[The post below is only my honest opinion.]
Although it’s not fair to compare a tiny Finnish town to a big Polish city, I am still going to write about how the general experiences have been for me in these two countries as a foreigner.
1. Looking different
I’ve finally started to jog alone in and around a nearby park here in Lodz and I garner quite a lot of attention! Practically everyone looks at me twice, probably wondering what’s a foreigner doing here. On a sunny day, my sunglasses and dyed hair do help but otherwise, I often end up getting noticed quite a lot. It is not so uncommon to see foreigners here in malls or other touristic places, but the number still remains quite low and hence a subject of curiosity. In Finland, especially in big cities, my plain South Asian look is probably old news as it’s quite common to see foreigners and also a lot of inter-racial couples and children.
I regularly enjoy the everyday Polish foods except perhaps bigos. I love the soups – zurek, rosol, barszcz, zupa pomidorowa. I have recently even started to like pickled cucumber (ogorki kiszone) so much! Polish food is delicious and so are the drinks- oh the varieties of divine Polish vodkas. Beer is not bad either. Finnish cuisine is a bit limited and mostly based on fish, meat and potatoes. My favorites probably were the varieties of pulla bread.
Poland is warmer than Finland. I lived in the Central West region of Finland, and on my second winter in the country I experienced as low as -30 degrees temperatures. Poland hasn’t been that harsh on me, although I was told that the last winter and this one have been exceptionally warm. I am indeed enjoying the shorter winters here, whereas in Kokkola I would have to wait almost until the end of April for all the snow to be gone. I also like seeing the sun for more than 5 months a year. Finland’s long, dark, 8 months of winter can get depressing sometimes.
4. Everyday nature
Nothing for me tops the dramatic Nordic natural beauty of Finland. I enjoyed living in Kokkola, which has many parks and forests. The season change is incredibly spectacular in Finland – it’s hard to believe that it’s the same place in different seasons. The summers are truly unique, with the sun almost never setting down in the Northern region of Finland, while the opposite in winter. I also had the fantastic opportunity of watching Northern lights (aurora) – nature’s most mesmerizing phenomenon – during my stay in Finland. Nature is a very big part of people’s everyday lives in Finland. Poland is naturally a very beautiful country as well, with the Baltic sea to the North to the magnificent Tatra mountain range to the South. Poland also has a lot of forests and lakes. But I feel more connected to nature while in Finland.
5. Daily costs and location
As a student, living in Poland has been much cheaper for me. Sometimes foods like chicken and apples can be even cheaper than in Nepal. Poland also has more options on purchasing goods and services as a customer. Finland has very limited choices on fashion stores, other kinds of shops and services as many big businesses are at least partly government-regulated.
Due to Poland’s central location, it’s quite easy and affordable to travel to countries around Europe. There are good ,direct connections to almost every major country. Life in Finland, on the other hand, is insanely expensive. Traveling is not as cheap and easy. Although the cruise trips to Sweden and Estonia are very popular, getting to port cities (Helsinki, Turku) from other places can still be expensive and long. So, living in Poland as a student, is fine, but as a worker, maybe not so much.
I have frequently been asked by foreigners and even Polish people if I’ve experienced any kind of racism in Poland. Honestly, no I haven’t. People do tend to stare quite often, but it is true for every country in the world with homogeneous population. I’ve sometimes felt unsafe during weekends when it’s very common to see drunk people around. It is also common to see gangs of guys (mostly football hooligans) walking around neighborhoods during evenings. I have also heard about street fights among guys taking place. But overall, it’s a safe country with lower rates of violent crimes compared to other big countries in Europe. As a foreigner, I just make sure that I’m cautious in going to secluded, unlit areas and I’ve just been fine. As I lived in a small town in Finland, going out alone even at 1 in the morning was perfectly safe. I haven’t tried doing that here in Poland and I am not very keen either. However, I generally feel much safer in Finland than in Poland.
7. University and studies
Since I am/was on an exchange year here, I can only speak for my university in Finland and university in Lodz here. As a technology student, I have found that the courses offered here are much more diverse. The students I found to be generally more hard-working and smarter. What I do miss about my university back in Finland are the infrastructures. I have no idea how the Polish universities rank worldwide, but I’ve been pretty satisfied as far as university and studies go. It’s a good idea to check and find out in-depth about the universities and education system if you’re planning on coming to Poland for studies, or Finland, for that matter.
8. Language, people and culture
I lived in Finland for almost three years and never really needed Finnish language to get by. Almost everyone there speaks English. Finland even accepts documents in English language for official purposes. Almost all major notices in big places are also in English and that makes life much easier. I did basics of Finnish language during my first year, but never really needed to use it in everyday situations. In Poland however, it’s a near miracle to find locals with fluent English language skills. And may I add, Polish language is one of the most difficult languages in the world (of course, if you’re of non-Slavic origin). You will definitely need at least basic Polish skills to get by, unless you plan on exclusively using signs and gestures. The government offices here have a very lax environment and are sometimes painfully slow. They still store a lot of data physically in big files etc. I would have imagined that they had moved on to the digital era of storage, but turns out not. I have even heard (and been surprised at) the staff announcing in Polish in foreigner’s department here! Getting an official job done at a government office is tedious (all your papers have to be translated and verified) and costly. In that aspect, it’s much easier, faster and more organized in Finland.
The Polish people are generally family-oriented, homely and religious. I’ve also found the people to be friendlier. I feel more connected with Poles than Finns. Finns are usually distant and aloof in the beginning, but I have also met some interesting Finnish people. Poland sometimes makes me more nostalgic and home-sick whereas Finland is altogether a completely different world.
Regardless of their own perks and drawbacks, I deeply love both countries for their unique specialties and the experiences they’ve offered me.