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?