Study Abroad: How to attract American students to Polish universities

“How to Attract American Students to Polish Universities?” was the title and the main theme of the conference organized by the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission and the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) on March 7-8, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. During the conference, speakers from various institutions in the U.S. and Poland shared their strategies, insights, and success stories in fostering Polish-American educational exchanges.

The question of how to make Poland the primary choice for American grantees to study, conduct research, and teach echoed throughout each and every panel. What makes our country stand out and for whom? How to reach as wide an audience as possible? In what ways could we advertise Polish institutions of higher education as competitive educational leaders?

The conference comprised the keynote address titled “Why Polish academia can be attractive to American students?” by Dr. Juanita Villena-Alvarez, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort; an overview of Polish-American scientific cooperation jointly presented by Prof. Marek Konarzewski, Board Member of NAWA and Fulbright Poland and Dr. Grażyna Żebrowska, Senior Advisor on Science and Technology Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C.; an overview of grants offered by the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission and NAWA; a presentation by Dr. Christopher Medalis, International Education Expert in New York City focused on successful programs for American students in Central-Eeastern Europe; Dr. Villena-Alvarez’s lecture emphasizing the needs and preferences of American higher education institutions for their students; and three consecutive panels: 1. Enrolling to full course of studies; 2. Student exchanges for a semester or short term; and 3. Summer schools and internships.

One thought, in particular, was repeated throughout all of the sessions, namely: Get to know your audience and learn how to cater to their particular needs.

The Fulbright Program in Poland would not exist without the role of Polish institutions of higher education in hosting American grantees in Poland, and encouraging Polish grantees to pursue their research in the United States. Our partner, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA), also offers various Programs aimed at fostering Polish-American educational collaboration.

What are the benefits of initiating an educational cooperation with American students and scholars?

The United States has one of the largest and most prominent higher education systems in the world. Each year, more than 300.000 American students and scholars engage in international education programs as part of their academic experience. Our common goal is to show them that Poland is a fantastic destination to pursue their study-abroad dream. As an academic group, American students and scholars are driven by clearly established expectations, they have a well-developed work ethic, and they are willing to accept new challenges. They are curious about the world, wish to learn foreign languages, and explore what it means to live abroad, and experience different cultures hands-on.

Cater to their needs! Apart from clear education-related benefits, networking, and enhancing their professional careers, American students look for educational exchanges for reasons, such as: meeting new friends from various backgrounds, exploring different cultures, and learning about their own heritage. In general, they look for places that would offer clearly established guidelines regarding collaboration (including credit transfer when applicable), low cost of study, housing availability and devoted mentors.

Join an international education network, such as Generation Study Abroad IIE:

Visit a Study Abroad website:

Each American college and university has a separate office devoted to study abroad programs. You can contact them directly to discuss a desired collaboration, a new initiative, or to learn about their experience with exchange programs.

Check out the NAWA-organized Ready, Study, Go! Poland Campaign website with useful information about Polish Institutions of Higher Education that welcome foreign students and scholars:

Learn about the experience of American alumni of the Fulbright Program in Poland written in the form of testimonials:

Invite a member of our staff and/or an Ambassador of the Fulbright Program in Poland to discuss our current offer for Polish Institutions:

Contact NAWA with questions about their educational offer:

Follow us on social media. Fulbright Poland: Facebook (@FulbrightPolska), Instagram (@FulbrightPoland), and Twitter (@FulbrightPoland); Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange: Facebook (@NarodowaAgencjaWymianyAkademickiej), Twitter (@NawaAgency)

Contact our Fulbright alumni:

Agenda overview

In her keynote address, Prof. Juanita Villena-Alvarez highlighted the importance of promoting Poland as educational leader in order to foster international collaboration. She suggested that several steps could be taken to make Poland more visible for potential U.S. students and scholars through networking and promotion with the use of social media.

Among others, these steps include: locating and making visible the many Polish programs in the U.S. as potential audience; making connections with the heritage Polish Americans across the U.S. with different educational offers for high-school, college, and university students; membership in professional associations, such as NAFA, NAFSA and MLA, and participation in their annual meetings; “owning” the image of Polish historical figures i.e. Marie Curie-Skłodowska and Fryderyk Chopin by either organizing and/or widely publicizing existing conferences and festivals to gather international audience; organizing competitions for students and scholars on topics related to Polish culture, heritage and history with the use of social media for publicity; and organizing summer-school faculty exchanges to inform about the availability of research opportunities.

