You either assimilate or you don’t. It’s a choice you make. I’ve seen and heard of many cases here in Poland where someone just refuses to learn the language or adapt to the traditions here. What a shame, you know? If you’re here, you might as well live. Otherwise, what’s the point really? I’m a firm believer that if you’ve made a decision to live in a place, you’ve gotta go all in. If not, you can never truly experience the culture for what it really is.
It takes work to assimilate and I’ll probably be working on it for the rest of my life. These tips are what helped me adapt to the point I’m at now:
1. Start Polish lessons. Now. Stat. Teraz! Do this as soon as possible and you won’t regret it. I cannot stress this enough. Most of my problems with living in Poland were and are connected with not being able to communicate. Regardless of the fact that many people speak English in Poland, that doesn’t mean they want to speak English in all contexts. Try going to a party and you’ll realize how necessary it really is. “We’re in Poland so we should be speaking Polish” is something I once heard at a party and I’ll never forget it how embarrassing it was.
2. Find foreign friends. Your foreign friends will understand your problems like no one else. Your friends at home and your Polish friends, even your partner will never understand you like they will. You’ll be closer because of it and you’ll have some respite when you can speak normally for a couple hours to someone who communicates not only in your language but in the same manner as you. But…
3. Spend time with people who don’t speak English. This is difficult at first but you’ve just gotta jump into the deep end. Having family members who don’t speak English was the main incentive for me to learn and if I didn’t have them, I’d still be saying “przepraszam, ale nie mowię zbyt dobrze po polsku” to every person I interacted with. Polish friends are also good to have because they’ll invite you to Christmas dinner when you have no one else to spend it with (had that problem once!). It’s a great way to learn Polish quickly and it will help you understand the culture even better. You’ll get more insight into what people are really like and how they speak to each other and interact generally.
4. If you don’t have a Polish partner already, get one. I’m going to go ahead and assume the reason you live in Poland is because you are in love with some Pole or you’re a student. However, I know some people who live here for other reasons like for studies or because they have roots in Poland – and a couple crazies who moved here just because. In those cases, having a Polish partner is very helpful in your assimilation process. Without it, you won’t get to experience the nuances of everyday life in Poland. However, sometimes this can go the opposite way and you could rely too much on your partner. Be wary of this because you can’t expect your partner to do everything for you. That will only hinder you. So…
5. Try to do things by yourself. Go to shops and ask for things. Go to farmer’s markets. It seems scary when you don’t speak well but when you can do things for yourself – go to the bank, do things at city hall, talk to people without your partner right next to you – you feel free. You’ll feel like a fool the first 500 times but who cares whether you said everything right? You managed yourself like any other normal human being. That freedom is thing you strive for most of all when you live abroad. Reach it and live!
What I’m working on now: Recently I’ve been trying to accept the things about Poland I don’t like. It’s things like shitty customer service (but now I can’t stand overly chipper American customer service, go figure). Or taxes or public healthcare, whatever. These are things I can’t change (no really I can’t because I can’t vote) so I just have to accept them how they are. But true to my Polish adaptation – I can complain about them all I want.
What else can we do to better assimilate? Any personal experiences?