Having heard stories from many friends who spent a semester abroad, I think you would be hard pressed to find a program and team better than what CIEE has in Warsaw.
Initially, you may think Poland is surely too different culturally to be anything except challenging and intimidating. This couldn't be further from the truth. From Day 1 you can find Warsaw to be a welcoming place for all. Most everyone speaks enough English to get by- especially young people, and even more so in the central areas of Warsaw. Culturally, it is a perfect mix of experiencing something outside your comfort zone and being easy enough to handle without being overwhelmed. Even if you simply learn how to say "hello" "please" and "thank you" most every Pole will warm right up and be happy to help in whatever way they can.
The most special part about this program is the overnight study trips and the program directors themselves. Apart from being a constant resource and guiding figure, the directors really treat you like family as they help you make the most of your experience. They are extremely accessible and will go above and beyond to help you with any problem, from a trivial course registration issue to a lost wallet or whatever issue you may have.
Included trips in this program are an absolute blast. Overnight you visit Gdansk (and the tri-city area) and Krakow for some unforgettable experiences. Day trips are various and can be a full day of activities or a simple cultural experience- touring the Presidential palace, going to the ballet, or perhaps visiting a smaller city or town. And make no mistake - this program TREATS you. Each stay they have they utilize all the connections they have made over the years to give you a truly special experience in each city. Guides who know secrets of the city, dinners at the best restaurants, private museum tours that create an unbeatable experience. I will remember the overnight trips in Poland for the rest of my life.
Academically, if you are a business student, this is an exceptional opportunity. You study at The Warsaw School of Economics, and the education, while not being exceptionally tough (coming from a US background) is a unique glimpse into material from a different source. As an economics student, I loved learning about more specific topics to where I want my career to go from a country in stages of growth and development. I think this is key to broadening one's knowledge base.
For non-business students, there are plenty of other course options that allow you get a look into different facets of Polish society- whether it be cultural, literary, historical, political, or religious. Furthermore, many of these involve Poland on an international scale, meaning plenty of classes where the European Union is explained and discussed in depth. I believe a Poli-Sci major would thrive here in particular. But most importantly, there is something for everyone offered here.
As far as studying the language, the instruction is excellent and can turn someone from a tourist to a resident. How much you want to practice outside of class is up to you, but the tools they provide are excellent. Personally, I can survive in Poland having not known a single word before my flight to Warsaw.
Parents, read here: Warsaw is very safe. Any "unsafe" parts of the city are basically so far out of the way that I have never had the need to be there. Central Warsaw has a calming police presence at all hours, Old Town is as safe as can be, and Mokotow, where we live and go to school (only 10 minutes apart) is a quiet residential neighborhood in the city. Many cities in the US are FAR less safe than Warsaw. If you can handle yourself there, you can handle yourself in Warsaw.
Parents, stop reading here.
To the students: Warsaw nightlife, like any good capital city- has something for everyone. Casual drinks with friends? Check. Clubs open til early morning? Check. Shot bars? You bet. Highlights to consider - makeshift barbecues on the banks of the Vistula with some friends (warm weather only), a classy club in the basement of the Opera, and Czupito (look it up). Even if you don't drink, the nightlife here is so much fun.
Honestly, there isn't enough I could say about Warsaw. If you want to stay within your comfort zone, go to Ireland, go to London, go to one of infinite programs in Rome or Paris. Going into my semester abroad, I knew I'd have to dive into something totally new to really get everything out of the once in a lifetime experience that being abroad is. You can study in those cities, and that's fine. I'm sure it will be unforgettable. Or you can choose Warsaw and just visit those wonderful places on your spring break or for a weekend trip.
If I was to do it all over, I would choose once again to embrace the wonderment, excitement, and nervous uncertainty of going somewhere that most would never consider.