Tag Archive: Poland


Making Friends Abroad

I was inspired to write this post after I read this one on a blog that I follow. The author talks about how she started her blog partly to make new friends. She had everything she wanted except for a BFF.

It got me thinking and remembering some of my own fears regarding moving abroad. Sure, fears of finding a job, navigating new cities, and learning to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language were huge concerns, but my biggest concern was making friends.

It’s something I had never learned to do, you see.

As a teenager I had incredibly low self-esteem and I was pathologically shy. I went to the same school K-8, and had the same friends since kindergarten. I started high school far from home, in a completely new environment, away from my family and friends. It was tough making new friends, mostly because, in retrospect, I never tried. It took a semester or more before I began making friends, and that made for a miserable year.

The following year, I moved back home, and began school at a new high school again. Some of my old classmates attended my school but they were not ones with whom I had ever been friends. The few attempts I made at reconnecting with my old friends fell flat. I had been gone a year and at that age that was all it took. We had all gone our separate ways to different schools and different lives. I did eventually make friends, but it took six months or longer, and in truth, I never felt especially close to any of my high school friends. During that time, I had one long-standing friend, and many who came and went. Once high school was over, so were the friendships.

I began college with the hope that things would be different, and eventually they were, though through no effort of mine. Most of my friends made themselves my friends, or became my friends after long association.

I didn’t learn how to reach out until I moved abroad. In Poland, I was lucky because I had my sister and her friends automatically became mine. Through her, I began meeting people. The night after I arrived, I went to a small dinner party with her and met a girl who asked me for my number. She called the next day and asked if I wanted to hit the club.

I didn’t want to go. Wouldn’t it be weird? I thought. I don’t even know her, what would we talk about?

My sister just looked at me and shook her head. I don’t think she could believe what she was hearing. She had to lecture me for some time before I screwed up my courage to go. But go I did, and didn’t come staggering home until five or six in the morning. Damn, that was a hell of a fun night. And that’s how I met my first Polish friend.

Over the next few months I began to put myself out there more and more, although it took the efforts of yet another girl before I tried in earnest. This one I met through work, and again, she had to make the first overture. We went out a couple of times before we began to hit it off, and she introduced me to some of her friends. As time passed, I increasingly met more and more people and grew closer to a number of girls. I attended Ex-pat events with them, the bar, the club, and the park. By summer of 2011, I was comfortable walking into social events where I knew people by sight only.

It turned out that all it took was some courage, a smile, and a willingness to make the first move. Beer didn’t hurt either. As my confidence grew, so did my group of acquaintances and friends. I no longer waited to be approached, nor did I hover at the edge of a group, standing mute, hoping someone would include me all the while feeling sick and ill at ease. Instead, I walked right in. I would walk right up to a group, and at the first pause in the conversation I jumped in. No one ever seemed to mind.

As a naturally shy person, I know we are often concerned with people laughing at us behind our backs, or thinking we’re weird. We’re convinced that we have nothing interesting to say and feel our every move is awkward and stupid. What we often forget is that no one is analyzing us that closely and no one particularly cares. Most people are willing to talk and most people don’t mind making a new friend.

My experiences in Poland gave me room to grow, not only in confidence, but in guts. By the time I left Poland, I was ready for Taiwan. I had a plan of action. I knew how to meet people, I knew how to chat them up, and I was ready to go. I arrived in Taiwan brimming with excitement, adventure, and an eagerness to get myself out there.

Taiwan made it easy on me. Before I arrived I had already scoped out a few groups on Face Book where I could meet people. I found more when I arrived, and joined Meet Up as well. I was introduced to InterNations  when I was still in Poland, so I made it a point to go to the first gathering that came up. Here, meeting people takes a minimum of effort. Any bar, club, Ex-pat event, or even any English-speaking event is enough to get the ball rolling. Actually, if you’re a Westerner, sometimes all you have to do is walk down the street.

The only thing that any of this takes is getting over that initial hump. As an Ex-pat I’m used to showing up to events alone. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t suck the first few times. It is every shy person’s nightmare. But if I got over it, anyone can. Being alone and not knowing a soul is a common part of the Ex-pat life. Every Ex-pat can identify with it, and every Ex-pat has had to learn how to overcome it. Consequently, every Ex-pat has learned that there are thousands of people out there willing to know us, help us, and call us friend. People are warmer, friendlier, and more willing to be kind to a stranger than I ever imagined.

