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  • Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland

     

  • EWA GLUZA

  • "Local councillors in this country do not merely sit behind their desks; they run around really helping people out. I believe I would be good at it."
     

     

    I have been living in the United Kingdom for 15 years. I came here before Poland even joined the European Union, so I needed to obtain a work permit first. I evidently overstayed though: that one-year contract I came on continues until today. (laughs)


    Before coming to Britain, I worked as a manager in Orbis Hotel in Bielsko-Biała, Poland, but here in the UK, I started again from the bottom: in the kitchen. First three months were genuinely shocking. I cried every night and kept asking myself: what am I even doing here?


    I worked in the hospitality industry for the first seven years of my life here, and each person who has been through that knows how hard it is. You work 60-70 hours per week, day in, day out, no holidays or weekends. At some point, I realised that I had to change something because, in the longer run, I would not be able to cope with this.


    Despite that, I must admit that I received a warm welcome here. I lived in the staff house, and my colleagues were so kind that they even brought me a TV set so that I could get accustomed to the language. At that time it was not common to meet a Polish man or woman here, so each of us was treated as a phenomenon.


    Despite that, I decided to retrain, and started looking for work in accounting. I found a Polish company in London where I would go once a week to get some work experience and learn the ropes. I obtained all necessary qualifications, and this is when job opportunities finally began to appear on the horizon.


    I gave up the job at the hotel almost overnight because I knew I had to escape this vicious cycle, and I would not have a chance to develop if I stayed in hospitality. I found my first job in the payroll division after a year, but then the recession came, and as a junior worker I was the first in line to get the sack.


    Soon afterwards a friend was leaving her job as a cleaner at Hertford College in Oxford, and she suggested I could step in for her. I had been working there for half a year when they started to look for an accountant. I surprised them by putting forward my application and with a bit of luck I got the job. I have been there for five years now.


    That job gave me a bit more time to do charity work. We began by organising a proper Polish dance party, for which we even had some small donors, each of whom gave us some 10 pounds or so. The event left us with some spare cash in the pot - and that is how we founded the Oxford Polish Association.


    There were five of us – the founding members - all of us female. Men cheered for us, that is all. We wanted to act, and they did not get in the way, which is already helpful. (laughs)


    I believe it is best to show Poland through our culture and traditions which – whether it is Christmas or Easter – are genuinely fascinating for the Brits. I explained that we have 12 dishes, share some Christmas wafer, put some hay on the table, and what the whole ritual of an empty chair for an unexpected guest is all about. They were astounded and loved it straight away. For the last Fat Thursday, I brought them some Polish pączki. They ate them all!


    But remembering Polish holidays does not rule out celebrating the British ones, too. In November, I always wear a beautiful poppy to remember British veterans and the Remembrance Sunday. Many people notice that and they are glad we can celebrate it together.


    Recently, I also joined the parish council. For months people have been persuading me to do it, because they know that, despite its name, the Oxford Polish Association works not only with Polish people. We are not interested in nationality, but in improving the experience of living together and being one big Blackbird Leys community.


    Where is home? Here in Oxford. I think I fully realised that when we bought a house here. At that point, I began to feel at home. Now, because of Brexit, I want to apply for British citizenship, too: the government seems to be promising that everything will be all right, but who knows what is going to happen in three, five, or ten years.


    Everybody wonders if they could stay and what is the new immigration policy going to look like, while I think about something else: will I still be able to stand for the local elections? I would like to be a councillor but not a party member – I just want to be an independent candidate serving the local community. Councillors in this country do not merely sit behind their desks; they run around helping people.

    I believe that is something I would be good at.


     

     

    Words: Jakub Krupa

    Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

     

     

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