My trips abroad were very diverse. The first were in the mid-1980s, when everything looked different. These were the departures for earning to Vienna and London, each one for three months. In each case I stayed with Polish friends. Unfortunately, ugly behaviors of Poles in exile stuck in my head - showing off their careers, wealth and connections, with the simultaneous gossiping, bumping each other from a job, just ruthless fight for survival. Since I have a comparative scale and I watched other nations, they somehow supported and helped each other. I think that this opinion about Poles abroad, unfortunately, is widespread and not changing for the better.
America: work and development
In the US I spent almost three years working as a physiotherapist in Illinois and Colorado. It was in 1992-1995. Both during those shorter stays in England and Austria, as well as in the US I was always in the company of Poles. Because I knew English pretty well, I had no problem with acclimatization in a foreign environment. I play the guitar and I sing, so I always tried to participate in various meetings and events. Another sad observation is that whenever I performed among foreigners, they always thanked and congratulated to me after the show, Poles do not happen to do so. I do not know why it is so difficult to us to praise or thank the countryman for the effort. Unfortunately, I observe the same here in Poland.
I lacked the most good Polish food, especially bread, cold meats and a variety of our typical products. Food in the West is cotton bread, tasteless tomatoes and various vegetables and fruits, which looked nice, but had no taste. Now we can see the same here in Poland. Contacting the family in Poland was also difficult because not everyone had a phone, so I wrote letters. There were no computers and no Internet, so these contacts were rare. All that changed in the late 1990s.
I went to the US to work in the profession of a physiotherapist. I had to pass exams to obtain the license in the US. Therefore, what was waiting for me on the beginning was many months of studying to learn professional English (although I knew conversational English quite well), then further attempts to pass the exam and finally getting my dream license. With the American license for the state of Colorado, I went to a small town of Trinidad at the border with New Mexico.
I was the only foreigner working in the town and in the company. I am a sociable person and I quickly build new relationships. I made friends with a few patients and I was fine. A few times I had patients, older women more than 80 - 90 years old, Polish women who arrived there as miners' wives before the First World War. They were moved that they could say a few words in Polish, although usually didn’t remember almost anything.
For me it was an especially great time because as a ski instructor I could go skiing every weekend from November until May. Also my childhood dream about cowboys and Indians come true, because thanks to my patients I spent a week living in a teepee, participating in the event, as it is now also popular in Poland, reproducing the life of farmers and cowboys and trappers 100 years ago. Life of Americans living in the provinces is terrible. They aren’t interested in anything and most of them do not have a clue about the world. But the worst thing is that they do not want to change it. I was many years ago in the Soviet Union and when I first came to the United States in 1976 (it was a tourist visit to my uncle) I noticed that the citizens of both the powerful countries are similar - convinced that everything they have is the best and the greatest.
In 2003 I went to work in Saudi Arabia. I found the job offer in a professional medical journal. My family situation was not the best (my first marriage broke up when I worked in the US - unfortunately the majority of Polish friends working abroad had a similar experience), so I was determined to go somewhere and start everything from scratch.
The trip to Saudi Arabia was like a jump into deep water. I didn’t know almost anything about this country, but because previously I had been working in the profession as a physiotherapist in the United States, I quickly started working really intensively, and it was not a special problem for me. It was worse to get used to new habits, regulations, prohibitions and temperature.
I came to Riyadh October 18, 2003, on the day of my 54th birthday. For the first weeks I was seriously scared of the customs and law here. Everything what so far had kept up my spirits during such trips (in Austria, England and the US) here did not exist. Someone who has never been to a country like Saudi Arabia cannot imagine that it is possible in this day and age. I mean that it is (almost) forbidden to listen to the radio with western music, not to mention European. There are no cinemas, philharmonic orchestras, concerts, events, because it is forbidden. There are performances held only during Ramadan – only men watch them on the main square, while women look at them at another square, on television. Of course, the entry of women to the square for men is prohibited. Another shocking surprise that no one warns against is that the employer takes your passport, issuing a temporary identity card, so-called ikama.
It’s also hard to believe that the several-million-people capital of Arabia has no public transport. There is no subway (now reportedly it is being finally built), buses nor trams. There are thousands of taxis in return. Every day, at any time you do not wait for a taxi longer than a few minutes. The problem, however, is that the taxi drivers are illiterate (often), who do not speak English, cannot read maps (have no idea what it is), and you need to set the fee before they start driving. In this city, and perhaps in others as well, there is no numbering of houses (often). The question suggests itself – how to make sense of it? So the period of adaptation to this life lasts much longer. In many streets there are no sidewalks for pedestrians because almost nobody goes there on foot - too much heat.
The biggest problem for foreigners are female - male relationships. On the street a strange Saudi woman cannot go and talk to a foreigner because you can go to jail for it. You cannot go to a cafe or a restaurant in a mixed company, even as a foreigner, because it is prohibited. As we know there are no cafés there. There are only cafes for men. In restaurants, on the other hand, there are separate rooms, so-called family sectors, or if there is no separate room, then the delinquents are surrounded with high walls. So there is no pleasure to go to a café or a restaurant, to sit with other people and look, because a man sits alone in a separate room or is separated from the rest with the walls. So, as I mentioned before, all the pleasure which I experienced in other countries - I mean listening to the radio (in Saudi Arabia radio waves are limited or disrupted as it was in Poland under communism), watching movies, listening to concerts or even visiting museums is prohibited. There are, in fact, museums and indeed they are often very interesting, but mostly they were closed because it was claimed they hadn’t been visited. Most often foreigners demanded the opening of a museum and not always they succeeded. Of course, it is all changing and in the age of the Internet, mobile phones it is no longer so easy to control it.
Pole, i.e. a citizen of the world
Independent travel abroad always somehow enriches the man and teaches how to cope with different and non-ordinary situations. That's a big plus. Unfortunately, the downside is the separation from family and frequent tragedies - broken marriages, etc. Everything also depends on what baggage of experience the man takes with him. The one, who has almost nothing, and hasn’t seen much in life, will perceive the world in a completely new reality in which they found themselves, in a completely different way. For me, as for a person who had been in the US several years earlier (for the first time in 1976 and then in 1992), the second visit was a completely normal departure. For my colleagues to come to the US was a shock, and it is because what we see in American movies is so much different from what we see in reality. This applies particularly to small towns rather than big agglomerations. The current means of communication have completely changed the world. Thanks to phones and the Internet you can communicate without any problem every day. You can watch TV, listen to the radio and talk live with your family, so you cannot compare it with what was 15 years ago and earlier. I have already visited 44 countries, in some of them I have been several times. I do not know if I can feel a citizen of the world. I think so, but most of all I feel I’m a Pole.
In Europe, especially in France, England and Germany, I felt that I am a second-class citizen. In the US it is not the case. The people of the East are much more friendly and kind than those from the West. Despite my personal family failures, I can say that I always came back to Poland with my shield, actively participating either in the Polish community abroad, or among foreigners. In the US, if a man works honestly and is willing to learn, can be sure of promotion and success. But must often works much harder than had imagined in the home country. The organization of Euro 2012 showed that we have nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed we have a lot to be proud of. Unfortunately, in many cases, we lack faith and integrity in our demeanor.