Prof. Villena-Alvarez also highlighted the role of internships in attracting American students to Polish universities. She argued that internships bridge the gap between education and the market economy, and suggested that student involvement in i.e. American Chamber of Commerce or Google, which are located in Poland, could result in potential collaboration.

In their presentation titled “An Overview of Polish-American Scientific Cooperation,” Prof. Marek Konarzewski and Dr. Grażyna Żebrowska emphasized how to develop a „success story” of Poland through science. They delineated various organizations and institutions, including Polish-American Historical Association, Polish-American Medical Association, Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA), U.S. Polish Trade Council (Top500 Innovators Program) as well as the Kościuszko Foundation, and their influence on the development of Polish-U.S. scientific and educational collaboration.

Dr. Żebrowska and Prof. Konarzewski discussed how various Polish scientists and innovators could serve as role models who would allow the world to see Poland through the lens of technology and scientific achievements. They also indicated high achievements of Poles in fields such as chemistry, physical sciences and life sciences. The speakers made it clear that one of the most important steps to further develop Polish-American scientific cooperation is reaching out to youth through organizing events such as “Poland Science Day,” scientific competitions, and olympics. Participation in these activities would allow young people to expand their interests, and potentially choose Poland as their future research destination.

In his presentation entitled “Opportunities for Central European Universities: Successes from Other Countries in the Region,” Dr. Christopher Medalis emphasized the importance of creating data-driven internationalization decision-making process in order to understand regional and local trends, recognize competition and potential sites for collaboration, as well as predict, and steer the institutions toward future needs. Reliable data sources that measure American student mobility include UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Institute for International Education’s (IIE) Open Doors annual report.

Dr. Medalis explained that American universities have a concept of “study abroad” for university students whose mobility abroad counts toward achieving their terminal degree through the transfer of course credit. The factors enhancing American student mobility in Central Europe include U.S. Accreditation (quality assurance system in the US) and Programmatic Accreditation (specific curricula, programs, departments or schools). Specific requirements to be met by non-U.S. institutions who wish to host American students regarding accreditation could be found through U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Medalis also highlighted the importance of scientific collaboration to foster exchange programs in the form of building partnerships with high-quality U.S. research universities and institutes, and the role of summer schools in attracting American students to Central Eastern Europe.

Prof. Juanita Villena-Alvarez’s interactive lecture entitled “Needs and Preferences of American Higher Education Institutions and Students for Study Abroad to Poland” focused on the role of an American university in enhancing, and administering student exchanges. Her lecture circled around several key questions: 1. How do American students within the university prepare for study abroad? 2. How do American faculty prepare for study abroad? And 3. How do American administrators prepare their students and their faculty to go and study abroad? Throughout her presentation, Prof. Villena-Alvarez emphasized how Poland, and Polish institutions of higher education fit within this process.

Case studies and best practices

Prof. Grzegorz Dworacki from Poznan University of Medical Sciences presented the idea of a program run by the Center for Medical Education in English at Poznan University of Medical Sciences – the Advanced M.D. Program. The program is designed for U.S., Canadian, and other international college graduates who have completed their pre-medical education and who have obtained satisfactory grades in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and English.

Candidates for this program may be accepted after demonstrating a necessary record of academic achievement and after attending an interview with PUMS Admissions Committee. This program is fully recognized by the Medical Board of California. The curriculum at PUMS is based on the American M.D. program and follows the American standards of education. The University is recognized by the United States Department of Education and by the relevant student loan providers.

Prof. Dworacki presented several tips on how to build such a connection between Poland and the United States. He said that the most important are:

  • Excellence in education with knowledge, passion and vision and great heart teachers,
  • Dedicated administration,
  • Good start,
  • To be proud of the program and alumni,
  • Precise admission requirements,
  • Alumni satisfaction (make sure that they are employable),
  • Stay in contact with alumni,
  • To have and to make friends.

PUMS also conducted a survey among candidates, alumni and current students. One of the question was How did you find information about the program? