In this latest series, I will be going through all the countries I’ve travelled to on my mission to visit every single country in the world. In this article, we will be covering country #41: Poland. If you haven’t gotten a chance already, read this story first to find out why I’m trying to visit all 193 UN-recognized countries.
Poland is easily in my top 5 favourite country of all time. And I attribute that to the friendly people, ease of travel, livability, English proficiency and things you can do and see. During my time in Poland, I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work teaching English as well as hanging out with locals and learning more about the Polish culture.
VIDEO – Country #41: Poland
Blog post on Poland
- Workaway Experience in Europe Part 1: Teaching English in Poznan Poland
- Should You Visit Wroclaw Poland? (Tourist + Digital Nomads)
- Auschwitz – Visiting One of the Most Horrific Sites on Earth
- My Complete 22 Days Poland Spending Breakdown
- Workaway Experience in Europe Part 2: Teaching English in Gdansk Poland
Arriving in Warsaw
Poland was my first real country in Europe after completing the South America segment of my one year trip around the world. I arrived really late after a connecting flight to Lisbon and Zurich. Whenever I go to a country or continent for the first time, I usually prefer to stay somewhere close to the airport. In this situation, I redeemed 15,000 Marriott points to stay for free at the airport hotel in Warsaw. The hotel was alright, nothing special, but the convenience really helped.
The next day, I went back to the airport and purchased a sim card for 5 PLN (roughly $1.75 CAD). My next destination is going to be Poznan where my volunteer work in Poland would be taking place.
I went on the website “blablacar” which is a ride-sharing program and paid 10.50 Euros to take me to Poznan. I ended up ride-sharing with this Polish guy who spent a huge amount of our car ride cursing none-stop. He was also a smoker and was offended when I told him not to smoke while he’s driving. I laughed when I told him smoking is bad for you and he disagreed and said there’s no science behind smoking being bad for you. Regardless, he was entertaining to talk with for the duration of the car ride.
Eventually, we arrived in Poznan and he kindly dropped me off at the Airbnb I was staying at. That same evening, I met up with the JustSpeak coordinator who gave us some pizza and briefed all the volunteers on where we will meet the next day.
On the following day, we met in the mall and they loaded us up on a big mini-bus taking us to the place where the volunteer work would take place.
I secured a volunteer gig teaching English in Poland through a website called Workaway. From there, I applied with JustSpeak who took volunteers from English speaking countries around the world.
The gig would have us teach English to locals for a duration of five days. In exchange, we would get our own private room in a lake-side conference centre as well as three meals a day.
After travelling so rough in South America in the previous months, it felt really good to be back in western civilization. Despite being in a completely different country, Europe pretty much has similar infrastructure as Canada and the USA. The facility I stayed at even had a gym which I definitely welcomed as I was starting to feel out of shape.
JustSpeak English conversations
Doing volunteer work was both fun and grueling. The first set of activities we did were group-based ones. Here, we played games and would force the local Polish people to speak English the entire time. It’s pretty much an English speaking boot camp for the locals.
In between the group activities, we also had a one-on-one conversation time with the locals. Here, they would practice having different types of conversations with native English speakers. We would discuss basic things like renting a car in a foreign country to international affairs, politics, and just general small-talk.
The little free time we had was used to hang out with fellow volunteers and adult-students in a more casual setting. It’s actually a great way to make friends.
The only thing I didn’t like about these English camps is the little free time you have. Many days I was left brain-dead and just wanted to be left alone.
Despite the lack of free time, I truly enjoyed my time with JustSpeak. Some of the students and volunteers are now my lifelong friends. After the camp was over, I would end up travelling to Wroclaw with Alice, Malgosia, and Pawel.
Going to Wroclaw
After leaving camp, we headed to the train station going to Wroclaw.
I crashed Pawel’s house’s couch.
The following day, we would be going to the city centre of Wroclaw to do some sight seeing.
Spending time in Wroclaw
Wroclaw truly is a beautiful city.
Next, we checked out the Japanese garden.
The Japanese garden is kind of random and was quite unusual to be in Wroclaw. But I think it’s their way of trying to make the city more international.
Finally, we made our way towards a local museum to check out the local art.
I’m not a big art guy and don’t really understand what’s happening in the paintings and didn’t care that much about it.
I parted ways with Pawel (pronounced as pa-vel) who was showing us around Wroclaw (W is pronounced as V in Poland and C is pronounced as S therefore Wroclaw is pronounced as vro-slav). In the coming days, Malgosia and her boyfriend would show me and Alice around the city and enjoyed the nightlife in Wroclaw.
In my last few days in Wroclaw, I ended up crashing at my friend Tom’s, Airbnb. We spent a few days just chilling and we even met a fellow Canadian who was living in Wroclaw as an international student.
Going to Krakow
Wroclaw is an awesome city and I’d love to return there one day. Alas, the trip must go on. Tom and I made our way to Krakow by bus. There, I would be meeting my friend Alice to explore the city.
Alice and I stayed in the Atlantis hostel. She went to this city a few days before me and was already in the hostel when I arrived. After dropping off my belongings in the dorm’s lockers, we started exploring the city.
