Poland as a destination for foreign students?

With the start of the new school year having just arrived at the start of September, and the university year beginning in the following weeks, I have been reminded of a query that intrigued me for most of the last year – “How popular is Poland as a destination for international students?”

The question arose for me as I am living in a central location in Kraków, and I am lucky enough to be able to walk 10 minutes to work. However, I pass by a number of hospitals, one of which is the Kraków Medical University (Uniwersytet Medyczny Kraków). There are obviously many medical students in the area as they probably attend lectures, tutorials and practicals as part of their learning. However, it was one day when I overheard two students with North American accents (probably from USA, but maybe Canadian) discussing a lecture involving a demonstration of an operation that I began to realise that Poland would be considered as a possible option for students when studying abroad. My theory was confirmed (in my head at least) when I encountered two Filipino women with school-books in hand walking in the same area within the following weeks.

Throughout the months following this realisation, I also noticed a few other points which backed up this theory on there being many foreign students here. The first anecdotal evidence came when I found out that the previous tenant in my apartment was a student from Canada (although he had Polish heritage). The second example came from a work colleague who had a boyfriend from Cameroon. She told me that her boyfriend was studying an IT university course in Kraków, and she mentioned the difficulty for him in ensuring he had his visa, zameldowanie and karta pobytu in place as a foreigner from outside the EU. However what I found more interesting was the fact that his classes were in Polish, while his native language was English and he could also speak some French. My colleague told me that her boyfriend would attend classes, and understand as much as possible, while taking the handout notes and supplementing them later with self-study.

However, university lectures and classes are not just held in Polish, as there does seem to be the possibility to study in other languages also in Poland, as the example of medical students having lectures in English proves. However, this example shows the controversy of such a method, as it the medical course is open to foreigners only, with some Poles saying that it is a violation of civil rights because of discrimination based on nationality.

Apart from medical students, the other main route for foreign students to study in Poland would appear to be through the Erasmus Programme. This is a programme between the 27 EU nations and also includes Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Turkey. It allows for students from any of these countries to spend up to a year as students in any of the other countries, studying the same course (or similar) but in a different setting. The following figures for Erasmus participation from 2008/09 (being the latest statistical information available) show that Poles were very keen on going to foreign countries with 11,784 students from Polish universities going abroad – the 5th highest rate of the 31 participating countries. However, what is also interesting is to see that 4,528 students came to Poland from the 30 other Erasmus affiliated countries, with the majority coming from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Thus, this seems to reinforce the point that Poland is a place for foreign students to consider as a potential location when considering studying abroad.

So my question remains – is Poland an attractive destination for foreign students? A few months ago, I met a German girl, a friend of my wifes family, who was studying Art History in Warsaw as an exchange student for the past year. However, she was the daughter of Polish emigrants to Germany and she chose Poland to practise her Polish and to study the paintings of Jan Matejko as well. It would seem that many students that come to Poland to study may have a connection through Polish diaspora, but are there other reasons? Perhaps the cost of study is cheaper than other locations? Maybe the reputation of certain universities is high? Perhaps the lifestyle of living as a foreign student in Poland is very attractive?

Maybe we have some foreign students in our Polandian readership who would like to share their experiences?

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7 thoughts on “Poland as a destination for foreign students?

  1. Bartek says:

    Poland has makings of a great destination for foreign students, but it still is plagued by too many language-related problems. In Germany courses are delivered in impeccable English, in Poland in podgin English, to boot lecturers often have problems expressing themselves, don’t get pronounciation right, make grammatical errors, etc. It’s not a matter of getting by but to be proud of internationalisation of Polish higher education system we ought to get some things right and sort some things out, such as the fact administrative staff who deal with foreign students barely communicate in English. A crying shame!

  2. Pete says:

    As a former foreign student in Poland, I can confirm it is a great place to study. I spent a semester at the Centre for Polish Language and Culture, part of UJ, as my degree was in languages and I was learning Polish, so I can’t really comment on the quality of classes taught in English, but I can say with authority that the language tutelage was second to none. Poles seem to have a real passion for teaching their language, and this came across in classes there. On top of that, I was living in Krakow, the most beautiful city in Europe! How I wish I back there now!

  3. polkaontheisland says:

    …that is such a lovely, kind comment! Thanks, Pete

  4. Outsider says:

    I only once spent a week in Poland as a guest lecturer at a small Silesian college, but I know many students who have chosen Poland as their Erasmus destination. I can only offer anecdotal evidence of their motivations but here are a few reasons I’ve often heard of, in no particular order:

    1. Convenience. Polish universities are eager to accept foreign students in large numbers so there are fewer hoops for candidates to jump through and less cutthroat competition for limited places compared to some of the better-known Western European colleges.

    2. Affordability. While Erasmus scholarships are calculated based on the theoretical cost of living in the country of destination, Poland still is a place where you can get really good mileage out of your own euros or kroner.

    3. Curiosity. University students are, as a rule, the most open-minded members of any society. They’re intrigued by that large slab of terra incognita sitting practically next door and think it would be cool to boldly go where few have gone before. It’s even cooler if your parents are the kind who pale at the thought of their child going to some post-commie wasteland at the north pole.

    It’s inevitable that prices will eventually go up and it’s possible that it might get tougher to enroll in a Polish school someday, but Poland’s novelty value is IMO still at least a generation away from wearing off. A ciupaga is a better conversation piece than a cast-iron Eiffel tower and having spent a semester in Gdansk makes for far more interesting conversation than having studied in London.

    So yes, I’d say that Poland is currently very much in vogue in academic circles, maybe not for the best reasons, but hey, even Japan needed a century to go from rural backwater to hotbed of cutting-edge research.

  5. szafirowy says:

    I think Outsider pretty much nailed it. I’ve been working with ESN in Krakow a bit and the main reason mentioned for the guys to come here was a certain exotic feel of going to post-communist country.

    I’m not sure how the stats look like now, but the biggest numbers of people coming were from France and Spain, followed closely by Germany

  6. wms says:

    I’m studying politics and journalism in Warsaw this fall. Of course I can’t speak to the quality of the program yet, but I think Poland is a natural destination for anyone interested in modern EU politics, integration issues or post-Communist development.

  7. misiek says:

    I’m a graduate of SSEES/UCL where I was one of three students in my year who studied Polish and East European Studies. Needless to say, we all had Polish ancestry and could speak it a little bit… When we came to Krakow in 2002 as part of our Socrates/Erasmus year abroad, we met a pretty eclectic mix of Europeans. We still have reunions from time to time, either in Krakow or in other European cities. In fact, back then, I remember throwing a party with one of my mates from uni with whom I had rented a flat near Wawel: we got almost every single Erasmus student on their year/semester abroad to come. But then again that was only around 60 people, not the 500 or so (last I checked) UJ gets nowadays… And I would agree with Outsider as far as affordability goes: especially as the exchange office at UCL classed Poland as a “rich” country, so I got the same amount as students going to either Germany or France… And now here I am, living in Krakow pretty much ever since! (Although, alas, no longer scamming Erasmus grants…)

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