Brian Panasiuk, an American-Polish student of philosophy – Study in Poland

“I fell in love with your country, and I really would like to stay here”. Brian Panasiuk, half American, half Polish student of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin. He just began the second year of PhD studies, and he’s not thinking about any other place in the world. Why and how Brian fell in love in Poland? We invite you to lecture below!

Why did you decide to study abroad? And why Poland in particular?

Well, my father is Polish, and he’s actually from Lublin! In the early eighties he jumps over the Berlin Wall, he got to West Germany, and he managed to leave Europe for good. My mother, obviously, is American. I did my bachelor in the US at North Carolina State University. Later I started looking for new opportunities for study, something a little bit more exciting but also not necessarily too exotic <laugh>. I’m actually Polish-American citizen, so I considered to put it in proper use. After my bachelor studies, I did some work as a high school teacher, but I didn’t quite feel fulfilled. I also wanted to continue my studies, and I had a particular interest in philosophy. I wanted to see and experience something new, and during my research, I discovered that studying in Europe is free, in particular, considering in Poland, so I decided to pursue my studies in Poland <laugh>

Since you are in Poland for some time now, how is your Polish?

I have to admit that I’m struggling with it a bit. My father raised me in Polish culture, and I was part of polish clubs through all of my youth, but I never really picked up a language. I’ve been in Lublin for four years, and I’m able to communicate, but it’s only at the B1 level, sadly. Maybe after another four years here, I will study thoroughly in Polish, but for now, it’s in English obviously.

Why the Catholic University of Lublin?

I really like CUL, I really enjoy the diversity of opinions and the fact that there is a lot of different things offered. In any time I can pick something up from Polish philology, throughout Celtic studies and ending at more scientific studies. It’s just exciting just to be around that environment. Even at my philosophy department of which the CUL is famous for, there are great historians, linguists and it’s great to be a part of that. Also, the student body is perfect. We have people from all over the world here, and it’s crucial.

Any bad experiences?

I do have a single critique, but it’s a minor one. The administration here, just from the perspective of documents and other official forms is quite tricky and unorganized. But it goes not only at CUL but in general in Poland. For people outside the EU, admission might be challenging. With me, it’s a bit tricky because I’m half Polish, so I applied as a Polish citizen.

And why philosophy studies particularly at CUL?

I finished my Master Degree here, so I decided to carry on at CUL. Currently, I’m working here on my PhD. Catholic University in Lublin has a very particular brand of philosophy called “The Lublin method of Thonism”. It’s a mystic philosophy, but they incorporate more existential ideas into it. It’s a developed form of Thonism. I like that idea of being set into classical philosophy and having the foundations, but also not being afraid to discuss new issues, being able to take ancient philosophy and put it into modern contexts. It’s a big reason why I didn’t study in the States. There is a massive trend in States right now is a complete “contrarianism”. It means just to be utterly contrary to everything and not having any basis on from which you make your statements upon. I was very attracted to the idea that while we have the foundation, we also can discuss and are not afraid to have a modern approach to ideas and conflicts.

Have you used any university programs or scholarships?

Well, being Polish at Polish school is also great, because I can apply for Polish scholarships. Currently, I have several scholarships, mostly connected to the school. For instance, I have a special scholarship related to the philosophy studies, as well as the dean’s scholarship, which apparently is quite prestigious. I have to say, it makes my life easier, but as I said, I had to work hard for these scholarships. They didn’t just fall from the sky up to my feet. There is also Erasmus+. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m planning. I am hoping to go to Germany and study under a german professor. My speciality at the moment is the philosophy of Karol Wojtyła. He was interested in and discussing german philosophy as well. His works were connected with german philosophy, in particular, phenomenology. I would like to go to Germany and study that a little bit more.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I will try to become a professional university academic with the title of professor. I’m currently looking if I can do that in Poland, but thinking about other options. If things go differently for me, well I have some experience as a teacher in US high school for 1,5 years. Just in case I can always go back and do that, but I am hoping to become a professional academic. For some time now I’m a part of CUL’s scholarly ecosystem, I fit in, I’m enjoying it, and I really would like to try to continue doing that here, at CUL. Of course, I’ll take anything offered by anyone, but my dream is to be a professor at CUL. If not, I would like to teach at any kind of medium size and more “relax” university, either in the States or in Europe. I don’t like this unhealthy pressure of being the best from the best. Well, I’m 27, and I’m trying to get more serious with my life. Fortunately, I have some perspectives, and I’m definitely sticking to my plan. Still, I do recognize that things don’t always fall into line.

But why in CUL particular?

