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Is moving back to Poland after studying abroad really a downgrade?

“I would not see myself going back home after graduation”, a friend said to me at one of the Polish community’s parties back when I was studying in England. “Why?”, I insisted “have you found any opportunities so far?” “Not really, but I feel like going back to work in Poland after studying abroad would be a step back, you know?”. Back then I could not have agreed with her more. Now, following the cost-of-living crisis, skyrocketing rents and flying inflation rates, I see the problem in a completely new light.

I believe, we have been wired to think that Western education, job opportunities and standards of living are by default better than in our homeland. This belief, having been embedded in our society as far as in the early ’80s, and aggressively reinforced through the news, media and culture ever since, it can be almost impossible to think otherwise even if the circumstances change. Sparked by a conversation with a Polish fellow from the other day, I decided to ask some other acquaintances of mine, spread all across Europe and find out whether or not they plan to stay in their current country of residence after graduation. And while an average answer to this question could not have been more predictable a year ago, in January 2023, a year after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the faces of my respondents reflected skepticism and confusion.

Natalia was finishing her Masters in Science and Technology in Economics for Smart Cities and Climate Policy course at École Polytechnique on the suburban campus of Paris. While the two-year studying period no longer featured Covid restrictions or remote learning, it was no less full of challenges. “I was lucky, because our whole students' life revolved around the campus so I was not impacted by the pandemic restrictions”, mentioned Natalia. “I also did not feel the sharp rise in rent and bills this year as I was living in university accommodation”, she added. Although Natalia found living in Paris exhilarating and not overly expensive (when managed rationally), she decided to switch the environment from a bustling city life to a harmonious greenery. “I am soon moving to Switzerland for a graduate scheme and am looking forward to swapping an after-work beer with colleagues for a hiking trip”.

France offers prestigious engineering and technology courses with outstanding career prospects substantially surpassing those in Poland with a median salary three times higher for the entry-level position in mechanical engineering and double in software engineering. In addition, apart from the rent, the “Parisian standard of living” has not been drastically affected by the skyrocketing gas and heating and food prices as the Seine country maintains one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe, at 7% and remains energetically independent. “If I were to decide today, I would stay in France”, said Natalia to me with the assertion in her voice. “The country really pulled it off even in the time of crisis and going back to Poland comes with a financial and physical risk now”.

A very similar standpoint was presented by my friend studying Media and Culture with a minor in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. “Even though this already pricey country faced the highest inflation ever in October 2022 at 14.3% which later levelled off at 9.9%; it still offers greater job opportunities and salary for humanities courses graduates”, he mentioned. “On top of that, a wide range of social benefits, forms of employees’ protection and public healthcare system just perform better”, he added. While the numbers indeed speak for themselves and the Dutch welfare state is assessed as one of the best after Scandinavian countries functioning in Europe, the salaries at the average corporate firm compiled with the costs of living in Amsterdam in comparison to Warsaw or Wroclaw are no longer so unequivocal. While as for the third quarter of 2022, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in Amsterdam would cost 1,430 €, for the same standard one would need to pay only half, 590 € in Warsaw and one-third, 480 € in Wroclaw. ‘Despite the feeling of otherness, which you can’t diminish fully, I found my group of people and see myself settling down in the Netherlands. I will always long for some typical Polish reference such as analogies to PRL (Polish People’s Republic) or some childhood stuff, but one can create their small homeland everywhere”, summed up my friend.

Indeed, the widely understood welfare and financial aspects do not make up all the reasons for choosing a place of residence. Gabriela, a final year Digital Media student at the University of Leeds always stresses her attachment to Polish cinematography, poetry, literature and an overall cultural heritage. “I have recently started binge-watching Czterdziestolatek and realised how much I missed some typical Polish expressions, jokes and our way of being. I still dislike some aspects of it and wish we could take on some things from the Brits, such as the positive attitude to strangers and general social trust, but I am imbued with it’’, Gabriela said to me. “English culture is not worse, just different. But I cannot find too many interesting and artistic things to do in Leeds, which would not cost a fortune”, she added.

One could say that you cannot live off watching theatre performances and taking ballroom classes. Moreover, to enjoy those luxuries, you first need to have a stable and relatively well-paid job.

And are there any unique advantages of living and kicking off your career in Poland?

Despite the proximity with Ukraine, a remaining war zone, total dependence on Russian gas and an unforeseeable-to-fall in 2023 inflation, Poland still offers fairly the same as in the West living standards for substantially lower costs. Our homeland is also one of the fastest-growing startup hubs in tech referred to by many investors in the Silicon Valley of Europe and may pat itself on the back for having the lowest gender pay gap among all the countries we talked about today. Another incentive for those below the age of 26, often taken for granted is the tax exemption while for those who work and study, a 50% student discount, which paradoxically is absent in many Western European countries. Additionally, the accreditation earned at prestigious, foreign universities usually appeals to employers not only due to the alleged prestige of western universities but also reflects the challenges each international student needs to conquer to successfully complete their studies in such a new environment.

Polish cities could also be proud of the highly organised and inexpensive public transport compared to Western European cities and the wide range of accessible entertainment options related to our heritage, which for most of us born and raised here will always be the first point of reference.


Ania is a Newcastle University graduate, freelance journalist, PR professional and reporter.

Passionate about sustainable economics, social development, politics, religions & cultures. She wants to inspire her readers not to be afraid of radical solutions to the current social and economic problems.

Sources: Gender Pay Gap Is Poland a new Sillicon Valley? Polish start-ups Costs of Living Wages and costs of living in Europe Inflation in The Netherlands Salaries in software engineering Entry positions mechanical engeenering salary in France

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