Letters from the FIELD: When Life Gives You Poland, Make Vodka-Lemonades

First off, let’s just acknowledge what most of us know already: Poland was not the most coveted FIELD location. But – as the saying goes – when life gives you Poland, make vodka-lemonades.

We are of course navigating the same project-related challenges, with the same slightly dysfunctional team dynamics, under the same bureaucratic HBS travel restrictions as any of the global cohorts.  But so far, I’ve been surprised the lovely experience here. Here are some things that Warsaw is: safe, clean, friendly, and ridiculously easy to navigate as an English speaker. And here are some things that Warsaw is not: snowy, exotic, or a real emerging market. During our photo project on Day 1, the group was amazed by how few “gaps” we observed. Insane driving and sidewalk parking notwithstanding, Warsaw’s infrastructure is impressive. At a nearby shopping mall, we admired some of the customer amenities, including a coat check and lockers that house charging stations for personal electronics. We may not be lounging poolside, but we are also not getting mugged. We are, on the other hand, drinking tap water and (to the best of my knowledge) nobody has needed their Cipro. Incidentally, the word for water in Polish, ‘woda,’ is just one letter different than ‘wodka’. Make of this what you will.

The members of the local population with whom we’ve interacted – Global Partners, tour guides, hotel employees, consumer research participants – have a bit of a collective inferiority complex. “You will think that Warsaw is not as beautiful or cultural as other European capitals,” they tell us. But then they remind us of how Poland was decimated during World War II (Warsaw was razed) and explain, “so now we are catching up.” Despite the apologies, and despite some truly hideous Communist-era architecture, I think Warsaw is attractive. Walking through Old Town and seeing the post-War restoration of the old neighborhood, juxtaposed against concrete Soviet towers and gleaming new constructions rising behind, you simultaneously appreciate the dark history but focus on the rejuvenation.

Written by Sarah Minkus