Poland was once known for the number of people who left the country for work; emigrating to Britain, Italy and the US among other countries.
But after years of steady economic growth, educated Poles are returning to their homeland in a kind of reverse brain drain. This shouldn’t be a surprise: the country is set to catch up economically with the UK in terms of GDP per person by the end of the decade.
Warsaw, in particular, has become a hub of economic activity in recent years, with multinational companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Nvidia attracted by the educated workforce, and relatively low cost of living and labour costs.
These companies have set up multibillion-euro operations among the glistening skyscrapers in the city centre, creating a range of well-paid job opportunities. Poland has, for instance, outpaced huge countries like China, India, and Brazil for growth in online services, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Dominik Andrzejczuk is perhaps the new Poland’s biggest evangelist. A Polish-American venture capitalist, he got fed up with Silicon Valley’s macho “brogrammer” culture and now makes flashy videos and speaks at tech conferences about why companies should invest in plucky Poland.
"Poland is sitting on a gold mine of tech talent, ranking 4 overall in STEM graduates and number 1 in female STEM graduates," he said. "It’s this high concentration of tech talent that sets Poland up to be a real contender in the next 5-10 years… What really gets me excited is the quality of the engineers here".
Better work-life balance
One of those software engineers is Monica Wojciechowska. Born and raised in New Jersey in the US, her Polish heritage was always important to her.
Feeling stressed after working in marketing at big US companies, she eyed a career change and went to Warsaw for a programming boot camp. Five years on, she still lives in Poland.
"For me, it was beautiful to have a work-life balance and not be overworked. People in Poland have more hobbies outside of work, where in the US work is your life. People like to spend time with their family more in Poland," she told Euronews Next.
Did she have to take a massive pay cut for this quality of life? Not really.
"For a lot of programmers in Poland now, the salaries are becoming more equal to what you make internationally," said Wojciechowska.
"It might not be quite as high as in Silicon Valley, but it’s probably the highest-paid profession in Poland and the cost of living is a lot lower. For senior roles, they’re usually on par with what you get in the US for a normal company".
Agnieszka Sobczak also trained as an engineer. After doing her Erasmus in Spain, she dreamed of living abroad in the sun. But after frustrating stints in Budapest, Milan, Malta, and Granada, she realised that life in Poland had its benefits after all.
"The comfort of life is much nicer in Poland," she told Euronews Next.
Healthy economy discouraging emigration
After frustrating experiences with housing and healthcare in these dream destinations, she appreciates that in Poland’s cities, the “housing is modern and nice and warm inside”.
"In Warsaw, everyone speaks English and there is very good healthcare here," she added.
While she was working abroad, she met her Italian boyfriend, and they started making TikToks together about their lives as an International couple as @Aga_i_Stary. Now that they’ve returned to Poland, a lot of their content revolves around her boyfriend Smeraldo’s struggles with the challenging Polish language.
Having a thriving economy doesn’t just encourage immigration - it also discourages emigration.
"In the past, I would have looked abroad, I always thought about going to the US as a videographer, as a lot of my friends went to film school outside Poland, but right now I can see that most of them are coming back in every field, because there are so many companies investing and developing in technology,” Jan Strojny, a videographer and TikToker, said.
The diaspora of Poles abroad is such an important part of the country’s identity that they even have their own name, Polonia, so it’s no surprise that the government wants to help them.
After the Brexit referendum, when up to 200,000 Poles considered leaving the UK, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki noted that "Polish people are starting to realise that there are exciting opportunities waiting for them back home".
And in January 2022, Poland’s Finance Ministry set up the "Polish deal" whereby some of those who return won’t have to pay a zloty in income tax for the first four years after resettling to the country.
But it isn’t always simple to move to a country, even if you consider it your homeland.
"Some re-emigrants experience return culture shock after returning to their country, which is associated with stress and sometimes even depression. Therefore, you should also prepare yourself psychologically for the return," psychologist Halina Grzymała-Moszczyńsk, writing for a Polish government website Powroty (or Returnees), noted.
"Then comes the time to rebuild relationships with family and friends, to build a new plan for life. During this process, one should not forget about children born and raised abroad, who may have additional readaptation difficulties," she added.