Whatever your fears are about moving abroad, or if you’re already abroad and feeling lonely, don’t be. The world is at your feet waiting to share the best experience of your life.

All you have to do is screw up your courage and step out the door to meet it.

How have you met some of your friends? What is the most or weird story you have about meeting a friend?

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Visitors to My Blog

 

I can’t deny that this is a small blog with a relatively limited fan base. Nevertheless, it amazes me the variety of searches that bring people to my page. Some of them are comic, sad, gross, and just pathetic.

In no particular order, here are some that I found entertaining.

1. How to pay for stuff in taiwan when you are a foreigner?

One word: cash. Bring plenty of it, and don’t bring your own smaller country denominations either. I brought a bunch of Polish money with me when I moved here and then couldn’t get it exchanged anywhere, including in Taiwan’s national bank.  Everyone told me to try Hong Kong. Good advice I’m sure but  I haven’t made it there yet. Eventually, I managed to exchange it with a friend that was returning to Poland, but I had to hang onto it for a year before I finally got rid of it.  Make sure its USD, EU, or Yen. I’m sure others are accepted too, but check before you come.  Your credit card will help in large department stores and chain restaurants, but no where else. Bring cash. I can’t emphasize this enough.

2. Vertebrae adventure

Yeah, I’m having one. If that’s what you want to call it. I hope yours has been more fun than mine.

3. Are australians hated by foreigners?

I have no idea. Are they?

4. (a) What do polish men want in a woman? (b) When do polish guys introduce there girlfriends to there parents? (c) How to get a stubborn polish man back? (d) “Polish men” in relationships take back seat.

(a) Good question. What do they want? This must be investigated!

(b) When? I’m guessing if you have to ask this question he’s not in love with you, girlfriend. Maybe if you learned the difference between “there,”  “their,” and “they’re” you’ll have better luck.

(c) Good luck. Polish people are stubborn as hell, and Polish men most of all.

(d) Hmmmm. There’s a story here and I want to hear it.

5. biggest sausage 

You’re talking about Polish sausage right? I hope. Or is this just another porno search?

6. Why do girls look like they like me but hate me?

I have so many questions about this. Maybe its because you’re an asshole, kid. Maybe they DO like you and you just don’t know how to approach them. Maybe you’re socially inept, and they didn’t like you in the first place?

7. Say chance

Are you going to come over here and make me?

8. (a) Mould is growing on all my belongings clothes shoes books. (b) If theres mold on your clothes is to late? (c) mold gray fur? (d) Why my laptop bag has mold? (e) If mold is on my leather shoes should i wash everything in my closet?

After talking to my friends, I’ve realized that my own experience is NOT unique. Is it too late? Wash everything. That’s my best advice. And I do mean everything. You miss even one spot and it will keep coming back. Recently, I’m starting to suspect I’m about to have another mold explosion too. God I hope not. Use vinegar, Clorox, or chlorine. Constant ventilation and airflow is the key to prevent this. Get a dehumidifier if need be.  Because it will grow on everything. Including apparently gray fur???? I didn’t even know that was possible.

9.  Xenophobia positives

There are none, jackass. Get yourself out in the world and learn a thing or two about life instead of punching in asinine searches like this. I’m disgusted.

10.  Highly educated traditional woman that likes golden shower lover girl

Sick!  I hope you washed your hands before you touched your keyboard but you didn’t, did you?

11. Best men to have one night stand with when living overseas

Which ones are they? Maybe I should be plugging this search in.

12. Taiwanese women are messed up

Come on. I don’t think they’re all messed up. Though there is something to be said about the reputation for jealousy in relationships with both male and female Taiwanese. I think it comes from not having a dating culture.

13. Why do we find foreign women exotic?

Yes, why do we?

Finally,

14. When to travel overseas with acute herniated disc?

Is this a serious question? Never. That’s when.

