Who are you?
I am Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman who first visited Poland in 2005. I grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland in the 1980s and since my teens, I have backpacked to 151 countries (disputed or not) around the world, visiting all 7 continents in the process, working in numerous jobs along the way. In 2016, I was in Poland for the fifth time, and decided to stay due to circumstances that happened. Poland is one of my favourite countries from my long journey and it is a delight to live here.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first left Northern Ireland in 2003 to live in Bournemouth, England. It was boredom that took me across the water. Life was stale and boring at the time. It was influenced by my 1994 trip to Bournemouth and the fact that Northern Irish players George Best, Colin Clarke and Warren Feeney all played for the local football team, AFC Bournemouth. Life in Bournemouth consisted of selling ice creams on the beach, working in a hotel and getting a degree. Life progressed from there and I left in 2007 for my first big backpacking adventure. I tried to settle in Australia in 2009, Hong Kong in 2011 and Kyrgyzstan in 2016.
What challenges did you face during the move?
I didn’t face any challenges at the start, nor on my further relocations to Australia and Hong Kong. However the biggest obstacle to overcome has been depression, caused by people I met who I trusted too much and they lied to me. This affected my business and my journeys and I sought professional help and survived a suicide bid. Other than that, daily life, working, travelling have all been very easy for me.
Are there many other expats in your area?
These days, yes. There are several groups of expatriates who arrange to meet up in Warsaw. There are often events organised by groups on Facebook and through the networks I have built up on my journeys.
What do you like about life where you are?
Safety is one. I love how Poland and Warsaw are so nationalist and they don’t tolerate or respect too much change. It is one of the countries in Europe that remains pure to its roots. I hate the multiple McDonalds and Starbucks that keep being opened, and when I backpack through countries that have no clear borders and streets fade into one. Plus I love how Poland has a strong and proud currency, the zloty. The church lifestyle is also great, I go in at my own leisure, churches all over the country are always welcoming and often pretty.
Polish cities are also beautiful, the countryside is diverse, the people are so calm and friendly. And I love visiting remote and lesser travelled towns and villages. My travels recently took me to Biskupiec, Kokoszkowy and Pelplin. Plus the food has to rank as one of the best cuisines in the world. I love the salads, the soups, the pierogi, the bigos and the little Bar Mlecznys that are so cheap, so local and situated all over the country.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I love most of being away and living here, though obviously there are some negative aspects like not seeing my friends, family and local football teams. Plus, I trust people too easily and I believe what they say. This has caused me huge mental problems and at times depression adapting to different individuals rather than cultures. If some people say they will do something, in their mind, and it is a lie and they don’t do it, I can get depressed for months on end.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Language is number one. Politics is probably second. The language barrier can be huge, for example in Northern Ireland “sympathetic” means you care for someone and will help them, in Poland it simply means someone has a nice personality! There are many other “false friends” in the language sense.
Having said that, the lifestyle is very similar as is the climate. We have 4 clear seasons here, pubs are great, football is the main sport and people are very well mannered, with a sense of humour and very polite.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
It’s always good to do a little bit of planning in advance, so do research the culture you are going to. I have heard of people moving to countries without understanding the culture and they get lost very easily or get angry when things there are different. The other piece of advice is basically just do it. If you want to move somewhere new – go and do it – don’t make excuses, don’t put barriers in the way. Time waits for nobody. Take the chance now and grasp it with aplomb!
What are your plans for the future?
My new website, Northern Irishman in Poland, is my new project to promote Poland as a tourist location but also from an expatriate’s mind. I am also working with local councils in Polish towns and cities to promote them and do a lot of media outreach and some volunteer work. I have featured on Polish Radio, written itineraries for some cities (including Bydgoszcz and Starogard Gdanski) and I have opportunities for Polish TV too. However a lot of that must wait while I study Polish, get used to life in Warsaw and attempt to crack a milestone of having visited every Province in Poland by the end of 2017!
I also have a book written but still not released on my 151 country journey around the globe. I plan to release the first 100 chapters first and they the other 51 may feature in a book of their own at some point. I would love to watch my football teams AFC Bournemouth, Glentoran FC and Northern Ireland again soon as well and spend more time with my family as I neglected them in times of pure depression and wanderlust.
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