Expat interview: How Romania became Agnieszka Krawczyk’s new home and inspired her to write a book
Romania is a special country for Agnieszka Krawczyk, a young woman from Poland. After studying the Romanian language & literature and visiting the country several times, she decided to move here in the autumn of 2019. But there's much more to her Romanian story, as her special connection to the country also brought love to her life and inspired her to write a book.
"I hope that my story and my book will make more people love Romania, in a conscious and mature way, with all its ups and downs. Because Romania is worth it." - Agnieszka Krawczyk.
Agnieszka Krawczyk, 33, is from the city of Poznań, Poland. That's also where she went to high school and university. She focused on studying Romance linguistics at first but, later on, she also began learning Romanian - a not very common option of study in Poland.
"My choice of Romanian language and literature was kind of a surprise for my friends and family, but my parents strongly supported my choice. And till today, I think that was one of the best decisions in my life," Agnieszka told Romania-insider.com.
That's when she started growing her special connection with Romania. She is now a major fan of Romanian literature, culture, traditions and heritage, and more. And the author of a book named Rumunia. Albastru, ciorba i wino/Romania. Albastru, ciorba and wine, which presents secrets and facts of Romania to Polish readers.
Today, she is living in Bucharest with her Polish husband. Another special chapter in Agnieszka's story, as Romania also played a major role in the way she met her life partner.
Meet Agnieszka Krawczyk and discover her Romanian story & her book from the interview below.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I'm 33 years old, born and raised in Poznań, the centre-west part of Poland. This nearly half a million city is also where I lived with my closest family (parents, brother and grandparents), where I finished high school and studied.
I'd like to think that the years of study were among the best years of my life and actually formed me as a person. I started with Romance language and literature studies, but in the 2nd year, I had the idea that I'd like to learn another language in a profound way. My choice of Romanian language and literature was kind of a surprise for my friends and family, but my parents strongly supported my choice. And till today, I think that was one of the best decisions in my life. I met incredible people, participated in Romanian language and literature related events, and even if the French language was my first choice, Romanian was the best one.
It's not very common to learn Romanian in Poland. There are only two universities – Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza in Poznań and Uniwersytet Jagielloński in Cracow, where you can get a degree in Romania language and literature.
After my master's degree in Romanian literature (I finished the Romance language and literature studies one year before that), I started doing my PhD studies – my PhD thesis was a comparative study of French and Polish language. Of course, during my studies, I had a scholarship for my good grades and some small jobs like teaching French or piano, but I would not consider it the beginning of a professional career, more like first experiences in my life.
During my PhD studies, I've also met very interesting people, and with many of them I'm still in contact and we're good friends. I've also met my husband – and it was actually Romania that connected us, even though he's also Polish.
How long have you been living in Romania, and what brought you here? What is your main activity in Romania?
I moved to Romania in the autumn of 2019, but before that, I visited my second fatherland quite often. I couldn't move permanently because of my studies, I did it just after getting married and getting my PhD degree.
I started working for a travel agency in Sibiu, that's where my husband has been working since 2012. Sibiu also was my first hometown in Romania. Unfortunately, with 2020 and the pandemic, the interest in tourism dropped dramatically, and we needed to search for new jobs. That's how my husband Mariusz and I ended up in Bucharest. We're both working in international corporations right now, we got our jobs because we're both native speakers of the Polish language.
Please describe your first encounter with Romania.
It was one of the most amazing moments in my life. I still think of this experience as if it was all a very vivid dream. I've visited painted monasteries in Bucovina with some students from my department and history department. Even though it was a short and very intense visit – I immediately felt a deep connection with Romania and its people.
Our research tutor was our Romanian history professor. She's an author also – one of her greatest books is about Vlad the Impaler as a historical figure versus Dracula as a literature hero; I've read it when I was still a young girl, I was maybe 15 years old. Little did I know that this was just one of the few premonitions pointing toward my future career and life. I've got some books from that study trip as I am a little bookworm.
Now I'm planning to visit Bucovina and Maramureș with my husband just to reconnect with those extremely beautiful regions and relive that first experience.
What was your main challenge when arriving in Romania? How did you overcome it?
I would not say it was a challenge. I moved to Romania after my studies, knowing Romanian, English and French, knowing the history and culture of this country. It was a fully conscious choice, and after meeting my husband, who had already lived for quite some time in Sibiu, a natural one for me.
I think the most painful was saying goodbye to my friends and family from Poland, and it was really hard especially during the pandemic – the last time I had a Christmas dinner with my parents was back in 2018. My husband didn't see his part of the family since our wedding day in May 2019. But I'm hopeful that we will be able to see each other more often now.
Every one of my friends and family has an open invitation from us – and I can't wait to show them Bucharest and other Romanian cities, villages and regions. That's one of the dreams that keep me going.
