The following is my review of my experiences at British Council in Kraków, Poland. I attended the CELTA program there in November and December of 2011. I’ll break things down into a few separate posts for easy reading, and so potential students of the CELTA can get a taste of this school, the tutors, and the experience in Kraków.
A Month in Kraków, Poland
The CELTA program is an intensive educational program, and lasts for a month, so wherever you might choose to do it, you’ll be spending a month there.
I have traveled all over the USA, but only twice outside of North America. My trip to Kraków was my second trip outside of North America, and I would highly recommend it as a place to stay for anyone interested in international travel. It was also an ideal city in which to be a student.
Kraków is an old city with a very long and rich history. The area has been settled since the stone age, and has been a city since the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596.
During World War II, Kraków became the capital of Germany’s General Government. The Nazis forced the city’s large Jewish population into the Kraków Ghetto, which is today fast being renovated and turned into a major economic center of the city called Kazimierz. The famous extermination camp, Auschwitz, lies just outside the city. As a result, there are numerous WWII memorials, museums, and cultural artifacts. The small outdoor markets often feature tables laid out with WWII memorabilia, from both the Axis and the Allies.
Kraków’s historic center includes Old Town, Kazimierz, and the Wawel Castle. The British Council offices are located in the center of Old Town, just a few steps from St. Mary’s Basilica, a gothic cathedral re-built in the 14th century.
It is a truly beautiful city, filled with architectural masterpieces built over the course of several centuries. While much of Kraków was destroyed in the numerous wars that have plagued Poland, much of it has been preserved, re-built, or renovated. The historic centers are a true marvel for those travelers coming from North America, who have likely seldom seen a building more than 100 years old.
The city has a few large, modern shopping malls near to the historic centers, just outside their borders, for those who are interested in a more modern shopping or dining experience.
Kraków possesses an incredible array of quality restaurants, cafes, and shops. The selection of international foods is a bit limited, with Italian food featured prominently. Asian restaurants are less numerous, though quality Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Indian may be found here. The selection of foods from Poland and the surrounding nations, however, is extremely plentiful. Restaurants here are inexpensive by North American standards, but the food in the historic centers does tend to be marked up by 20% to 200% compared with restaurants outside the central historic centers. To give an idea of the pricing, I frequented a local Polish hole-in-the-wall that would give a four-course meal with drink for about US$9. I also went to a fine-dining restaurant, and ate a three-course meal with a half-liter of quality Polish draught beer for only $25.
Accommodations can be rented at very reasonable rates. When staying anywhere in former Soviet nations, I would highly recommend renting an apartment rather than staying in a hotel. There are several reasons for this. First, apartments can usually be had for a lower price, especially when staying for an extended period, such as over a week. Second, an apartment will usually include an equipped kitchen, an iron, an ironing board, an equipped bathroom with hair dryer, and often other amenities like washer/dryer, etc. Third, an apartment will generally provide more privacy, as the cleaning crew only enters once per week, instead of once per day, as in a hotel. Hotels throughout former Soviet nations tend to be highly overpriced relative to apartments, and to offer very few amenities, if any.
For all of the above reasons, Kraków is an incredibly nice city for a student to attend any sort of educational program. I would highly recommend it for anyone considering overseas education.