 

I’ve been taking a walk down Face Book lane for the past couple of days. A habit I’ve developed over the last couple of years when I’m bored. To be more accurate, when I’m back from a night on the town and feeling a little melancholy. I scroll through pictures and check up on old friends. You know how it is.

August first was the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Every August first at five p.m. Poland observes a minute of silence to remind us of when Poland fought back. Fought back, and lost, horrifically. It’s a time for remembering, respecting, and honoring our dead. I was trying to recall why I hadn’t remembered it last year. The moment of silence.

I scrolled back through my FB timeline to see what I had posted.

Nothing. I posted absolutely nothing. Instead, I posted something about losing my voice and being sick.

Shallow, right?

I clearly remember the articles and videos last year. Knowing me as well as I do, I’m pretty sure I decided that I wasn’t going to post anything just because everyone else was.

The upside, and the most bittersweet part of it all, was scrolling through a year’s worth of posts.

Why is it that we can always recognize how happy we were only in retrospect? I saw photos from my vacation last year in Helsinki and Tallinn with Linds, my announcement that I’m moving to Taiwan, my going away party, and my first post from Asia. It was all there.

I remembered.

I remembered like it was yesterday, my thoughts, my feelings, the sounds, scents, and scenes. The fear I felt in going. How I wasn’t sure I wanted to go but I didn’t get the job that I was applying for so I knew I had to. I gave myself pep talks. All the ‘But its good money,’ and ‘Did you ever think you’d have a chance to live in Asia? Visit sure, but live?’ and ‘ One more country off my list’. I remember all of it.

It turned things around for me. By the time I left I was excited to go. Packing was a bitch.  Trying to pack everything I could into a suitcase, carrying my whole life in a bag.

For the second time in a year I would be heading off into the unknown. What a rush.

The last couple of weeks flew by. I remember trying to squeeze in as much sister time as I could. I listened, again, to the video my sister left on my wall…the Faithless Don’t Leave video.

Yeah, sis. I’m listening to that now.

I remember the cultural festival Karolina and I stumbled upon in Old Town. Last minute drinks and lunch with Olga rehashing my going away party, getting filled in on the juicy details that I missed. Finally, my last night with Magda at Plan B, bullshitting about how Polish men suck, and why we need to be better friends and how can we connect better with other people and on and on.

I remember waking up, late. A little buzzed. I remember hearing my roommate get up. Slam into the bathroom and then his lumbering steps as he left for work. I clearly remember snapping off the WIFI button on the edge of my laptop with my heel. It was the beginning of the end of that crappy thing. I remember the ugly realization that I had no way to leave the keys inside the apartment for the roomies as I had promised. Oh shit! Then I remember thinking, ‘Screw those guys. I’m going to Asia.’

I remember my sister pulling up, seven stories below, and my nephew in the car. The drive to the airport where I told her I’d left the door unlocked and the look of horror she gave me. “That’s bad, Mish. You can’t do that here in PL. All of their shit is going to get stolen.” Feeling guilty. Calling my roommate to let him know the door’s unlocked. And oh yeah. Sorry ’bout that. Really.

At the airport. My heart racing, my stomach quivering. My luggage. overweighted. By a ton. Rushing back out to the car, trying to figure out what I could leave behind. The clothes I tossed back into the car, the movies, gifts, and then rushing back in. Talking to the unfriendly staff. Luggage still over the limit. Paying $250 dollars to lug 6 kilograms worth of weight. What a damned rip off! The airlines are making a mint off of people like me, no question.

Then the flight. Step one: Frankfurt. Six hours meandering around the airport then sitting around, drinking beer, and reading the latest Marion Keys book. I stepped outside, inhaled some German air, and headed back in. Sat down and watched the people around me and made up stories about their lives. Not better than mine I hoped.

Step two: Shanghai. I had every intention of using my 22-hour layover to explore the city. Where I ended up checking into the first airport hotel I could find and admitted to myself what I had not wanted to that I had neither the courage nor the strength to explore any damn thing.

I walked through the smothering heat back into the airport and had, quite possibly, the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten in my life. I still don’t know what it was. It was some type of black potato-like thing with a starchy texture, and chicken feet.

Through it all, overwhelming fatigue and adrenaline, in my veins, my heart, my mind. My heart was going a mile a minute, my mind was racing, and it was all I could do to keep up.

