Poland became part of the European Union in 2004 when the country was still economically poor. Many Poles came to Scotland looking for new opportunities. The impact of this wave of immigration has been the subject of a debate focused on cultural integration of Poles within Scotland. In 2006, Magda, a young Polish postgraduate came to Edinburgh in order to develop her career in the Arts. Cosmopolita Scotland has interviewed her to get her perceptions and views on the cultural integration of the Polish community in Scotland.
I am visiting Magda’s studio in the Edinburgh’s old town. The little room is full of canvases and designs, with sketches scattered all over her desk. She is very friendly and energetic. I had a little chat with her about the Spanish community in Scotland. She seems surprised when I mentioned that, according to estimates, about 30,000 Spaniards live in Edinburgh. With a soft Scottish accent she tells me that she is well integrated with the local community and not too aware of the reality for other foreigners living here in Scotland. I want to know more about this young artist’s experience of integration.
How were your first years living in Scotland?
I came to Scotland nine years ago. My target was to gain (1) some relevant work experience. I thought I was coming for six months, but the reality was that I stayed a bit longer… I came after my master’s degree, and because I came before the crisis it was still really easy to find a relevant job in my field.
How would you describe your perception of Scottish society when you first arrived (1)?
I was surprised that everyone was so friendly and so welcoming. I don’t know, because I came from Poland, I thought people would be unfriendly. I don’t know why. It was just a stereotype maybe. But actually I’ve never experienced any sort of prejudice.
Have you noticed any changes in the society over these years?
I don’t know if the society has changed but I have. What I’m doing is different now and I think the way I perceive the country is different after nine years. I don’t think I’d say the society has changed. I guess is because you’re becoming less of a foreigner because you’ve lived here for so long. Although everyone knows I’m a foreigner. I think it has to do more about one’s (3) objectives.
I don’t know if the society has changed but I have…the way I perceive the country is different after nine years.
How did you experience the process of being integrated in a new culture?
It’s true it’s a process. The first two years were an interesting experience. You need to adjust. It’s exciting because you learn from another country. When I came I thought it would be the same as at home, only speaking a different language. But in reality, it’s a new culture.
It’s a kind of (4) a shock. There were too many things that I took for granted (5). People speak in a different way, act in a different way. For example, people ask ‘how are you?’ all the time, whereas at home people don’t ask that. But they don’t mean it, it’s just a way of saying hello. It’s part of the things you have to learn and is funny sometimes. And exciting!
There was a moment after a few years when I felt this was my home. And I guess I’m on the stage (6) now that I don’t know where my home is. In a way I am from here, but I’m not. Even if I go back home I would be a foreigner. It’s like being from anywhere, or rather from everywhere.
In a way I am from here, but I’m not.
Do you think you left anything of your Polish identity behind?
People here are much calmer and so well-organised. That does not happen back home. People in Eastern Europe or in Poland are much more emotional about things. Sometimes I missed these kind of personalities. And also details, things I used to like.
What I miss about living on the continent is being able to have a good coffee in the evening. But I guess if I go home I would miss British pubs and fish and chips. And I hated fish and chips when I came here. But now I love it. I guess that’s also part of my integration.
Now I live by the sea and I can’t imagine myself living far from it. But I spent 25 years of my life not being able to go to the seaside whenever I wanted. I find it interesting that you don’t know how much you can adjust. So when you come you’re just like “there’s no coffee in the evening”. But then you realise that you can adjust to it and these things are not longer important to you.
You don’t know how much you can adjust.
How do you perceive the Polish community here in Scotland since you arrived?
I don’t know. But maybe what Scottish people expect is that the Polish just came to do unqualified jobs. Maybe people get surprised that I am actually working in my profession and I didn’t come to get a job, earn money and then go back home. That this is my choice. Maybe the society thinks that people from Poland don’t want to stay. I think people are much more integrated than they were before. Generally speaking I think there is just this stereotype but the process of cultural integration is changing. Now people are not coming just for work. Maybe this vision could change in the future.
When do you think Polish immigrants decided to go back home?
I don’t know. My feeling is that maybe it has to do with the crisis here. Poland is now doing quite well. But when most of the people left there was a big difference in wages. That’s more equal nowadays. So when people now make their choices it is because they can find similar jobs here or in Poland. Of course, not all of them. but I think it was a big gap between both countries.
Do you find the culture of work here more easygoing than in Poland?
I think it is more secure. In Poland things are more crazy. Here everything is controlled by a law. And there’s always a lot of structure, because people are better organised. You can actually learn a lot from people here.
When I worked in an office I really enjoyed the fact that everything is structured and organized. There’s always a way of doing things that is actually efficient. Maybe is something someone has to learn and bring it back to Poland.
Finally, has Scotland made a better life for you?
Maybe a different life. I can’t compare Edinburgh with Kraków, but I’d say what I like about Edinburgh is the access to nature. You can take a train and you’re soon in the Highlands for instance, or the coast. And Edinburgh is so small. Back in Kraków I had to spend two hours a day just to get to work. I suppose that if I lived in London it would be the same but I’m in Edinburgh. It is also easier to meet people. And the air is healthy whereas where I came from it is very polluted. But this is because I came from a particular place to this particular place. I’m happy with my choice.
Use of English for Spanish Speakers
- Definition: Obtain or secure (something wanted or desirable).
- Example: To gain some experience and go back home.
- Translation: Obtener, conseguir.
(2) First arrived
- Example: How would you describe the Scottish society when you first arrived?
- Translation: nada más llegar.
- Example: it has to do more about one’s objectives.
- Translation: de uno mismo
(4) It’s kind of
- Example: It’s kind of a shock.
- Translation: Es como si fuera un shock.
- Comment: This expresion is used to describe a vague idea. In this case it’s not an actual shock but something similar.
(5) Take for granted
- Example: There were too many things that I took for granted
- Translation: dar por hecho
(6) On the stage
- Example: I’m on the stage now that I don’t know where my home is.
- Translation: en la etapa (de algo)