Like I said – I’m very interested in the Lublin method of Thonism, but it’s a specific kind of philosophy that Lublin offers. I really wish to learn it and participate in it. With all honestly – if I would go to Warsaw, Krakow or any other university in a bigger city, I wouldn’t be learning this unique system of philosophy. I would be learning a kind of philosophy that – with all due respect – I could be learning in anywhere else in the world. I was really looking for something unique and different, that could make me stand apart of other things.

How do you find a study at CUL?

Primarily I can say that study at CUL is very multicultural. Even within my classes, there is a large foreign community, which it’s very active with different cultural things in English. All of these different people from all over the world can participate in. I also try to be engaged in those international groups and their events. Outside my philosophy classes, I’m also taking part in history and language classes, like Latin and German, for example. Even though I’m learning philosophy, I also have been able to try many other things.

What about Lublin as a city?

I like it quite a bit! Lublin is relaxed! Primary I find myself very rural, for me, Lublin is as big as ancient Rome! <laugh> I come from a very very small town called Louisburg in North Carolina, in the southern part of United States. I often joke that there are more guns and cows than people where I grew up. For me Lublin is about as big enough as the city I would like to live in. Some people say it’s a little bit slow, but in a way, I’m a slow person, so that’s actually a good fit for me. Importantly Lublin is a very easy-going place. Since I find myself also easy-going, that’s significant value for me. Life of a city itself is also pretty present. There’s always a concert or a cultural event happening somewhere. I’m aware that in other cities is happening much more, perhaps even too much even to consider. I do like feeling that there’s this one event that everyone is waiting and preparing for. I’m renting a renovated attic, which is pretty funny, bohemian even!

What about your after classes activities? What do you do in your free time?

I like to make tank models and play strategic board games. I have a small fascination with military history, but it’s purely hobbyists. I’m also a part of a small group of friends who also likes to play strategy games. We meet up every Sunday in the morning and pretend to be Napoleon or Pilsudski. We have plenty of maps, and we recreate a lot of historical battles on maps.

And how do you find Lublin, or Poland in general, from a work perspective?

Well, I am in a unique situation because I’m both studying and teaching English, both nearly full time. So there are always some job opportunities, at least with my “kind” of skill sets. Lublin is full of universities, so there will always be some students who desire to learn English. Not only students but also pupils at high school etc. So in a way, even if I am not able to pursue my academic career, I can always continue my career as an English educator. And Lublin is a place where I can very quickly do that and make a secure living from that. Maybe not for everyone, but for somebody in my kind of situation, Lublin can be a very workable place. Also, I really fell in love with your country, and I would like to stay here. Ironically, if you put its money into money, I actually make more money in Poland. I did in the US, earning comparingly the same. So that says for itself. 

What kind of advantages and disadvantages do you see between studying in Poland and the United States?

The biggest bonus regarding living and studying in Poland is kind of the mindset of the nation. I know, it sounds quite proud, but in here education seems to be really important. The American ideal is that after high school, you will start your business and make a million dollars. So even though America does have some of the best institutions in the world, there’s still isn’t that cultural atmosphere where having a degree means something. While in Europe and in Poland, having a diploma carries more “weight” to it. But being brutally honest – the most significant disadvantage of my working here is not only a language barrier but also recognition. Even if I write the most beautiful philosophical text ever known in history, the fact that I’m doing my PhD at CUL, people will ask “OK, but what it that?” <laugh> I don’t want to be rude, but sadly the weight of the name things like Oxford, Notre-Dame or Harvard, will carry more than content. There are also some difficulties with the accreditation system in Poland. Because they teach some differently, there is some hard time finding accreditation and equal value. Although I could get my points in the US, it would be a long process, and it would take probably a year or so. It seems to me that a lot of polish schools, except Krakow’s Jagiellonian and perhaps Warsaw, are fortresses. They’re outstanding and smart but they kind of separated from the rest of the academic world.

And what about money?

Money goes much further in Poland. Of course, American currency is worth more than Polish, but things cost much more there. A Polish Złoty will get you more with things like rent or food, than a dollar in America. So, for an instant, my rent is ridiculously cheap here, as well as water and gas, but also basic necessities food, clothing. The only exception I would say is electronics, which are more expensive in Poland than in the US. With that being said: I live very comfortably with the money I earn in Lublin. With the money I make here, which is comparingly the same I was making in the States, I don’t struggle financially. I pay for rent easily, and my fridge is full, and that is most important! Also, the fact that a degree is for free is very tempting. I have friends in States who are also working on their PhD’s and they hundreds thousands of dollars of debt. While I owe absolutely nothing to any institution, which is good!

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