Bethelhem Workneh is a 26 Ethiopian IT graduate, who came to Poland over 2 years ago. The decision about relocating hasn’t brought her what she was hoping for, but as she says – the happy ending’s yet to come.
I got my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Addis Ababa University and I found myself in a difficult situation back home. I couldn’t really find work to be able to get by, let alone the work in the field I’m interested in. I had several Ethiopian friends living in Poland, who were telling me how wonderful it was here and how infinite the possibilities were. I met the Ethiopian representative, who was in touch with the work agency in Poland, and he offered to help me with the process of transfer. I researched other options (other European countries) and the process of applying for a work visa to Poland turned out to be the simplest. So, I took the chance and moved to Katowice. Only, it didn’t really work out and it all turned out completely wrong.
Well, I was supposed to have a job waiting for me here. When I arrived, it turned out that the employer decided not to hire any more Ethiopians because of some issue they had encountered with my fellow countrymen. For two months the agency was trying to find another job for me. They were unsuccessful. At that point I had to take matters into my own hands. With the help of the Ethiopian community I was able to find work in the courier company, but that turned out to be another difficult experience. The work was physical and really, really hard. Some parcels were extremely heavy and I wasn’t cut out for such a daily effort. I managed to find another agency, which found a waitressing job for me in a five-star hotel in Warsaw. So, after one year in Katowice, I moved. And I still have this job. It’s ok.
But this is not what you were hoping for?
Exactly. I have a lot of friends who managed to get office jobs they wanted. For me – it’s difficult. I have been trying for a long time to find work in IT here and there have been times of complete resignation. But now I’m trying again, hoping for some break-through.
What were your expectations of Poland before you came here?
Oh, I expected wonders! /laugh/ The image of Poland built by stories of people I knew was really different. It seemed almost like a paradise, where everything is easy, accessible and right in front of you. Big world full of big opportunities just waiting to be taken. Now I know that people who were telling me stories that were untrue, were just getting a commission for every person brought to the agent. And naturally, I was disillusioned very quickly given the initial obstacles.
You were 23 years old. Were you at all ready for such an experience?
Yes and no. It was hard and also – the first time I was on my own. Back home I was always staying with my family. Here, I had to deal with everything myself. But I managed to connect with the Ethiopians living in Poland and there’s a lot of them! Crowds of people! /laugh/ I’d never realized how big the Ethiopian community in Poland was, and in the end, it turned out to be a very real support system for me. I have lots of Ethiopian friends.
Do you have any Polish friends?
Not really, just my colleagues. But they are very friendly and also fun! That’s why I know that it’s not really true that Polish people are unfriendly or cold, which is something I hear a lot. Probably it just takes time for them to open up. I respect that.
How about Katowice and Warsaw? You lived in each city for over a year, what do you think about them?
My life in Katowice was complicated and I had to deal with troubles in finding work, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to explore it or even meet a lot of people. It was just a really hard time for me. Warsaw on the other hand is a different story. Living here made me feel like I’m somewhere big and important, like I really stepped out of my homeland and I’m trying to make it in the world. I love this city’s dynamics, the crowds on the streets, the general atmosphere and vibe from people. Maybe it will sound strange but I like that people in Warsaw are just minding their business. It suits me. Contrary to Katowice, Warsaw is also very diverse and people are used to seeing different skin colors – it’s just cool, normal, nobody cares. In Katowice people were sometimes staring. It never bothered me because clearly, they were just curious. But it’s a difference between those two cities that is very noticeable. I also had a nice experience visiting Gdańsk, Kraków and Wrocław, but Warsaw is still my number one.
What else do you like in your life in Warsaw?
The Ethiopian community here. I melted in really fast and made a lot of good friends. We hang out a lot, we go out to the cinema, to bowling, and in the summer – we enjoy Warsaw’s parks and picnic. I really love pierogi. /laugh/ And my life is generally so much better than the one I could have right now back in Ethiopia.
Have you visited home since you moved to Poland?
No. I’m not very eager to do that. I really miss my family and my oldest, best friends but I have a plan to put myself into a better situation. Spending money on a plane ticket just to visit is something I cannot afford right now. And of course – if you go back home, you have other spendings, people expect some things from you… It’s just too much of an investment into something that really would just take you a few steps back.
So, you are not giving up on Poland?
No. Not yet at least. /laugh/ I applied for a card of stay and I still want to figure it out here. But if nothing changes in the near future, I will think about moving somewhere else. I already didn’t accomplish what I wanted by the age of 26 and staying in a deadlock would just be a waste of time. But I really hope I will be able to find a good job here and that there’s some happy ending awaiting. Poland grows on me. I don’t know why, but it does. /laugh/