Derry’s warm, welcoming ambience has not only strengthened ties with Poland, it has made its visiting students feel at ease here.
Scores of Polish secondary school students can now call Derry their home, having lived and worked in the city as part of an innovative work experience programme shared between Derry’s North West Academy of English and Poland’s Complex of Technical Schools in Wodzislaw, Slaski.
As the latest group of Polish students, all aged around 18 years-old, prepare to fly home for Christmas, we spoke to their course tutor, Ilona Bazan, about their collective experiences here and what it is about our fine, historic city, that they like so much.
The young apprentices are participants in a project called ‘Apprenticeships and Practical Placements Abroad for IVT Students’, implemented by the Foundation for the Development of the Education System within the European Social Fund. Ilona travelled to Ireland with the group and is one of the people tasked with their care while here. Her colleague, Waldemar Olszewski, wrote the project.
“This is my second time in Derry and I love it here,” enthuses tutor, Ilona.
“Our 17 boys are all secondary school IT students and so, while here, their work experience is located all over the city, including the Methodist City Mission and the Vale Centre in Greysteel, but there are many more also.”
So why choose Derry? “Polish people love Ireland!” Ilona laughs.
“Back home, there are a lot of institutions devoted to promoting Irish culture and history. There are many common similarities between Irish people and Polish people, like their sense of humour, general openness, and, of course, the love of socialising! People both here and in Poland also have similar mentalities when it comes to our history, with partitions, uprisings, and the positivity of the new generations of people who come after that too.”
“The students are really dazzled by the openness of Irish people. More than anything, the politeness of people has really made a huge impression on us. Every morning, the boys are greeted by passersby and they can’t believe how friendly and polite people can be here - this is a specific feature of Derry, we think.”
“Personally, I’m very much impressed with Derry,” Ilona continues.
“I’m especially fortunate to be here when the city is celebrating this year of City of Culture and we loved that great outdoor event Lumiere, which will stay in our minds for many years. We are even talking about organising something similar back home - it is something we really should adopt in Poland.”
With ties cemented and relationships flourishing, Ilona adds: “Our young people are a new generation and are very open to new experiences. For many of them, this is their first time abroad and their first time on an aeroplane too, so it is a very exciting time.”