Poland sits in northeastern Europe and is a highly developed, stable country in terms of its economy and government. Located at the confluence of the Slav, Germanic, Latinate, and Byzantine worlds, Poland has a culture unlike any other in Europe. In fact, Poles should be known for so much more than their fancy sausage and piano concertos. So, why should you volunteer in Poland? Even though Poland has improved leaps and bounds in the last century, there’s still much work to be done. Read on to find out why (and how) Poland needs you!
Poland has several different locations that are great for volunteers to call home during their trip from Warsaw to Gdansk. Each place has different strengths and rich histories, so it’s almost impossible to pick the wrong place for volunteering in Poland!
Krakow. Supposedly founded on the remains of a defeated dragon, Krakow exudes a medieval, charming, and sometimes mythical aura. Once the seat of power and administration in Poland, Krakow is now home to a plethora of amazing churches, rich museums, and the incredible Rynek Główny. In the famous former Jewish district of Kazimierz, volunteers can reflect on its turbulent history just as much as they can reflect on the modernity of its bustling squares and alleys. If you’re looking to teach English in a big city steeped in history and beautiful architecture, volunteer placements in Krakow were made for you.
Warsaw. The capital of Poland is currently undergoing a booming construction period that has seemingly been in effect since 1989. However, beyond the city’s striving to gain what was lost during WWII, most volunteers coming to Warsaw perceive that this city has something special to offer. As opposed to most European cities that are centered around a square, Warsaw is an incredible mix of communist construction, modern architecture, and beautiful restored Gothic buildings. To go along with this, Warsaw boasts the best eating and entertainment in the country. In the end, volunteering in Warsaw is perfect for those looking to be energized or those that are happy on the go.
Gdansk. This Polish port city has a rich history with many different influences that have transformed it into a unique mini-province that has its own distinct feel. Years and years of ocean commerce has made Gdansk architecture as almost charmingly unorthodox-Polish as it can get. While there are still some scars leftover from its turbulent 20th century, Gdansk is a city that is full of energy and just waiting to be explored.
Volunteering in Poland
While the most popular volunteer opportunity in Poland is teaching English as a second language, many volunteers are able to find other work within the social sector. Some of the most common ways to volunteer in Poland include working at elderly care centers, renovation and construction, and assisting at-risk youth. One final important thing to note: individuals are not required to know Polish in order to volunteer in Poland; in most cases, volunteers will be paired with someone who speaks English and Polish, so they will never be without a translator.
Teaching. The largest volunteer project in Poland is teaching English, because English language skills are in such high demand. The key differences between English teaching placements in Poland are the nuances in what you’ll do. Some teaching volunteers will be placed in a more informal setting, helping with extracurricular activities, while others will be in the classroom helping Polish students with their academic studies.
Senior Citizens. One interesting type of volunteering in Poland that might not be widely available, but is nonetheless in need, is helping at senior care centers. These types of placements are usually focused on assisting middle-aged to elderly individuals will day-to-day life. Volunteers helping in non-governmental community centers for senior citizens will help out with a variety of activities, including teaching language classes, facilitating workshops, assisting with the continuation of educational courses, and if you’re technologically savvy, computer courses.
Youth Development. While Poland is incredibly economically stable and has been for some time, there are still a number of Polish youth that are considered at-risk because of where they live and their economic status. As a volunteer in Poland, you will have the opportunity to help at-risk youth in a variety of ways, from tutoring and helping them with homework to teaching basic English and encouraging interpersonal skill development.
Costs & Affordability
Compared with the rest of Europe, Poland is a touch more affordable than the standard touristy destination; however, it’s still important to budget your trip carefully. All volunteer programs in Poland require a program fee that goes to either funding the project, paying for your room and board, or both. Depending on the program and the length of your stay, it generally varies between $500 and $2200. All volunteer programs in Poland (and much of the world) tend to be open about the purpose of program fees, informing volunteers of what fees will go toward and what is included, such as housing. Though most volunteers will have housing supplied for them, if you have to find your own housing, in general, a one bedroom apartment in the city will cost around $500 a month.
Other costs to consider include travel to and from Poland, food, and transportation. Poland is a little more, but not much more, affordable than other European destinations. Public transportation is pretty affordable as there are extensive trams, metro, and bus lines, and the option to walk is always available and easy. The currency of Poland is the Polish Zloty, and the key to saving extra Zloty during your volunteering is to grocery shop, stay away from touristy restaurants, and model your lifestyle off the locals whenever possible.
Accommodation & Visas
Two very important elements of volunteering in Poland cannot be overlooked: will you be able to get into the country and where will you stay? Depending on your volunteer program provider or host organization, housing will likely be provided. Accommodation differs from program to program and it is important to note what you are expecting when applying and inquiring with each program. As mentioned above, some volunteer programs in Poland don’t offer housing, but they usually do have good relationships with hotels and hostels throughout their city and can set you up with good rates for the duration of your stay. Other volunteer program providers will set you up with a homestay, and in some cases will even provide you with three meals a day. If you’re looking for an intense, immersive experience, staying with a host family while volunteering abroad in Poland is the best way to do that.
In order to volunteer in Poland, a tourist visa is sometimes required; however, different countries have different requirements, so make sure to look up exactly what you will need to enter the country legally. If you are European from a European Union country you will not need any kind of visa to volunteer in Poland for under 90 days. As an American, you will not need a tourist visa, since Poland is under the Schengen Agreement, which allows Americans to travel to 25 different European countries for under 90 days without obtaining a visa. If you plan on volunteering in Poland for longer than 90 days, make sure to coordinate with your program provider or host organization as they will know the intricacies of applying for Polish visas.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Poland offers some very unique benefits that aren’t really offered in other, more stereotypical volunteer abroad destinations. Poland has remarkably few health risks, it is pretty safe, and it is an extremely affordable launchpad for exploring the wide variety of European cultures. Even the cloudy days will become endearing.
That being said, you might have difficult getting used to living in a big, Polish city. Red tape and bureaucracy is the norm in Polish society, and the environment is generally conservative. Language can be a barrier when making friends, or just light a fire under your bum to learn some Polish!
Warm up a couple (dozen) pierogis, put on some Chopin in the background, and get excited as you muse the wonderful experiences you will have serving the Polish people while volunteering abroad in Poland.