Ms Margaret Adamson, the Australian Ambassador, recently spoke to Grzegorz Nawrocki about her country's view of Poland and the possibilities for Polish students in Australia.
GN: What image do Australians have of Poland?
M. Adamson: We are blessed in Australia with a very active Polish community. This is a community numbering some 150,000 individuals in our population of nineteen million. It doesn't sound large but because our population is so diverse - we're made up of people coming from over 120 countries - the Polish population is the fourteenth-largest community. The Polish community is very active in helping to bring to the Australian population not only the country's traditions and customs, but also the modern Poland, so that there is an awareness among Australians generally of modern Poland.
During the Cold War most Australians didn't think too much about the differences between all the Warsaw Pact countries or Central and Eastern European countries. But now this differentiation is developing very rapidly and the perception of Poland in Australia is increasingly of a modern state, a large state, a state which has much to offer in terms of investment opportunities, a state with a vibrant culture, a state with a very strong intellectual tradition. In Australia too, Polish-Australians are among our intellectuals and cultural figures.
Having said that, however, I would say that we still have a great amount to do. We still have to do a lot of awareness-lifting in both countries. But a great deal is being done and, frankly speaking, we are busier than we have ever been in all parts of our embassy in terms of this discovery on both sides.
What do you think Poland can learn from the Australian experience?
I'm very cautious to respond to questions like that because I feel very strongly that it's not appropriate to lecture another country about one's own experience and I think it is never possible to simply take a country's experience and export it or import it. Every country is unique, every society is unique and they must make their own choices and they must make their own policies based on their own experience.
But at the same time I think that they can share with each other some aspects of particular approaches. In Australia we have a mixture of cultures. This has led us to insist upon mutual respect and mutual tolerance of difference and we have very strong legislation that demands that there is no discrimination on the basis of colour, religion, sexual preference, gender or ethnic origin. There can be no legal discrimination. But of course we all know that informally there can be prejudice which does continue in society and I'm not claiming there is none of it in Australia. But what I'm saying is that we might perhaps have less than elsewhere simply because we are such a mixture, and evidence of a cosmopolitan society can be seen just by walking down the street in most of our cities. This experience is something very positive that Australia can share with other nations.
Is Australia a good place to study for foreign students?
I think the figures speak for themselves. Education services, along with tourism, are two of our major exports. Students from all over the world come to Australia for all kinds of courses. They often combine a course with a look at our country, and this we very much welcome because it helps us to develop international relationships. I feel that if young people take the opportunity to travel and learn about different countries and different countries' approaches, this is a wonderful investment for international relations in the future. It's also a potential investment in business relations, but fundamentally it is an investment in people-to-people contact and mutual understanding.
What should a Polish candidate consider before applying to an Australian university? How far does the factor of cost discourage young people from studying in Australia?
Cost very obviously is something that must be taken into account. What we tend to find is that students who come to Australia for a twelve-week course or longer discover, after all the costs are taken into account, that the cost evens out with that of going to the United Kingdom or the USA. The longer one is there the more economical it becomes. The details for the various types of packages are available on our Embassy website www.australia.pl. I think people are often very nervous about the sheer distance and automatically expect it's going to be terribly expensive simply because it's so far away. But if you travel at the right time of year, a return ticket to Australia can cost under US $1000. And when you get there the cost of living in Australia is actually very reasonable. I think the average Polish person considering this kind of study would be pleasantly surprised by the cost of living in Australia.
Are you enjoying yourself in Poland?
I enjoy my work enormously and I am very committed to what I am asked to do here so it goes without saying that I enjoy my time in Poland in a professional way. I have quite a young family - three young children: 13, 11, and 9, and obviously they like to see something of their mother as well as their father. So in my free time at the weekends we go to museums, take trips here and there around the countryside to show the children different parts of Poland. Overall it's a fascinating country to be in and right now it's an exciting time to be here because of the pace of change and the optimism that one finds. One feels very privileged to be in this country at this time.