You met your husband in Romania? How did it happen?
Actually, we've met at the International Tourism Fair in Poznań – he was there with his boss from Sibiu, and I was asked to be an interpreter for another travel agency from Bucharest. It was back in 2014. It was brief three days – and then he was just a colleague from work.
But in 2015, he started to hit on me, and when I agreed to be officially his girlfriend, he said: "Perfect, we will get engaged in a year from now, and in two years, we'll get married". I was shocked, but oh boy, he did keep his promise. We got married two and a half years after getting engaged – just because I wanted to get married in May and not in December.
And because it was Romania that brought us together, our wedding, which was in my hometown in Poland, had a Romanian main theme – my wedding dress and his shirt and bow-tie had traditional Romanian motifs (it was ordered and made in an atelier in Bucharest), we had Romanian wine (and Polish vodka and beer of course), and our guests did get a small ceramic mug made in Corund as a thank-you souvenir. We also had some Romanian music – and I must confess – also the well-known song "Dragostea din tei", which was a great hit back in the days in Poland. Of course, we invited our friends from Romania, who experienced a Polish wedding and its traditions for the first time.
I cherish the memories from this day as I felt loved and surrounded by those who love and support me. And all of this because one day I had the idea to start Romanian language and literature studies.
What are the three things you like most about Romania and why? What don't you like in Romania, what would you change?
I won't be original – I like people the most, but I do also adore Romanian literature, culture and attachment to the tradition and heritage. I'm amazed by poetry and traditional Romanian clothing, especially ia – I have a few of those blouses and one complete traditional costume.
I cannot really explain why, but I do feel Romanian words and their meaning is deep for me, not just the very unique ones like dor or doina, but in general – I actually cried reading some of the Romanian poems, like one of my favourites Moartea căprioarei of Nicolae Labiș. It moved me so deeply.
I'm also moved whenever I see sincere reactions of Romanian people, especially in moments of crisis, like protests – and I admire the Romanian spirit, but unfortunately, like Polish people, we can gather and make astonishing things and cooperate only in a critical moment. Afterwards, everybody goes back to the day-to-day life, and that fantastic spark that could change society for the better dies out. That would be one of the things I do not like.
Another one is the low self-esteem of Romanians for themselves and Romania. Whenever I say I'm from Poland, I usually hear how great Poland is and how pitiful and ugly Romania is – that is the most heard reaction from random Romanians. Obviously, every country has its nice and bad parts or moments in history, but it's sad and depressing to concentrate only on things that are not going well.
The third thing, which I think is linked in a way to the previous ones, is the famous merge și așa – if we have a society that's based nearly entirely on that way of thinking, things won't change. Because even if something's bad but merge, it is left to be the way it is. I hope this mentality will change, and Romanians will be more confident in themselves as a nation and society because only together we can change and improve ourselves – for us, for our close friends and family, and therefore for society.
And I do hope, even if it sounds like some generic coaching quote, that we are able as Romanians and Polish people to aspire to do better things. Because we have one life and one future.
What advice would you give to a foreigner that comes to Romania to live as an expat?
It depends on which part of the world this person would come from – if it's from central-east Europe, the cultural shock won't be significant. I'd recommend visiting more regions like Transylvania, Maramureș or Bucovina, especially the countryside, because as a great poet said, veşnicia s-a născut la sat. I think that to understand Romanians and Romania, the key is the countryside – and I admire how proud of this heritage Romanians are.
Another tip – even if Bucharest at first doesn't look appealing, give this city a chance, stroll around more, you can discover some hidden gems. And remember the capital does not reflect on the whole country - every region, city, village has its own charm.
Trying local food, especially ciorba, is a must, and if you're searching for vegan or vegetarian options, try asking about meniu de post.
I think that with a bit of goodwill and an open heart, everybody can find their best place here, in Romania. I did that, and I could not be happier.
Last year you released a book on Romania. What inspired you to start such a project?
As with nearly everything Romania-related in my life – it was a little accident of good luck. When I started my PhD studies, I've met this amazing girl who just published her book about Sweden. We became close friends, and it was her who actually recommended me to the Publishing House – Wydawnictwo Poznańskie – the publisher of her book. I got the offer, gave it a short thought, and accepted. It was the start of an incredible journey, and I was more than happy to describe and present Romania to Polish readers.
I started with the all-loved subjects like cuisine, traditions, literature, and when I finished, it was a long text – around 300 pages in Microsoft Word format, excluding the complete bibliography and list of cultural recommendations. When I started, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to provide the bare minimum for the publisher, and when I ended the first draft, it was too much! I needed, of course, with some consultations, to cut out some of the fragments, even two short chapters. But I don't regret it – I feel like right now, the length and the subjects described are on point. And I still have some material for a next one, maybe if there will be interest.
Have you discovered something surprising while writing this book?
