On-the-Job: Two Teachers in Poland

Marty, a young, energetic American, teaches and pursues other ventures.

What brought you to Poland, and what has made you stay?

Well, that’s a familiar question. First of all, my grandparents were from Poland so I grew up around the language, hearing stories of what it was like a long time ago. And since I’m from Chicago, an area where a lot of Polish immigrants settled, I have many memories of the kind of Polish life that took hold in the United States as it was expressed in the immigrant community.

I came here first in eighty-eight or eighty-nine, to meet my family. We had had contact via letters and packages, but I had never met them in person.

When I decided to come back here to stay after the first trip, people looked at me like I was crazy. They couldn’t understand it. And, at that time, it was pretty difficult living here. It’s gotten easier, but it still has its frustrations. The laws are such a pain in the ass: you have to do this, you have to do that, then you have to do it three more times in two different places. Bureaucracy is the universal problem.

I prefer the East as opposed to the West. I think I was born a hundred years too late, you know. I like nice things in life, but seeing traditional ways of life, the way people live in places like the Ukraine and Bulgaria – everything is totally different and interesting. Paris, London? Yeah, they’re nice, but after that, what is there? Every place has a McDonald’s, I hate that. It shouldn’t be like that everywhere.

Enter Ben, a Brit who teaches English with Marty.

What do expats do in Krakow?

People play music. There is a lot going on in the music scene here. There are tons of different clubs around. I play guitar, jazz and blues. And I can make money at it, on the basis of the Polish economy anyway. It supplements my teaching job.

Krakow is a very busy cultural center. There is so much to do here. I was looking at the poster board at the university here and there are five or six musical things going on tonight alone. And I’m not even talking about other things like galleries and exhibitions. Every taste will be catered for at a reasonable price, a lot of it free. In fact, there is a sacred music festival going on at the moment in seven of the churches around town. You know, you can’t get away with playing any old bollocks. There are some reasonable standards here, even among the buskers in the square. The general tenor here is that Krakow prides itself on its culture, and its architecture is the foundation for that. . . . The local people are really receptive to whatever you’ve got to offer. They’re really wide open. But it has to be good – no bullshit.

Marty, what do you do other than teach English?

I operate a recording studio. I got into it through my work in radio. When I was a kid, I was always hanging around radio. My uncle was in radio, so I followed on his coattails into the business. I got into it here reading the news on one of the first independent radio stations in all of Poland, maybe even in all of Eastern Europe. Everything just kind of snowballed, the momentum carried me through.

I got together with a couple of friends of mine from the station who were working down in production. Like everybody, when you’re young you want to do your own thing. So we scrimped and saved and put it together. We found a little hole-in-the-wall place and opened it. Started doing commercials and business started rolling in. We just added a second room, which we remodeled. The equipment is high technology; everything is digital, though I hesitate to use the words “state-of-the-art,” but it is top-of-the-line.

The reason I think we’re succeeding – forgive me for blowing our own horn – is that we’re the only ones who are really creative. There are other recording studios in town. The ads you hear on the radio here are usually just straight reading, maybe with some basic music. But we’re using Western imagination and creativity. We use sound effects.

Now we’re making ads for radio stations around the country. And believe this or not – we were shocked – we’ve started doing commercials for Chicago, in both Polish and English. I am looking at the fax machine thinking, “What’s going on?” People from Chicago want us to do ads for them?” The only thing I can think of is that it’s cheaper. And they keep coming, so obviously they’re satisfied. And to me, the proof is in the pudding. We’re competent enough to meet Western standards, where you’ve got the most competitive radio industry in the world.

So I guess we’re really riding this wave of privatization, in terms of radio and television. And I think we’re really well-positioned.

So, you don’t plan to teach English for much longer?

Well, I don’t plan to do it for the rest of my life. There are bigger and better things. And I don’t want to diminish teaching by saying that, because it’s very important. But radio is where my heart is.

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