Alejandra Villena is a 26-year-old Peruvian student at the Faculty of International Relations and Department of International Security Study at Collegium Civitas. She came to Warsaw one year ago after her cousin recommended Poland as a good place to continue education.
Not only geographically, but also culturally so far away… Why Poland?
I was thinking about doing my masters abroad and I had a cousin who had been studying here, in Katowice. She said I really should consider coming to Poland. I checked my options in many European countries, I weighed the pros and cons and it turned out, she was right. Poland was the best choice, most suitable for me at least. And after all – she did stay in Poland and she is working now. So clearly there’s something more to it, than just the academic possibilities.
And you had someone close in the country, so it was probably a little bit easier to take this step?
Sure. Even though I’m based in Warsaw, it helps to have someone with a similar background, who also has more experience in this new reality. I’ve never been to Poland before, in fact the first time I heard about your country and even placed it on the map, was when Russia invaded Ukraine. The whole world was talking about how millions of Ukrainians were fleeing to Poland. You were in every news in every country in the world.
What were your expectations before you came here?
What I knew somehow didn’t agree with what I could see in Google. /laugh/ I wanted to see how Warsaw looks, find out about the architecture, city’s dynamics and its people. And all I managed to get was an image of the Palace of Culture. /laugh/ I also saw some videos from YouTubers living in Poland. I kind of hoped that Poland would be like Germany, because the general understanding in Peru is that Germany is the best country in Europe – with the best government, the best work market, the best people or even transport. But online photos of Poland were really gloomy. It did not look very modern, not so encouraging anyway. So, I wasn’t really sure what was awaiting me here. /laugh/ When I arrived, I was so happy! My first impression was really good!
And afterwards? How do you like it so far?
I really like it. My favorite thing about Warsaw is the public transportation. Good connections, always on time, easy to use and safe.
Is it that different from Lima?
Definitely. Back home the transport is just really awful. And also – dangerous, just like the streets. I don’t walk with a phone in my hand in Peru. Here I can walk, have a video call and nothing’s going to happen to me. Poland, and Warsaw in particular, is very safe. I really feel secure here. And there’s also the fact that you can pay with debit or credit card for anything, anywhere. I don’t need to have cash, like ever. That’s really comfortable and in Peru – very uncommon.
You are Peruvian, so you’ve got to be a foodie.
I am. /laugh/
Let’s talk about what you eat here.
Well, as a Peruvian, of course I believe there’s no better food than ours – it’s like gold for us. There’s a reason why the best restaurant in the world is in Peru – we are very proud of our cuisine. So, obviously, coming to Poland, I never expected fireworks. /laugh/ But I tried Polish food and I really like it. I also go to the restaurants, there’s a lot of them here and you can get all kinds of world cuisine. My favorite one is Prime Cut. But it’s not Peruvian. There is not a single restaurant that serves Peruvian dishes here and I think that it wouldn’t even be possible. Our food is so diverse with an extraordinary variety of ingredients – fish, chicken, beef, fruits, vegetables and spices – whatever you want really, done in a certain way. I tried to cook my favorite dishes but it’s just not the same without the original components.
How about the people? Did you find similar cordiality here?
Yes and no. Poles and Peruvians are very different. It’s definitely easier to find and maintain connections back home. The social life in Peru is more natural, simpler. Here people are nice, kind and for sure very helpful, but it’s very hard to break the ice. At the beginning I felt people here were really cold, but it’s not quite that. They are just really hard to access, there is some kind of a barrier when it comes to getting to know them. Very distanced. Also in Peru, when people meet tourists, they show them their best side, act super friendly and go out of their way to make a connection. Here, it’s not that easy. /laugh/
Do you have Polish friends?
Some, yes. They have a really good vibe and I like them a lot, but to be honest I connected mostly with a group of international students. My best friend here is Ukrainian – we live together. I also have Sebastian who is from Ecuador, which is nice, because we can speak in Spanish and we both feel a little bit like home because of it.
How about the Peruvian community in Warsaw?
There isn’t any! There’s really only a few Peruvians living in Poland. Around the world it’s different and in Europe we travel mostly to Spain or Italy.
Because of the language and the climate?
I think so. Polish winter is something I’ve never experienced before. I used to go skiing in the USA, so I thought I knew snow and cold. It turned out – not so much. /laugh/ Living in the country, where winter with its cold and darkness takes up at least four, five months of the year is a challenge. Last year I couldn’t go out of home, I was so, so cold! I was putting on my puffy jacket with gloves, hat and all, and as I was making my way through the snowy and slippery pavements, I kept asking myself – “Why so cold? Why so cold?” /laugh/ This winter is kinder to me – so far at least.
How do you find the general condition of living here, in terms of finances?
Well, when you go out to the restaurant it’s pretty much the same or a little cheaper than in Peru. But when it comes to the rent, Poland is very expensive! I live in the center of Warsaw – on Marszałkowska street, and I’m sharing a small apartment with a friend. We were extremely lucky and got the deal of a lifetime paying approximately PLN 3.000 monthly plus bills. In Peru, in a really good neighborhood, you could easily find a 3-bedroom apartment for PLN 2.000.
Have you thought about what you’re going to do after you do your masters?
I have one year of studies left and then I would like to go back home for a couple of months. I guess I’m going to take it from there but I definitely consider staying here. I really like the order here and most of all – the safety.