My name is Konrad Wdowiak and I was born in Poland in 1976, when the communist regime realised that less and less people support them. At one point they decided to introduce Martial Law, blocked the borders so no one could leave the country; not too many people could come in neither. And Lublin, my hometown, is the place where people of different religions and nationalities used to live together for hundreds of years. The remnants of its former burghers’ cultures are still there. During communist rule they were kept timidly hidden and never praised like those people have never existed. But they were still there: one of my friends was going to a different church than I was, another spoke to his mother using language I didn’t understand, a tomb next to my grandpa’s grave was inscribed with marks I couldn’t recognise. A curious kid like me has always had plenty of questions to which my parents, both born during WWII, could not really give many answers. My grandparents sometimes mentioned their pre-war neighbours or childhood friends. It all seemed so distant.
We couldn’t travel outside Poland but at least I could travel within. And the more I’ve learnt about my hometown, the more I knew that there was still to discover. In the meantime, the communism collapsed and we could go abroad, not that we could afford it. I started my university years and when studying towards my master’s degree in Business and Management I decided that I want to study a bit longer, so I joined another faculty to learn towards master’s degree in Sociology. That was when I signed up for a programme allowing students to live and work in the United States. And apart from multicultural past I become a participant in the multicultural present.
I went to live in California and I spent there 1 year living among people coming from different cultural backgrounds. By that I do not necessarily mean different ethnicities, because that’s where I learnt that even people coming from the same country and having the same passport, like the US, may be poles apart. Realising that cultural differences can be overcome if people are willing to put common goal first was one of the most important takeaways for me.
When there’s a will, there’s a way.
I came back from the States with a totally different mindset than I used to have before. Not only I was almost another person, I was willing to share my revelations with everyone who wanted to listen. And in Lublin, which may be the biggest city of Eastern Poland with great academics, but it is still only 9th in size in the whole country and being surrounded by mostly rural, not industrialised area (long story short, its decline started with the Russian partition, maybe something for a post one day) my knowledge and skills were neither needed nor appreciated. That’s why I moved to Kraków, medieval capital and the second most important Polish city with lots of international ties, including the US.
My life in Kraków was very important to my professional career. Apart from being a university lecturer, I was also a trainer specialising in intercultural communication. That is where I started to work with some of the relocation companies to train their clients who were moving to live and work in Poland. I offered them tailored programmes about dealing with daily life, told them how to make friends and socialise; I was their guide to a new life as an expat. I loved my job then and I still love it now. It gives me the opportunity to meet such variety of people and learn from them as much as they learn from me.
When I was living in Kraków I started to be involved in SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research). Not only I was managing the local branch, the biggest in Poland, but also co-organised SIETAR Europa Congress 2011 being responsible for parallel programme and social events. That’s when I met friends for life. It’s 2021 now and these people are still important to me. I was working with them in many other projects. I’m particularly proud of 2 – a NATO conference “Intercultural competence as a Key Factor to the Effective International and Cross-Border Cooperation” when I trained a group of military and civilian personnel in Szczecin in June 2012 and almost one year lasting Euro 2012 Academy (official intercultural training programme of the Polish government for hospitality industry employees to increase their communication skills when dealing with tourists visiting Poland for EURO 2012 football championship). It was the latter when I was paid one of the best compliments so far – one of the participants, a 60-year-old woman, before the second day of training stood up and said loudly “we should listen to Konrad, my daughter was in Spain and she says that he is telling the truth”.
The 2012 was a year of changes. Together with my partner we were learning Spanish thinking of moving out to Spain one day. We actually ended up in London, where he was offered a job. That’s when I become a trailing spouse or an accompanying partner like some of us prefer to be called. And even though at the beginning it was a love – hate relationship, London is my home now. I know how hard it is to move to a different country because of a person you love. I know how hard it is to leave your friends and family behind and enter the unknown, especially if your partner goes to work and you stay at home every single day. That’s why I created a special programme to help people like me, because all these difficulties can take a toll on relationships and mental, as well as physical health. There is no need to walk this road alone.
Since 2006 I have helped hundreds of people to liberate from the boundaries of cultures. Yes, crossing these barriers makes us free because it allows us to think differently. And we can only decide on a truly best option if we can choose one from many. You can mix and match new ingredients whenever you want to and at the end you may be surprised how tasty the outcome can be!