Experiencing Ethnocentrism in Poland

In his 2012 paper titled ‘International education as self-formation’ Simon Marginson argues that Australia is “often too parochial, trapped within an Australian-centered view of a diverse and complex world”. The behavior Marginson is describing is known as ethnocentrism, the belief that the people, customs and traditions of your own race or nationality are better than those of other races.

Ethnocentrism is said to be common place in Australian higher education institutions, with international students reporting that they find it hard to interact due to the Australian-centered attitudes and apparent “distant and disinterested” conduct of their local hosts. While this practice does potentially inhibit the quality of an internationalized education for students is not a uniquely Australian behavior, nor is it restricted to the education system. Ethnocentrism is a widespread, seemingly intrinsic behavior that I experienced first hand during my time abroad recently.

I travelled to Krakow, Poland in the Summer of 2015. The trip was purely recreational and I was lucky enough to experience pleasant encounters with numerous Polish people. Polish people appeared initially to be very polite, introverted and displayed quite a serious, stern demeanor.

Krakow's Rynek Glowny
Krakow’s Rynek Glowny

My first interaction with a Polish person came when checked I checked into Premium Hostel in Krakow. The staff remember at reception was initially polite, passive and seemingly inert (possibly due to the fact it was 10pm on a Monday night). After a few brief moments of small talk, the receptionist asked me to present my passport for identification. Upon receiving my passport, the receptionist quickly became animated and excited as she noticed the spelling of my distinctly Polish surname. “Jurkiewicz!” She exclaimed. “You know this is a very famous surname in Poland”. I quickly explained that my Grandparents are were born in Poland and moved to Australia after the completion of world war II. The receptionist then proceeded to excitedly explain all the things I must see and do in Krakow, her mood had clearly lifted since learning of my Polish ancestry.

The next evening as my Brother and I entered a bar in Rynek Glowny (The main square), Krakow. We sat down and began conversing about our days adventures before being interrupted by a drunk Polish man named Krystian. The man asked in a stern voice “where are you from?” and “why do you come to Krakow”. We quickly explained our intentions for the visit and again explained details about our Polish ancestry. Upon hearing the name ‘Jurkiewicz’ the man jumped from his seat and insisted on buying us vodka. He was excited by our polish roots and we quickly bonded over our shared national heritage.

Networking with my new Polish friend.
Networking with my new Polish friend.

These two stories serve as examples of a Polish-Australian person experiencing ethnocentrism from both perspectives. During my initial interactions I felt that Polish people were polite and respectful, however, after learning of my Polish heritage it appeared that the perspective shifted and the Polish people began treating my brother and I with more sincerity and enthusiasm, embracing us into their country, customs and traditions with open arms.