2017 Study Abroad Essay 2 Lauren Selph

Interpersonal Relationships in Poland

Throughout my time in Poland it became increasingly evident that there are differences in interpersonal relationship dynamics between the United States and Poland. Relationships between students, students and professors, parents and children, and strangers with strangers have shown both similarities and differences from those of comparable relationships in the United States.

The relationships between the students have shown remarkable similarities to that of a smaller university in the states. Most students appear to know one another and interact cordially. While professional relationships are perceivable in the classroom, or at least in the settings we have visited, the students have shown much more casual interaction during their late-night loud parties outside of the dorm. This is similar to those interactions which I have personally observed both in and out of the classroom throughout my college career. Even though the students appear to know each other, this does not always imply that the students are friends with one another. For example some students ate in the cafeteria alone while others came with a group. Much like Americans, they are more drawn to befriend those who are like them and have mostly chosen to spend time in groups of native Polish people than with outsiders like our American group. The medical students we spent time with were much more interested in spending time with one another than with other individuals their age or younger. Overall they showed similar characteristics of relationships with their peers as those which might be expected between American students.

Relationships between professors and students have been interesting to observe because the interactions we have had as outsiders have been much less formal than those we have observed between the Polish students and the professors. For instance, I would not expect one of my professors in the United States to go to dinner with me if the occasion was not of the utmost importance much less to drink alcohol around a group of students. I have only been in a handful of courses where I had a casual relationship with my professor outside of the classroom but even still our classroom interactions have been nothing but professional. When we enter a classroom here the students show the highest respect for their teacher as would be expected in an American classroom and interactions outside of the classroom still tend to be in a dignified manner. The expectation of consistent professional relationships with the professors on our visit has morphed somewhat to include out-of-the-classroom interactions which are a strange mix of both professional and casual dynamics. The conversations we have had with the professors have been shockingly open and honest, specifically from their side. All in all I have been largely surprised to have more casual interactions with the professors here than I would expect in an American university and to still see such formal interactions between the professors and their own students.

Parent and child dynamic between the United States and Poland was a difference we became aware of after a week or so of being in Bydgoszcz and especially while visiting Toruń. Children seem to have much more freedom in Poland to do what they wish and go where they please without much intercession from their parents. In restaurants they run around the tables and scream while their parents talk casually at their table. We witnessed two young children riding bikes whom we assumed were unsupervised until we saw their father walking without haste several yards behind them. Some children here will ride the trams to and from school alone which would likely be considered improper by American parents of young children. In Krakow, the later primary students could be seen spending time in groups running around the square and joking with one another which I have to imagine would be unheard of in a busy American city and definitely unexpected on a university campus. I would be interested to see how such freedoms cause developmental differences between children here and children in the United States.

The most fascinating of all interactions to witness has been those between strangers. Since it has been said that “you can never meet a stranger” in Texas, the idea of cold or even hostile interactions between people who are complete strangers is foreign to me. Rather than the kindness and warmth which is characteristic of casual interactions with police in Texas, police are seen more as high authority and carry themselves as such. When smiled at, they simply stare at you and continue walking. That is if you are lucky enough to meet their gazes. Customer service is not highly emphasized and we have endured some semi-hostile exchanges in grocery stores, on trams, or in restaurants where the other’s frustrations with us were amplified by our not understanding nor reading Polish. Some tensions were relieved once we reached Krakow where the citizens are more familiar with tourists who do not speak Polish. Rather than making eye contact and smiling at one another when passing on the sidewalks, strangers typically keep their eyes down and do not speak to one another. We however, get stares wherever we travel because of our American accents and likely also because of the way we are dressed. The “cold shoulder” tends to be more common in interactions between strangers here than those I would expect in America, and especially in Texas.

While there are some similarities, I have been surprised to see differences especially in relationships which I had expected to be more formal. It would seem that interactions between strangers are fairly cold but once the barrier between stranger and acquaintance has been broken the relationship can quickly evolve into a casual friendship with much openness. The relationships between people of this country have been much like I had expected but the interactions I have had with the people have been surprisingly different than originally expected.


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