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Julia Salerno

Julia Salerno is an editor of documentaries. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1978.  In 2001 she emigrated to Italy, where she worked for various television networks and film producers across the country. She has been living in Warsaw, together with her husband and daughters, since July 2009.

It may be that you have only recently come to Warsaw with your family, you don’t know Polish and are wondering how to cope with all the things you have to do:  how to choose an interesting place to live; where to send your children to school; how to take out health insurance for the whole family; how to obtain a Polish driving licence so that you can drive your children to school; is it necessary to get a babysitter for your child, and if so, where to find her; where to buy fresh vegetables; where to enrol on Polish language classes, and, most importantly, how to get in touch with people who speak your language or at least English?

First of all, it’s important to find a support group, a group of people whom you can trust because they speak your language and have been in a situation similar to yours; people who could give you some advice, drawing on their experience of coping with similar problems, and share their practical knowledge with you; people who would like to spend some time with you, even though you don’t know each other well. It’s really important to find your own „flock,” a person or a group of people to whom you can entrust your problems or with whom you can just talk. All beginnings are difficult and frequently accompanied by frustration. That is especially the case when you have to use a dictionary or an electronic translator in order to communicate basic needs. The good news is that there are several such groups in Warsaw.

I am going to give some examples. Be sure that you will easily find your place in one of them or maybe even more than one. You may also want to attend meetings of different groups interchangeably, taking what is best in each of them.
I recommend the Mum's and Tots of Warsaw Group to mothers with small children as a place where they can get answers to many questions. The group brings together mothers and fathers (not many of them, unfortunately) in order to enable them to spend some time with their kids and other parents. It is an international group, but there are also many Polish mothers, who have been attracted by the possibilities of meeting interesting people and exchanging valuable experience and information. The group meets once a week and organises various charity events, workshops (for instance, music classes, walks with or without prams etc.) or interesting information exchange programmes. On the Facebook profile of the group, you can buy and sell things for children. It is an important space for non-working mothers who speak English and would like to do something together with their children or are looking for a babysitter, a pediatrician, or specific services and goods for their kids.

Membership is free. In order to get further information, go to the Facebook profile and website: http://www.mumsandtots.pl/.

International Women’s Group is another group addressed to women. It is a closed group set up by women from all over the world. It has been operating in Warsaw since 1982 as one of many similar local groups spread all over the world. It brings together nearly 200 female members from 59 countries.

In order to be admitted to the group, you should pay an annual membership fee of 250 PLN, which entitles you to take part in weekly meetings and language mornings with coffee (there are meetings of discussion groups in Polish, English and Spanish at the moment). The group also organises walks, wine tasting, workshops, meetings about cuisine and many more. The group is perfectly organised; it has a regularly updated Facebook profile page, a monthly newsletter and its own website http://www.iwgwarsaw.eu/

On the website, you will also find important information concerning the city where the group operates. The group is made up of different subgroups, for instance International Women’s Working Group Warsaw, a group of women who work in Warsaw, have no time to meet during business hours, so instead have supper together after work. IWG is a dynamic and diverse group bringing together women of different ages. What they share is that they all live in Warsaw. They meet to share their experiences and spend some time together.

If you work, you may lack time to have a morning coffee with your friends. Consequently, you may feel like going for a beer with other expatriates, who could share with you information concerning work opportunities and offer new contacts. If so, The Professionals In Warsaw group is for you.  The group has profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn as well as its own website: http://www.meetup.com/Professionals-in-Warsaw/.

The group brings together nearly 400 people from all over the world, including Poland, various specialists working in different fields of business: in services, finance, PR, HR,  also lawyers, designers and many others. The group members go for a drink every Wednesday evening. From time to time, there are also weekend meetings (when the weather is fine), mostly for people with children and dog lovers. The Facebook profile offers a possibility of exchanging important information. On the Facebook wall, group members can post up-to-date information concerning job offers, property rental, sale and purchase.

