The first thing everyone always asks me is, “Why Poland?”. Well, that’s a great question because I do not quite have the answer myself. A professor from my home university was going there to teach and approached me about the opportunity to study abroad in Krakow this summer. I did not know anything about Poland…the culture, the food, or even the weather (pack for all four seasons!!!!!). Going into this experience I really didn’t know what to expect since Krakow is known for being a medieval city, but I was excited to take on this new adventure.
Once I arrived, Poland immediately exceeded my expectations and more. I am a marketing and human resources management double major and by studying at the Cracow University of Economics, I was able to fulfill some business classes that were required by my home university in order to graduate. The best part about USAC teaming up with CUE was that business majors are able to really crack down and stay on track to graduate on time (or even early in my case!). My experience in Poland was one of a kind and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to study abroad in Europe. Here are some of my favorite memories and “must do’s” if you are planning or considering studying abroad in Krakow, Poland…
Make friends with not just the peers in your program, but also with the locals!
USAC does an excellent job with resident directors and making sure they make us feel as comfortable as possible in another country. On my first day of orientation, our resident directors introduced us to our “buddies” which were local students that went to the university and who were there to show us around and how to navigate around of the city. By the end of day one, I had made so many new friends which led to meeting even more people later on. I became friends with not just polish students, but also students in the area from Germany, England, and even Syria! Every weekend we would all run a 5K (they have colour runs!!!), play volleyball or basketball, or even go out for breakfast. The locals also showed us a quarry called Zakrzowek, where we would go to swim and hangout on the weekends (I would highly recommend going there, it’s beautiful!). I still stay in touch with my friends from half way around the world and I hope to see them again someday soon!
Catch a sunset at Wawel Castle.
Wawel Castle really brings out the medieval scene in Krakow and is beautiful at any time of the day. It’s crazy to think that not too long ago a king really lived up there and ruled Krakow! Making your way through the old town, the market square and then ending at the castle is such a great way to see the entire city. During my last week in Poland, a group of friends and I went to watch the sunset at the top of the castle, and it was absolutely stunning. Wawel overlooks the river that runs through Krakow and at the top you are able to see just about everything the city has to offer. We even saw someone propose one time! It is definitely a must-see spot that you will want to go back and see time and time again during your stay.
Try to learn the language!
A lot of locals, especially younger people, spoke English so it was not hard to communicate. But, knowing “survival Polish” is a must! You will want to know how to say thank you (dziekuje), excuse me or sorry (przepraszam), yes and no (tak and nie), hello (czesc), and good morning (dzien dobry). At the housing our program stayed at, the locals working there spoke little English, so we had to learn how to say our room number in Polish and we even were able to teach them some English! The locals at the bus and train station also spoke little English, but everyone is very nice and looking to learn so we were able to learn more Polish and they were able to learn more English as well! Knowing just a few key words before you arrive will benefit you greatly but if you run out of time, no worries the locals will help you!
Explore the Jewish Quarter take a trip to Auschwitz Concentration Camps.
The Jewish Quarter is something everyone should check out. From the delicious food to the old cemetery to even Shindler’s Factory, it is a must-see! The Jewish Quarter is known for their zapiekanka, which is half of a baguette that it made almost like a French bread pizza. It was one of my favorite things to eat along with the gelato of course! Another popular meal in Poland is kielbasa and pierogi’s and trust me, you will want to eat this every night. The old cemetery and Shindler’s Factory are two things you should definitely see while in Krakow as well. USAC took us on a trip to Auschwitz which was quite an experience. You really get to see what life was like for those who went through those camps and it is a humbling experience that everyone should see while in Poland.
Experience the festivals and nightlife.
Krakow is such a fun city to be in at any time of the year. Lucky for me, I happened to be there in the summer where there were so many music festivals and colour festivals happening almost every weekend! I was able to run a colour run 5K and go to a colour music festival which was something I never experienced before I went to Krakow. I was also in the city during the time of the annual Dragon festival. At night, there is a parade of giant floats that look like dragons that make their way down the river while fireworks are going off everywhere. Krakow’s nightlife is so fun! There are so many places to sing karaoke as well as listen to street musicians. Hearing locals play their violins or guitars or even sing each night was something I enjoyed the most about Poland.
My experience in Krakow was one of a kind and I would not trade this adventure for the world. The memories and friends I made will forever be cherished and I cannot wait to meet up with them again soon. You really do get to move outside of your comfort zone and when you do that, your study abroad experience will be one you will never forget. Take off your “American lens”, live and see the city as if you were born and raised there, and I promise you that you will have an experience like no other.
Morgan Boswell is a USAC Krakow alumna. She studied abroad in Krakow, Poland during the summer.