2004, unemployment was extremely high in Poland but very low in the UK under Tony Blair’s Labour government. So it made sense for these workers to take well-paid and stable jobs in the UK. Even though this meant learning English from scratch for most of them.
Just imagine having to immerse yourself in a new language in your adult years and needing it to perform your job duties. Would many British people have learned Polish for a new job? Not a chance. But these Polish workers approached it with dedication and motivation, recognizing the potential reward made the effort worthwhile.
Before making any job offers, I interviewed the candidates myself to ensure their English abilities met the requirements. If not, I encouraged them to keep practicing and return to re-apply. It was highly rewarding to eventually be able to say „Yes, well done, welcome to your new life” to those who persevered.
Their example is an inspiration, showing that with enough motivation and effort, it’s possible to gain a practical command of a new language even later in life. The key is to keep pushing forward rather than getting discouraged by temporary setbacks. Fluency will come in time.
Optimism and Change in 2004
Back in 2004, there was a great sense of optimism in Poland with the country’s accession to the EU. However, much of this optimism was around the opportunities it presented for people to leave Poland for better prospects abroad.
Many brave Poles made the difficult decision to uproot and leave behind their families, friends and culture for a chance at a better life. There was a feeling that the EU was opening doors to a wealth of new opportunities that would enable them to earn good money abroad. For those who stayed behind, there was optimism that EU membership would bring investment and jobs to Poland. However, the immediate reality was that economic prospects were far stronger outside the country.
So in 2004, the optimism in Poland was very much focused on the potential for mobility and starting a new life elsewhere. It was less about development within the country itself at that time. But the hope was that joining the European Union would sow the seeds for Poland’s economic situation to improve in the future.
Energy and Innovation in Poland Today
I get a strong sense that Poland is now at the heart of energy, investment, and new innovation. We see it ourselves within the Verita HR family, with our key clients. Poland has become a hub for development and investment in recent years. There are cranes dotting city skylines and new office buildings and apartments going up constantly. Foreign companies are flocking to Poland to take advantage of the skilled workforce and business-friendly environment. The amount of tourists visitng every year is also growing. And not just to drink vodka.
So, lets celebrate our common features while respecting the differences of culture, geography and tradition.
Author: Austin Birks