It was exhilarating. I felt like I could do anything. Be anyone. I couldn’t get enough.

That feeling has been with me for a long time. It was with me in Poland too. Anything could happen. Anything DID happen. Anything and everything, and although shit happens on a regular basis it made life absolutely fabulous. No better experience, no better trip. No better life.

I’ve been living in Taiwan for nearly a year. I’ve had so many firsts. First time in Asia. First time meeting new people and going to expat events on my own. First time watching a plump rat squeezing its chub-assed way down a drain into the sewer. I’ve seen that too many times at this point. First time seeing horrifically massive black spiders. First time for Stinky Tofu and Taro ice cream, vinegar noodles and duck eggs. First time being the advisor to my friends. Learning to crawl, learning to walk, and learning to live. My life in Taiwan has been nothing but a series of firsts.

Taking a walk down FB lane. There are so many memories, so much laughter, funny comments, and enraging ones. The crappy times, nonsensical posts, and drunken Facebooking, too. It’s all there in my electronic brain, waiting for me to visit it.

I’m grateful for it. Are you?

How often do you scroll through your timeline?

This post will be the first of a few about dating abroad as a Western woman. In this post I explore the general cultural backdrop of the dating scene in Poland.

Having only lived in two other countries other than the US, this post will be limited in the scope of its observations. I wish I had the chance to live in at least one modern Western country other than the US to draw some true parallels.

But I haven’t, so…let’s talk about Poland.

Poland, all things considered, is not Taiwan.

Warsaw has a huge expat population and with an increasing number of international companies setting up shop in Poland, it will continue to grow. I’m not even going to count all the thousands of kids that come in on the Erasmus program or other educational programs to pursue higher education.

The EU’s influence is slowly expanding in Poland, and with the current open borders, Poland sees many travelers they have not before. They are seeing foreign-raised Poles that are returning home, much like I did, to scope out the scene and the opportunities. More Poles than ever before are traveling and living abroad. When they return home, for better or worse, they bring with them the cultural ideas and influences they have picked up abroad.

Poland is racing to modernize itself and change is in the air. Construction is occurring in every corner of Warsaw, Krakow, and other major cities. Efforts are being made to use EU assistance to improve Poland in a multitude of ways, such as in their treatment of women in the workplace, workplace rights, infrastructure, rights and assistance for the disabled, education, and medical care. Poland looks to the West and it is becoming modern.

But though change is in the air, only so much change can happen in twenty years. It took me a while to put my finger on the issues when I first moved there and longer to understand aspects of the Polish mentality. I assumed, like others with my background have done, that having grown up in a Polish household, I reasonably knew what to expect, culture-wise, when I moved to Poland. Well, that was a big mistake.

I didn’t realize how truly American I was until I moved to Poland. One of the things I embrace about American culture is the culture of feminism. American women have fought the good fight, and continue to do so, to gain equality and acceptance in every aspect of life. From work place rights, diminishing wage gaps, the right of choice and contraception, the rights to equal treatment, sexual rights, the right to not be abused and raped, and financial rights.  The entire spectrum of rights that women in America enjoy…I’m behind it 100%.

So you can imagine the unpleasant shock I got when I moved to Poland in terms of how women are treated.

Poland is very traditional. Poland is very Catholic. Poland is like stepping back into the 1950s in the US. Poland is a land with outlawed abortions, poor sexual education, and limited contraceptive use. Poland still asks women if they are married or planning on having children when women are interviewed for jobs, so that companies can weed out undesirables. In Poland, my students told me, they were blatantly passed over for jobs and job promotions based on their gender and were told that this was why they weren’t hired. In Poland, the issue of fertility treatments is still being debated, with threats from the church being mailed to the government as late as 2011.

In Poland, men are trained to think of women as the weaker sex. They have fancy manners (which I love) when it comes to opening doors, standing when a woman comes into the room, offering her a seat on the bus and all that good stuff.  I have to admit that I, personally, love these types of manners.  I see no conflict with having a man show me the respect I deserve  as a woman, and still treat me like an equal.

Polish men are raised to be the strong silent type to the nth degree. They consider themselves to be providers, heads of the family, leaders in their relationships. Polish men expect to do the approaching when it comes to relationships, they do the courting, they don’t like women to interfere with that role. Polish men are hard.

