Tetiana is a Virtual Assistant from Ukraine. She has been living in Kraków for the last couple of years and she loves it here. In my interview I’m asking her about what she thinks of Polish people, why she decided to move to Poland and how to become a VA.
Tell me a bit about yourself first.
My life in Kraków is the first step to live abroad. I come from Ukraine and 3 years ago I went abroad for the first time. I was 27 then. I went to Berlin, Wrocław and Kraków. I know that for some western people it will sound strange that I had never been abroad before, but I really hadn’t had a chance to travel.
I saw the life abroad, in the west and I really liked it. I chose to live in Poland as it’s simply cheaper to open a company here than in the other European countries. Another advantage of living here is the culture and language, which are very similar to the Ukrainian.
And what did you do prior to that?
I studied teaching, but I’ve never worked as a teacher. As soon as I enter a school I feel stressed, the same way when I enter a hospital. I wanted to study Ukrainian language and that was my only option, to study teaching.
In Ukraine I worked at a radio station and a television. I was a reporter and even had my own small programme, where I advised people where to go for a weekend.
I also worked in the office back then and I really didn’t feel that it was something I liked. I really didn’t want to make any social connections with people that I didn’t have anything to talk about. I was there for 2,5 years.
After that I decided to move to another city and move to Crimea with my husband. We wanted to leave the city. My home city is the most polluted place in Ukraine. Even during the winter the snow is orange from the nearby iron plants. So we moved to Crimea to spend more time in the nature. We went hiking and camping and we spent a lot of time at the seaside. It’s a beautiful place, very magical. I really liked the people there. I made a lot of friends. Crimean Tatars – Muslims that live there – were the nicest people in Crimea.
I worked in the local Crimean news as a journalist. But I felt like they didn’t actually work on the news. They were just running around and looking for the next sensation. So, slowly I started working as a freelancer.
And did you leave Crimea because of the political situation?
Yes, because of that, but also because at that time we visited western Ukraine and found people there friendly and really nice. The further you go from Russia the happier people seem.
Because of the whole atmosphere there we moved to western Ukraine, to a very small city. There I opened my own not for profit organisation and we were promoting ecological sustainability. It was a great job. Well, It was not a job actually, but rather volunteering, an informal club inside of already existing NGO. I was there for 2.5 years.
And after you moved to Kraków?
Yes. We saw a webinar on how to establish a company abroad and we chose Kraków because it seemed the easiest and the cheapest. In other European countries you need a lot of money to open your own business. Here it is quite easy.
It’s also easy to find a job in Poland in big corporations. It seemed like a good choice to come here.
You said that when you first travelled abroad you really liked it. What did you like so much about Kraków?
First of all, people. I think here, as in Kraków, people are not so sad, not so closed, they are more open and not as suspicious of others like in Ukraine. A week ago I went to Ukraine and I really felt the difference between there and Kraków.
Yeah. Even when you go to the centre in Kraków. People sit in parks, hang out in the streets. They feel more free. This life here allows people to be more free, I think.
It’s kind of funny, because I think Polish people have the same perception of other countries. We usually feel that Poland is sad and grey and the other countries are more open.
Do you think that Polish people are much different from Ukrainians?
My first impression of Poland was that people are nicer here and more open to strangers. But for the last two years I have been here my view on Polish people changed. I can see now that Poles are not so smiley like I thought at the beginning. I arrived wearing pink glasses and was thinking ‘wow! This is so nice! They are waiting for me here with open arms!’ Now I think that other countries in western Europe are more open to foreigners. Poland seemed to me like that at first, but now I see that it is a closed country. I still think that it’s nicer than Ukraine. Kraków, on the other hand, is like a completely different place. People here are different, that’s what I think.
So, your perception of Polish people changed a lot?
Yes, but don’t get me wrong – I understand where this comes from. It comes from history and I know that Poland went through some rough times.
I love Kraków. It’s different than other places in Poland. Here you have huge corporations, lots of expats and you see different people on the streets. I sometimes think that there’s Poland and there’s Kraków. This city is very multinational. Poland as a country seems like there’s only one nation here.
Let’s go back to your work and career for a bit. After you moved to Krakow you decided to open your company. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
My husband is a web-developer and I work on my own projects. Our work is not connected, we help each other.
I work as a virtual assistant. So, my work is about helping medium and small companies with their work. I do social media, or email management, or sometimes do research for them. It all varies.
