Meet Magdalena from Poland
Sidst opdateret: Thursday, 10. April 2014 - 11:55 / jkj
When Magdalena Szumanska packed her bags and left southern Poland for Denmark, she had no idea what was ahead of her. Her civil engineering studies in Horsens has brought a host of new experiences, as well as personal and professional challenges and opportunities.
A move from the south of Poland to Horsens in Denmark has meant a lot of life-changing experiences and new opportunities for the civil-engineering student Magdalena Szumanska. Her time in Denmark has taught her how to be independent, work in project-oriented teams, focus on problem solving – and that Danes have very different customs and social rules, not least when visiting restaurants. Here she talks about her experiences in her own words.
Growing up in Poland
I grew up in Bochnia, a city of around 30,000 inhabitants not far from Krakow in the south of Poland. It is famous for its salt mine, which is from the 12th century, and one of the oldest in Europe. It is a nice area, close to the mountains, and a good place to grow up.
At public school, I loved mathematics and biology, and I thought that I would perhaps like to do something connected to these subjects. Maybe I like them so much because I am very analytical and detail-oriented, and because they come easy to me. In public school, I only needed to see how to use a mathematical formula once or twice and then I could do it on my own. Strangely enough, the same has never applied to physics, where I have always had to work much harder to understand the formulas and rules.
While at school I was not completely sure what it was that I wanted to study, but engineering was in my thoughts. My father is a civil engineer who works with environmental engineering and talking to him about his work definitely inspired me. A big source of inspiration was an engineer who came to our school and talked about his experiences. He was originally from my city and had gone to my school, and he talked about how he had worked all over the world. I remember thinking that I would love to have a job like that, where I could travel and work on interesting projects all over the world.
His talk inspired me to look closer at engineering and look at how I could study for a master’s abroad and build my life there. I did a lot of research on it. It is a general trait, I think – when I want to learn about something, I am very focussed and thorough. I looked at various places, including England, but found out that the economic costs of studying there would be very, very high. I looked at Scandinavia as well, and found out that studying here would not only be free, but also mean that I was in a country not too far from Poland.
Coming to Denmark
I can remember coming to Denmark and Horsens for the first time and being all full of energy. Horsens is roughly the same size as Bochnia, and my first impression was that it was small, neat and really cosy. A big surprise was how calm everything was, compared to my home city – even in the afternoons and evenings.
I loved the whole experience of being independent and away from home, and studying something new and exciting. I look at the first six months as the honeymoon period. It has also been good since, but the first six months here were very special to me.
I started at VIA University College in Horsens just three days after arriving, so there was just time to unpack and then get ready for lessons. The first semesters, we were in an international class. There were students from all over Europe and beyond, and all the courses were in English. For me, personally, it was interesting to be with people from cultures that are very different from the Polish.
For example, I studied with two students from Spain that I quickly became friends with. They are very open about their emotions, which is different to how the Polish are. We do not share our emotions with people, unless we know them really well – and I think the same applies to Danes. It is something I think we could learn from. Generally, studying with students from different countries has made me more open minded and able to appreciate different cultures.
Now we have mixed classes with Danes and international students, and this gives us a better opportunity to understand the culture here, which could be a bit of a mystery in the beginning.
While studying here, I have really been able to appreciate how Danish unions have a hands-on approach to students – even if they are from other countries. For example, here at IVA there are many events that are run by IDA, and it is partially through them that I have made new friends.
Studying in Poland versus studying in Denmark
There are several things about my course and life here that are different from how things would be if I had stayed at home. I have not studied engineering in Poland, but I have friends who do, and my dad was educated in Poland.
In Poland, the focus is more on learning engineering theory and mathematics than there is here in Horsens. Here, our focus is on practical workshops and working on projects.
I have been surprised at how much time teachers are willing to spend on helping us and how easily we can get in contact them. I feel like I can always call or email my teachers and expect a quick response. There is further between teachers and students in Poland, and the interaction with them is so much more formal than here.
On a personal level, the independence here is great and the experience of living on my own has grown my confidence. I work part-time, study and can afford my own flat. This would not be possible in Poland.
Future and plans
In regards to school, I am getting close to my fifth semester, which represents another big difference between life here and in Poland. Here, we spend six months in an internship, working on projects and learning what it means to be a professional engineer. In Poland, you go for a two-week internship and that is it.
I have become very interested in energy efficiency in buildings, and I am hoping to find an internship connected with energy efficiency and sustainability in the building sector.
I want to continue my studies after getting my bachelor’s degree, and my goal is to do it at DTU. I really like it here in Denmark, and I would like to work for a Danish company after I finish my education – hopefully one where I can combine working on energy efficiency and environmental projects with travelling. At the moment, that is my plan for the future.
Watching the Danish
Polish and Danish culture are different in a number of ways. One is how Danes can be a bit reserved, until you introduce alcohol to the equation. After a beer or two, they are much more open and willing to talk. In Poland, you make friends through getting to know them and talking to them. You talk to everyone – on the street, in shops, everywhere.
That is definitely not done here. You can travel for hours on trains without talking to anyone. If you break those unwritten rules, it really confuses Danes. For example, I once went to a restaurant and talked to people at the other tables, but you could see that they thought it was weird and did not know how to respond. It was pretty funny, really.
The language can also be confusing. I probably should not say this, but reading it is very easy, because it is so similar to German. However, speaking and pronunciation is difficult – it is as if you swallow half of most words when speaking.
One of the things I like most about Denmark is how fair and open the society is. The infrastructure and education systems are good, and the people are incredibly friendly – once you get past the initial barrier.