Polish men can’t give a woman a compliment to save their lives.

In all fairness, not all Polish men are like this. I met plenty that weren’t. I met plenty that I respected, that I thought were not just good human beings but also good men. I met some guys that loved to cook, and I met guys that treated their women like princesses. I knew several Western women personally, that dated or married Polish guys and were happy about it.

So that’s Polish men.

Polish women are strong, sexy, highly educated, extremely competent and amazingly beautiful. They lead difficult lives where they are still treated as the minority, take on the majority of the domestic work, are the primary caretakers of the children, manage the home, and often the household finances, and they look damned good while doing it.

It is no surprise to me that Expats flock to Polish women. Whether is the beauty, the snotty Polish Princess attitude, the sexiness, or the sheer work that Polish women are willing to put into their relationships, it seemed that every Expat guy I met was dating or married to a Polish girl. Many, in fact, moved there to be with their Polish girlfriends, or wives.

The sad truth is that there are many Polish women out there that lose their shit when it comes to Western men. Walk into any bar or club and speak just about any foreign language fluently, and women will be all over you. I’ve heard tons of stories from guys, including my brother about women being all over them in the clubs. I’ve witnessed it on countless occasions. There are many girls that considered having a Western boyfriend as something to be to be proudly displayed in front of their family and friends.  Whether it is the perception that Western men make more money, and thus can be better providers, or simply that they treat their women more kindly, or just the idea that they are somehow strange and exotic, whatever the reason, Polish women go ape shit over foreign men.

You find these women everywhere. Bars, clubs, and every Expat event you could imagine.Why were they even there? An Expat event is for Expats, one would think. Seldom, would you find flocks of Polish men at these gatherings, but Polish women?  My friends and I always knew which ones came for honest culture exchanges (there are those that do) and which ones came on the prowl. It was so obvious. Upon being introduced to a foreign women these ladies would not acknowledge us at all and size us up with calculating eyes, or briefly speak to us and then immediately home in on any men speaking English. The sluttyness of their dress, their provocative manner, circling around the men like choice pieces of meat; they might as well have carried a sign.

That makes it tough for Western women. If you don’t want to date into the local culture, then options are limited. And the options that are available are fascinated with the locals, and most emphatically, not with you.  If you’re a typical Western woman you’re pretty casual in your dress, relaxed, and are trained to wait for a man to approach you.  Girl, you gotta learn to ruthlessly compete.  

You might think that this works both ways. That local men would be just as interested in Western women, but it doesn’t.  Some are. Most are not. Many Poles consider Americans and Brits to be sloppy, fat, slovenly, lazy, and just too damned uppity to deal with.  There is no doubt in my mind that many thought of me that way.

The Expat lifestyle, by its very nature is transient, and not especially conducive to forming relationships.  Many men and women just aren’t in a place in their lives where forming strong attachments is a good idea. Why bother when you’re only there for six months or a year? Short term dating and friend with benefit arrangements I’m sure you’ll be able to find.  But if we’re honest with ourselves we can admit that most women don’t want that. They’re tough to maintain without feelings getting involved.

So, yes,  it’s difficult being an Expat woman. No question about it. It’s a lonelier road then you might ever imagine.  For women, it boils down to your values, and how flexible you are about them.

Me. I’m not flexible at all, and I don’t want to be. I shouldn’t have to be. I won’t be.

Every Expat woman out there has their own take on dating abroad and these are mine.

I would love to hear some of your stories.

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I should publish this post or not.  I wrote it several weeks ago when I was in a particularly shitty mood, and since then it has been drafted and redrafted into something beyond all recognition.  It isn’t like me to bare my soul for the whole world to see. In fact, it isn’t like me to bare my soul for anyone to see.  I’m almost 100% certain that publishing this will be a move I regret. 

Screw it. 

I accept the challenge and the risk.

What do we have to sacrifice for our dreams?

Some people say it’s nothing. Others that  it’s everything.  There are people out there that believe they can have it all, and there are people out there convinced its impossible to have it all. And there are some people out there that think we can’t have anything. Screw those guys. They don’t know how to get their happy on.