Last but not least, there are lots of groups addressed to specific circles of people. For instance, the community of Spanish women has its own group in Warsaw, Wassap, Varsovianas. In order to join it, you should get a special invitation. Further information on the group is available in Spanish on the website  http://warsawexpats.com/. Italian women have a similar group, DIVA, quite active on Facebook and its own website http://donneitalianeavarsavia.weebly.com/. The group is part of Italiani in Polonia, one the oldest associations of foreigners in Poland. The association organises monthly meetings, so-called “aperi-cena,” a combination of aperitif and dinner, as well as special events, for example charity carnival balls.  The association publishes its own magazine, Gazzetta Italia, the only magazine published both in Polish and in Italian. You can contact the group via Facebook and its website http://www.italianiinpolonia.org/.

If you want to meet people and have no Internet access, there are still many opportunities to strike up new friendships in Warsaw. Many countries have their cultural centres here. There are also such organisations as the Spanish Instituto Cervantes, Italian Istituto Italiano di Cultura, German Goethe Institute and The British Council as well as many other institutions operating  at  embassies, consulates, churches, mosques and other temples. They offer language classes, meetings and discussions, film festivals, workshops, recitals and many more. Warsaw hosts various cultural events. Even if these are not the events you expect, coming from other EU member states (there are no famous museums), there are still various possibilities of spending your free time.

If you’re a night owl type, you should visit clubs, restaurants, tasting rooms, discos, coffee bar clubs and others similar places.

If you’re a sports fan, you can take up yoga, climbing, rowing, polo, cross-fit or squash classes or go to one of the modern swimming pools. The city offers a variety of classes in different languages as well as classes for children.

If you’re more of an intellectual type, you can look for trainings, workshops or discussion groups. There are two famous film festivals and other, less popular ones, known mostly to local connoisseurs as well as music classes and festivals organised. The list of events organised in Warsaw is a long one and shows that all have a chance to find their own “flock” here.

Most importantly: never say die, stay logged in, search!

You can certainly devote yourself to your old hobbies in the new place. Don’t give up your interests and favourite activities! Create a circle of interesting people around you to support each other and share your experience.

This may help you to feel at home in the new place.

Good to Read more articles > Julia Salerno

Being Your Own Employer in Warsaw

This year I decided to start my own business activity, after a long time of trying to deal with temporary contracts and part-time jobs. If you ever decide to start your own activity in Warsaw, there are a few steps you have to take. What is more, you will have to gather a lot of information before immersing yourself in the deep waters of bureaucracy.

First of all, you need to find an accountant. Someone you can trust, who’s services are not excessively expensive. There are many accountants in Warsaw and they are called “księgowi / księgowe” in Polish. That name originates from a word “księga” (a book), and that’s because they take care of you accountancy books. The prices vary from 100 to 250 PLN for taking care of your monthly paperwork, and what is worth mentioning, many accountants speak English. They will guide you through the legal process of establishing your company, deciding what’s the best solution depending on your business field. Professional accountants will also help you to deal with ZUS (Polish National Insurance Company), which is mandatory to all people working legally in Poland, including those who are self-employed.

ZUS is one of the things that majority of new entrepreneurs hate the most – the insurance costs  420 PLN for a month during a period of two years, and then it rises to 1100 PLN for a month. Two years pass away very fast, but don’t be upset! All people have to be insured, and in case you are employed by someone else, the employer must pay the insurance for you anyway so a smaller amount of money go to your pockets. ZUS gives you the health insurance, but also some part of the money you pay serve as premiums for your future pension. ZUS also allows you to insure your children, family, and gives you the access to the Polish public health services without paying for them extra costs (for most of the basic services).

If you come from other European country you may ask: I thought that the European health card gives me the same right to the public health in all European countries, isn’t it? The answer is yes, if you pay taxes in your country. If you have a residence permit in another European country it is important that you provide such information to your accountant: which country you are a resident of, and what taxes apply to your activity in that country. This is important to avoid double payments and overlapping. Since you could register many activities under the same company, the accountant might also help you to decide what is your main activity, and which codes established by Polish law correspond with your activity. Moreover, there are some activities that aren’t taxed, while others are obliged to pay VAT. The accountant will choose the best conditions for your business activity, but the final decision is yours. You can decide to stop at any time - like an audio track, pause it -  without any cost.

