Alumni Spotlight: Charlie Kirby


Charlie is an economics student at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is an avid history nerd with an undying love for sports around the world.

Why did you choose this program?

Originally, I was looking for a program that was off the beaten path of abroad locations like Rome, London, or Paris, but still within the action of a city. As I started browsing, I started looking for a program that was located at a prestigious business school while also offering a balance of business and humanities based learning.

Essentially, I wanted to be in a place where I was far enough outside my comfort zone to make it fun and exciting, but with elements that wouldn't make it too hard to make my way in a strange place. I was excited to learn a new language and get take economics courses from the point of view of somewhere completely different.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

CIEE helped with everything we might need. The team and program is small, so any issue no matter the size, they are right there to help you. They organized our telephones/sim cards, housing and furniture/cooking utensils etc, our metro/tram/bus cards and more. Basically everything to allow you to be independent if you so choose, even though they are always there to help, even if it is just a restaurant recommendation or instructions on how to send a postcard.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Utilize the program directors and strengthen your relationship with them. They can provide you with anything if you are looking to make more of your time with research, internships, etc so studying abroad stays productive as a semester. Also, keep an open mind and go to as many social events (through student networking groups) as you can. It is such a great way to make friends while there- friends from all different parts of the world who are always planning something fun you'll never forget.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Class takes up about 3 to 5 hours a day, unfortunately with little planned time for breaks unless you schedule them yourself. SGH (Warsaw School of Economics) classes meet once a week and CIEE classes meet twice a week. Generally, I would do class during the day, at night go play soccer with some other students, maybe go to a bar with people afterwards on Thursdays or Fridays. Often during the week CIEE has a planned event (Opera, ballet, etc) or the Erasmus Student Network has an event, which is usually on shorter notice. Generally during the weekend I would travel to other countries since the flights out of Warsaw Chopin are incredibly cheap to many places.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was that Polish people would be mean to foreigners, and would make me loathe living there. This was solved by keeping an open mind, being friendly to strangers with the little Polish I knew. When speaking with a Pole, use as much Polish as you can, even if it isn't very good. They will open up to you and probably fill in with English without making you feel bad. Polish people are generally very nice, especially you are nice to them! Go figure!

Going in, I think people might think Poland is some undeveloped country with no access to any of the luxuries of the west. While there are significant differences, life is not hard in the metropolis of Warsaw. Warsaw has access to everything you need and more. There really is no difference in quality of life.

There are certain quirks, such as their lack of full size supermarkets in favor of small corner shops, their abundance of coffee shops, the fact that lunch is more important than dinner, the fact that EVERYONE uses public transit (because it's amazingly accessible and very efficient), and so on, but these are just quirks that you will come to love. Cultural differences between Polish life and American life are minimal in the sense that they won't make you feel threatened or targeted for being foreign. You will, however, learn customs that will grow on you and will make you challenge your concept of if the US "does it better". (Answer: Neither is better or worse, they are just different)