I don’t really have much experience of how to open a company abroad. You said you saw that webinar and that opening a company in Poland was easy. Polish people probably won’t agree with you on that, because there is a lot of bureaucracy. Can you tell me how this works in Poland for a foreigner?
Well, the conditions to open your own business as a foreigner are a little different than for Polish people. We need to show a proof that our company brings money and that we can sustain ourselves here. There is also a lot of paperwork involved. When we came here we didn’t speak Polish at all, so we hired an agency to help us out. Maybe that’s why it didn’t seem too hard.
However, in Ukraine the bureaucracy is huge, it’s definitely worse than here. People stand in queues everywhere, the clerks are rude and not helpful. It seems like wherever you go there are obstacles. You need to know someone to sort something out. Here, you have rules and you follow them and it’s not a problem to get information, open a bank account etc.
Opening a company here was easy. There was a bit of bureaucracy. And I understand why Polish people complain on bureaucracy here.
That’s interesting to hear. I don’t know that many foreigners that live in Poland, so I don’t have a comparison. Polish people like to complain on how things are ran in Poland.
I think complaining is your national sport. If I don’t watch myself, I start doing the exact same thing.
And what about your permission to stay? Do you need any sort of visa?
For us you either need to study or you need to work. So, we have our own company and get our temporary permission to stay for the first 1,5 years. Generally, first you get temporary permission for 5 years, then after another 5 years you can get permanent residency and then after 5 more we get citizenship, if we want to.
And how do you find clients?
At first I used Upwork and Freelancer to find clients. Of course, I had to show that I had experience in working in an office. I found some clients on the internet, we had an interview on Skype and then I just started working. Now I have a couple of customers that are with me and I prefer it like that. When you get a new client you really need to do your research about the company and get used to the way they work. It takes time. With the old clients I know what they want and they know my style of work and it usually goes very smoothly.
How does your normal day look like?
I work at home, so I always try to separate my work time and relaxing time. When you work at the same place it is easy to mix those two, and you need to have a balance.
Usually my days look the same. I have my own routine and things I like to do in the spare time. So, I work in the morning, have a break for watching TV, or learning Polish, or for my dance classes and then I work again.
My clients live in different time zones, but that doesn’t affect me. Usually I have phone calls with them in the afternoon, or we communicate by email.
Do you find this lifestyle now better than the one that you had before, when you worked at other places?
Well, it’s good for me. I’m happy with it. I can find time that I like doing and enjoy myself, but I think it is not for everyone.
I want to know more about your social life here. What do you like about Poland and Kraków?
Poland is a nice place and it’s easy to travel around Europe from here. It feels like home. I also learned a lot of Polish, so I can communicate here. I think that since I know Polish and I was able to learn it, other languages would be very easy to learn. Polish language has extremely difficult grammar rules.
Is it easy to find new friends in Poland?
Well, I have Polish friends here. But the definition of a friend is different here than in Ukraine. In my country when you have a friend it is your FRIEND – it is for life, almost like your family. I was told since I was small that you only get a few true friends and the others are just people you know. Here, you meet a person, go for a coffee with them and they are already your friend. You don’t see them often, but you call them your friend. Maybe that’s just a language difference and we just call them differently, I’m not sure.
But I have my true friends back in Ukraine. The ones I have here are not like my family.
Where do you meet people in Kraków?
There are a few regular meet ups, like language exchange meet ups, Couchsurfing meet ups. You can also meet people while volunteering, for example this summer we planted some flowers around the city and I met a couple of people there.
We aslo started a group for non-Polish speakers, who live here and who want to volunteer. Because quite a lot of volunteering here is open to everyone, but when I wanted to go a couple of times they said I could come, but they only spoke Polish. I think some foreigners don’t have good opportunities to volunteer because of the language barrier.
There is a great place here called Ambasada Krakowian, which is a centre that gathers people and different organisations together. It’s usually informal. It’s also a great place to meet people.
And what kind of volunteering do you do?
I am more interested in ecology, so I take part in opportunities like that. I am a member of Greenpeace and go to their meetings here.
I also help refugees, although I am trying not to speak openly about it because the more I’m involved in helping the less Polish friends I have.
I don’t get involved very actively. I just donate clothes and I donated clothes when they camped in Berlin and Budapest.
What do you do in your free time in Kraków?
I learn Polish. I go to Polish language classes. I go to dance classes. I learn a special type of belly dance mixed with modern dance and with other national, ethnic dances. It’s a great exercise. I also try to run on a regular basis. We have a very nice green space around our house, so I try to go for a run once in a while.