Turns out that there is a lot of British tourists here. They have a bad reputation for getting drunk and starting fights. I kind of wished I saw that happen.
Alice also wanted to get some Chinese food with me because it was more legit eating Chinese food with a Chinese person. I thought that was hilarious.
Auschwitz extermination camp
The next day, Alice and I went to the bus station to go to Auschwitz. I paid 28 PLN (roughly $9.80 CAD) for the 1.5-hour bus ride to this historic site.
You have two options for getting a ticket to Auschwitz. Half the tickets are available in advance online or you can show up in person and get a free ticket on a first come first serve basis.
We opted to get it in person.
The entrance of Auschwitz is both eerie and classic. You probably have seen it before if you’ve watched the movie Schindler’s List.
Alice and I split up and I went from building to building reading up on the history of the holocaust.
One of the things I really liked about the Auschwitz museum is how each building represented a country in Europe during the holocaust. Each country was affected differently during the holocaust and it was interesting to learn the individual events that took place.
Some areas of the extermination camp were downright horrific. I remember seeing a room full of hair from the individuals who perished in this place.
And of course, the most horrific place of them all is the gas and cremation chamber where countless lives were massacred by Nazi Germany.
I imagined myself being one of the hundreds of naked skeleton prisoners shoved in the gas chamber. There’s no air, and you’re packed body-to-body like canned sardines. I had to shake that thought out of my head because it’s freaking scary just thinking about it.
When everything was done, It probably took me 6 hours to see and read everything in the Auschwitz extermination camp.
From here, we would go to the concentration camp next.
Auschwitz concentration camp
To reach the concentration camp required us to take a complimentary bus ride to this site.
The place was actually destroyed after the war and many of the buildings are a re-enactment of what it used to look like.
The bunks inside the buildings would apparently fit three Jews per bed.
And of course, there is the iconic train station and railway from the movie Schindler’s List.
One weird thing I noticed in the concentration camp is the number of tourists taking selfies and having a picnic. It made me wonder if what they’re doing is disrespectful or not. Perhaps this place should be a site of happiness instead of a place of horror and sorrow from the past.
The next day, I left Krakow to go to Budapest and would be returning to Poland again in a few weeks.
I had a second English teaching volunteer gig in Poland. This time, it would be with Angloville as oppose to JustSpeak.
I flew to Gdansk from Aberdeen, Scotland after finishing up that segment of my trip to Europe. On my first night, I stayed at an Airbnb by the airport because the host offered discounted pickup service much cheaper than taxis would charge.
The next morning, I did my own city tour of the Baltic city of Gdansk before retreating back to a nearby hostel.
Gdansk is a beautiful city but I can’t say I’d like to come back here. The vibe in this city didn’t mesh well with me and I still prefer Krakow or Wroclaw over Gdansk.
Early the next morning, I met up with Angloville and they drove us to the campsite.
This time, I shared a room with another volunteer (Chris), who turned out to be a good roommate for my 8-days with Angloville.
Angloville is similar to JustSpeak except it felt more systematized and they definitely worked us harder. We would have fewer breaks and it’s non-stop English conversations with Polish teens.
Working with Polish teens
I felt apprehensive at first working for this camp because I pictured working with teenagers to be quite a nightmare. To my surprise, I really enjoyed working with Polish teens.
They reminded me of what my life was like when I was in high school. Their struggles felt very real to me. I remember one girl sharing a story of her parents passing away. She and her siblings ended up living with her aunt who decided to kick them all out of her house. She became homeless. Thankfully, her highschool teacher ended up adopting her and providing her a home. She had a smile on her face as she told me her story but I can feel her pain of being abandoned and feeling unwanted deep down inside.
She told me of her plans to join the army because it will toughen her up. Her story was heartbreaking and I hope things turned out well for her.
I really hit it off with these two Polish students. As part of the camp, the Polish teens would do a final presentation on a topic of their choosing. Every breakfast, I would chat with Monica (tall girl), and Nina (short girl). They really liked me and used to teach me Polish words. When it came time to pair up the volunteers with the students, they asked the coordinators if I can be their mentor for their final presentation.
It was really cool working with them and they did a terrific job at the end doing their final presentation on the country of Russia.
Monika still keeps in touch with me to this day and greets me every Christmas. I think they’re probably in College or University by now but it’s experiences like this that makes travelling really special.
After my volunteer gig with Angloville, Gdansk was over my next destination is Prague in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, I can’t say my experience there was anywhere near as good as my experience in Poland. But that’s another story for another day.
Doing volunteer work abroad is one of the best travel experiences you can ever do. And Poland is a great place to get started if you want to dip your toes doing a Workaway volunteer work.
It is also possible that I might do volunteer work with JustSpeak or Angloville again in the future. But if I do that, I will definitely spread out my volunteer work. I felt burnt out after two back to back intense volunteer work between Poland and the Czech Republic.
I love Poland and I can see myself coming back here one day. And possibly living in Wroclaw or Krakow for once a month every year. Both those cities are beautiful and amazing and are worth checking out if you’re travelling in Eastern Europe.