Ethnic Polish Students from the Former Soviet Union in the Homeland of Their Forefathers. an Empirical Study

By Mucha, Janusz | East European Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Polish Students from the Former Soviet Union in the Homeland of Their Forefathers. an Empirical Study


Mucha, Janusz, East European Quarterly


Introduction

The aim of this article is to present the findings of an empirical qualitative research project on culture contact between ethnic Polish students from the former Soviet Union (the Polish diaspora is usually referred to as the Polonia, and I will be using this term as well) on the one hand and the Polish host society--Poles and Polish culture--on the other. On its general (theoretical and methodological) level, this project is based on the sociological, social psychological and cultural anthropological literature on culture contact; on psychological consequences of group contact for potential reduction of prejudices; on acculturation; on cultural shock and its phases, etc. (see Mucha 2000). I will not refer directly to this literature very often though, preferring to concentrate on the empirical problem and empirical findings.

Socio-Cultural Situation of Foreign Students

International or rather cross-cultural education is not only a modern phenomenon. Nor is it characteristic only of Western civilization, and studying abroad, in a foreign country, is as old as the recorded history. Adrian Furnham and Stephen Bochner give examples from the ancient India, medieval China, and medieval Europe (1982: 161-62). A great boom in international exchanges of students occurred, however, only after World War II. In the mid-1970s, the annual enrollment of foreign students reached about 600,000. About 80% of all overseas students attended educational institutions in the developed countries (Bochner, Lin and McLeod 1979: 29).

It seems that from the beginning of the post-World War II period the aims of cross-cultural education have not changed. They are as follows: intellectual and professional development of a given student in a specialized field of study elected either by or for him/her; "general education" of the student; and finally the furthering of international understanding (see, e.g., Coelho 1962: 56). While the first two aims seem to be significant from the very beginning of recorded international education, the third aim became particularly important only in the mid-20th century. However, "little hard data are available either to substantiate or dismiss the hypothetical link between study abroad and mutual understanding" (Bochner, Lin and Mcleod 1979: 29-30; see also Pettigrew 1998, Nowicka 1998).

Many scholars list a number of important social roles played simultaneously by foreign students: the role of a foreigner, of a student, of an adolescent, of a mediator between the culture of origin and the culture of host society. Requirements of the new foreign roles can contradict requirements of the "old," deeply internalized roles to which most of the sojourners will have to return, so a problem of role conflict and of living "between cultures" often emerges (see, e.g., Pedersen 1980: 302-04, Becker 1971: 467-73).

Educational Exchange and Studying in Poland

Hard and systematic data on the international exchange of students are not easily available in Poland. Until 1956, the post-World War II Poland educated annually between 300 and 600 foreign students. Between the years 1957 and 1968, an average number of 1000 foreigners were educated here annually, and between 1969 and 1980, 2000. In the mid-1980s, among the European socialist countries, Poland was last in the number of educated foreigners (see: Michowicz 1980: 65-66; Maslowski 1987: 69-78). In 1971, 3700 foreigners studied in Poland, in 1982 there were 3200 foreign students, and in 1990 there were 7080. The increase is particularly visible when we analyze the number of students from the "developing countries," the so-called "Third World." In 1971, they constituted about 30% of the foreign student population and in 1990 about two thirds. In 1990, about 10% of the whole foreign group were ethnic Poles (the Polonia students). The foreigners were educated mostly in various technological disciplines and only about 15% of this population studied the "university disciplines" (Maslowski 1990: 65-66; see also Lodzinski 1993: 88-89). …

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