I want it all. Nothing less will do.

But living my dreams has not been without its sacrifices.  It’s an inherent part of wanting too much, I suppose.

And I want too much. I always do.

So let’s take a close look at the dangers and consequences of wanting it all.

Friendship: Friendships fade over time. We’ve all been there. People change, they grow apart, they lose touch.  There is no easier way to lose touch than moving away. It doesn’t matter that we live in an age of Facebook or Twitter. Human nature doesn’t change. Out of sight. Out of mind.  Isn’t that how the story goes?

“We’ll stay in touch over FB!” “I’ll miss you sooo much!” Not for long as it turns out.

Relationships: Romance.  Sex. The idea of finding a romantic attachment here in Asia is even more laughable than it was in Poland. And I did laugh about it there. I laughed so I wouldn’t cry. Because for this woman of the West, slumming it with a man who sees me as less than an equal is completely and utterly intolerable and unacceptable.  It was all just so impossible, annoying, and depressing in Poland, and in its own way, it’s worse in Asia. Why is it so hard to find a decent ex-pat man?  Many of the ones I meet are into local girls (some will flat-out tell you that the reason they’re out here is “yellow fever” which is indicative of such a despicable and shallow  character I just want to punch these men in the face), or, and this is a completely valid reason I understand, they are  living too transient of a lifestyle to consider a relationship.

There are two problems. One, is that the dating pool is just too small. And two, the ex-pat lifestyle, by its very nature is temporary, and for many, aimless.  I’ve met tons of men out here but tons of men I could date? That’s another story.

What about the locals, you ask? That answer deserves a blog post all of its own. I’ll write about it later when I’ve had time to collect my thoughts.

As for sex, well. It has been so long I’ve nearly forgotten what it is to mean something to a man. Or for one to mean anything to me.

And, yeah, thanks. I know I can walk into pretty much any bar tonight and get laid if that’s what I want. Obviously a one night stand isn’t what I’m looking for.

Career: A decent career.  How can I get me one of those abroad? It seems like it is impossible to get away from teaching English, which, frankly, is a profession I’m beginning to loathe. I don’t hate my students. I don’t even hate the life that much. It definitely has its advantages, especially when the money is right. However, I am just too damned smart to waste my brain like this.  Call it arrogance all you like, but its nothing less than the truth.  The amount of mental stimulation you get as an English teacher is next to none. Were it not for my daily crossword puzzles and this blog, I am convinced I would have sank into a vegetative state from which I could never recover.

Thankfully, all is not so bleak on this horizon. I am taking baby steps into exploring other options. If they don’t work out, I’ve realized nothing else will do but to return to school.  I can’t even explain how good this makes me feel. Finally! A light at the end of the tunnel. A direction. Something my life has been missing for much too long.

I was talking with a friend the other day and realized that more than being Polish, or being American, and definitely way more than being an English teacher, I identify the most with being an ex-pat. It’s a title I’m comfortable with and proud of.  Want to feel special? Be an ex-pat. Want to be cool? Be an ex-pat. Want to be sexy? Be an ex-pat. Want to be brave? Be an ex-pat. Want to have the most awesome life you can possibly imagine, with new, crazy, life-altering experiences every single day? Be an ex-pat!  The most boring crappy day of your life as an ex-pat will still be a hundred times better and more exciting than anything else your shitty home life can offer.

I love it! I can’t say anything else about it. The life of an ex-pat, it’s a hit of adrenaline more addictive than anything else I’ve tried. And I get to take it every single day.

So what should I do when the loneliness  and emptiness come roaring out of the darkest corners of my soul to smother me in a sad desperate melancholy from which I might never come back from? What should I do when I’m walking down the street and out of the blue my eyes flood with tears because suddenly I think: Damn. What the hell am I doing here? Is there even a point to any of this?

What should I do when I’ve been invited to the most awesome party life has to offer, but the party always ends with me alone?

At what point do my dreams become nothing more than a series of diminishing returns?

I’m 30 damn years old. And I’m flitting around from place to place, enjoying myself like few others will ever, in their wildest dreams, get a chance to. I am so fortunate. I am living the life.

It is nearly everything, but is it quite enough?

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