I think that I was surprised that even if I heard about something, the research for the book gave me an opportunity to dig deeper into the subject at hand. I adore traditional Romanian clothing, but with this book, I discovered the whole embroidered language hidden in all intricate signs and colours; I've learnt more about the Dior vs Bihor matter, where Romanian online dared to call out and point out that the big fashion houses do not recognize the source of inspiration.
Even if I didn't use all the information I've got – because otherwise, writing would not finish – it was very educational for me in a lot of aspects. I tried to gather all the subjects that are important to me – starting from pointing out the harmful stereotypes and the biggest surprises that usually Polish tourists encounter during their visit here through the beauty and important aspects of the countryside in Romanian mentality and philosophy, the cuisine, traditional clothing and traditions, or the fight to keep all this beautiful heritage alive. I also took the legend of Dracula into a different (I hope) perspective, showing Bran Castle as the castle of Queen Marie of Romania (which is one of my favourite historical figures!) and not a spooky and scary haunted place.
As a linguist myself, I also wrote about the Romanian language, some funny-sounding words in Romanian for Polish people (hint – the word după makes mostly all Polish tourists giggle), even Romanian profanities (which are so cool!) because they're a part of the language system and communication, or about Aromanian and other languages – sisters of Romanian. I also wrote about nature (but not the mountains, because it's not my cup of tea), Bucharest and its history and my favourite places in the city, about nowadays problems, big protests, and also, which is very important for me as a woman, Romanian heroines like Elisabeta Rizea, but not only about her.
And what was the most beautiful thing as a writer – I got to laugh and cry while writing because this story, those subjects are very dear to me, and I think I've somewhat poured my heart and soul into this book. It also gave me an opportunity to vent a little because I wrote mostly during the pandemic, so it also kept me going during those hard times. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by information and isolation – I still had my Romania on paper, waiting for me with more exciting discoveries.
Was this your first literary project?
Technically speaking, it's the first, and I hope not the last book I've published, but I wrote before – participating even in literature clubs and literary competitions with my short stories, poems and even two dramas (comedy and tragedy). I even have an unfinished fantasy story, now around 100 pages long, so writing itself wasn't a new thing for me; it was the first one that would reach the vast public and the first that took the form of a book. This one is a very hybrid style – it's not a guide, it's not a book about just traveling, it's not even reportage in its classical form.
I'm very eager to hear the feedback – most of the reviews I've got until now are favourable and very good. The most exciting is to read that somebody, after finishing my book, is already thinking to visit Romania for the first time. All of this is because of enormous support from Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, who guided me in this creative process, pointed me in the right direction because, as you can see, whenever I'm writing or talking about something I love – I just can't stop. And usually, I'm making a ton of digressions.
I also had the patronage of the Romanian Cultural Institute and good media coverage (interviews online, in person, TV appearances, radio etc.), which was exciting and a big first for me.
I'd also like to make a meeting with readers here in Bucharest, at the Polish Institute, because meeting the readers and discussing is fun! And being socially deprived after the pandemic and lockdowns – I'm just hoping for more!
So in terms of a big project and a new journey, I started with this book – I can say it's my first.
Will this book also be published in Romanian? Do you plan to write other books inspired by Romania?
I don't know if translating/publishing this one in Romanian will be interesting for Romanian readers or even expat readers in Romania because the story and the narration are very Polish-reader oriented. But I would need Romanians who know Polish to read it and confirm my suspicion.
I'm explaining some basic stuff (like what's ciorba or țuica) because I know it's something mostly new and different for Polish readers. Especially those who have a very vague idea about Romania and are reaching for my book to understand more – the idea behind this book is that it should be balanced between very general information and very specialized one. And to cover different topics so that every Polish reader can find something for himself.
I'd like to write more about Romania, and I have an idea to present some of the most important Romania women to the Polish public – because those stories are so amazing and inspiring – and it barely touched this subject in this one.
And maybe one day I'll be able to write something in Romanian for Romanian readers as well. Maybe a book, maybe poetry… I'm not ruling out any possibility. I hope that whatever the future brings in that regard is a new, astonishing journey to take on.
How can readers interact with you, and where can they buy your book?
So this book is available in a hard-cover format and ebook format here and in all big bookstores in Poland like Empik (a similar thing to Romanian Cărturești). Also, you can find it online on different websites – the one I gave it's an official online bookstore of the publishing house – Wydawnictwo Poznańskie.
Anyone can contact me via my official email at email@example.com or private message on Facebook and Instagram - Pokochaj Rumunię and pokochajrumunie - pokochaj Rumunię means in Polish fall in love with Romania.
I hope that my story and my book will make more people love Romania, in a conscious and mature way, with all its ups and downs. Because Romania is worth it.
Irina Marica, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Opening photo: courtesy of Agnieszka Krawczyk; photo credit: Karol Górski)