If you don’t want to risk, and you feel that there is too much of a fuss for you, or you just want to make a single gig and provide an invoice there’s another option, the TwojStartUp.

You may perform your business activity but all formalities are managed by a foundation that employs you, and gets clients for you. They sign for you papers, they get paid for you and afterwards they pay you. You don’t pay ZUS personally, you just pay them to manage your accountability, and they work on a provision of 300 PLN. They also have offices to let, and they may help you with the marketing, website design and management of your brand new company. This is a great option for someone who intends to do one very specific type of business (let’s say a workshop, event, or an art show), and doesn't  want to deal with the whole procedure. Or for someone who is just starting a risky business and prefers to take a little bit of a time to see what happens, before establishing the company “for good.”

Both options are good if you decide to navigate through the troubled waters of being self-employed, and working legally. But always check out the latest news and changes in the laws, before starting your journey,  in order to prevent misunderstandings. Be informed, consult with as many specialists as possible (many of the will offer you a free first meeting), and then... jump!

 

If you want more info you can consult:

twojstartup.pl

superksiegowa.pl

bboffice.pl

 

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And what about school?

One of the most difficult choices in parents’ life is the school (or kindergarten) for their children. When you are abroad this choice becomes a little bit more complicated than in your homeland.

Language/system of teaching suddenly becomes a problem. When it comes to Poland, many parents find it difficult to help their kinds with language they also have to study. Sometimes they don’t want to learn language because they know that they are going to leave the country within a year or two. The necessity of safe system of education, that can be applied in any country in the world, is urgent and so that they often choose international school.

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"What if I don't want this?"

"Oh, don't be silly - EVERYONE wants this. Everyone wants to be ‘us’".  (From the film Devil Wears Prada).

People move all the time, for many different reasons. Warsaw is not the kind of place you would move to for pleasure. Most of the people I know in Warsaw, came here for work with their whole families, sent by a company to stay for a couple of year, sometimes more, sometimes they don’t even know for how long. Such international “working-migrants” are called by companies the “expats”.

The expatriation brings a lot of benefits to the families: international schools, health insurance – privileges that are not affordable for them in the countries of origin. They get new, higher social status. However, the price they must pay is usually very high. Very often all these changes trigger off major family problems. Women find themselves in a new situation, when they used to work in their homelands. Now, their full time job is taking care of the children, usually alone as husbands are working out, and traveling very often. They have to deal with teachers, doctors, nannies who doesn’t speak their language or have a different attitude to basic issues like education of their kids. Without grandparents, uncles or any other relatives nearby, kids put all of their anxiety and feeling on their parents’ shoulders. If you add a long, dark winter you will get an explosive mixture. Many families broke apart. Women get depressed, sometimes their husbands start to cheat on them, have love affairs with local women.

In media the feminism in back – in a fashionable way. Emma Watson, Hillary Clinton, the Pussy Riot, Angela Merkel. Every day the list of the most influential women in the world extends. There are thousands of articles concerning women employed in places considered to be men’s domain. Many journalists write about gender. Sheryl Sandberg (the famous Facebook CEO) repeats all the time that “women can have it all”. That means to be young, have children and a prestigious job that brings you a lot of money. We are talking all the time about female power, women empowerment. But the key issue is still the same: men earn more money than women. So when it comes to migration, women quit their less profitable jobs. Of course, the world is full of examples of women who have no other choice, and would love to spend more time at home, with their kids. Instead, they are full time working as a supermarket cashiers or babysit someone’s else children. In theory, there’s no better life than such: wife devotes herself to home, kids and husband, while he is earning the money. But this happens because men earn more than women. So when the offer of expatriation appears on the horizon, it is very hard to say “no” – a woman has to admit that she earns less and accept the situation. I also know cases of women earning good salaries, which still remained nothing to compare with benefits the family could get living abroad.
So, the wife quits her job, and from this time she deals with classic “poison envy” image. Friends think that everything she does is shopping, parents ask why she stays the whole day at home instead of earning for a living, husband controls the credit card because he pays the bills.

 

Most of expat women I have met in Warsaw, would have agreed with this meme. Many times we have discussed all this issues (money, kids, the way marriage changes when one of the spouses stops to work outside, etc.). We have started our friendships accidently, in schools our kids attended. We all have shared the same problems: how the personal project became a family one, difficulty to adopt in Warsaw. But the largest one is loneliness.

A very close friend of mine, who has been an expat for many year, told me once: “If you do not see it as a family project, you’re dead”. Ana stayed in Warsaw for one year, then she moved to Greece. “Expatriation would be almost perfect if all members of the family would see it as a family project. The problem is: if you are someone with both feet on the ground, it’s very hard to change the attitude. Firstly, it’s difficult because of the feeling of self-sacrifice for the family, then for husband’s career and finally, your own husband does not see it as a family project. They think that what we do is less important. We are like ants, our work is not a priority because it consists of simple things – but all of them are part of life. Someone has to deal with everyday tasks (cloths, lunches, buses, clubs, etc.). Some think that nanny can take care of all these things, but not. And if you think so, I invite you to try.”

Ana is 40 years old, she has a degree in marketing and is experienced account supervisor. Before she expatriated to Poland, she worked in event company in Madrid. Her previous expatriation was in Portugal, where she did not have difficulties with language and without children, she had no problem finding a job. However, this did not applied to Poland and Greece. This is why her professional career became less important than her husband’s.

“When I left to Portugal, my first expatriation, I worked at Wanadoo. It was the era of  “dot-coms”. My career was not spectacular, but the salary was above average, just like my position in the company. At that time I was single and I did not have children. I've always joked that I found it easier at that time to find another job, another boyfriend. Those were different times and now I think it was not just a joke, it was a big truth. Now we have a huge economical crisis, I had too long break in my professional life. Now I’m 40 years old, and I have two daughters. Is much easier for me to change a husband, rather than profession!”
The family seems to be the only project that fits expatriation. All mothers I have spoke to say that: “if we had stayed in our home countries, I would have worked and probably would not have spent so much time with my children”.

We have easy motherhood, paid household help, time to help children with a homework and possibility of sending them to international schools. But at the same time our children have to rise without grandparents and uncles, away from unconditioned help.

But this project has a limit – the school age of children. Life comes to the point when kids become more independent, spend the whole day at schools ¬– mother, left behind wonders all the time what happened with her professional life.

They have quit their jobs to follow their husbands, and if they arrived for example to Poland, they encounter the difficulty of learning complex language to work in their profession. A language that perhaps they have never planned to learn. Salaries paid in Polish currency are not sufficient to pay for the baby sitter and every day bills.

The language barrier is the most difficult to overcome. Polish language schools for foreigners are full of  “expats”. Many of them speak Polish on a very high level, but they limit the use of it to shopping and solving minor problems. There is not more need to communicate. Nobody’s waiting for your emails in Polish.

“Our husbands frequently change offices, have assistants or secretaries who often speak their language, or in worst case, communicate in English – better or worse, but in the second case companies provide language courses to improve your linguistic skills”.In the meantime you are trying to say “milk” in Polish, Greek, Russian or Arabic, or trying to understand the owner’s manual of the washing machine with the help of Google translator. Ana told me: “We must learn to live in the environment that does not know a single word in our language. I laugh when people say “everyone here speaks English”. Where, in which world? Yours, or ours? The cleaning lady doesn’t speak English, salesman does not speak English, the guy who sales the bus tickets does not speak English. Multilingualism exists inside skyscrapers and in certain circles, but is not a part of housekeeper’s life”.

Ana concludes: “The good sided of expatriation? Well, I guess that I have balanced and stable family where mother is the main bond. I really hope that my daughters will have better future because of that. Although, I hope they will not do the same. If this lifestyle is so great as people say, I would like to ask those people if they want their daughters to be expats in the future. And I hope we are the last generation of expat women”.

Written by Julia Salerno

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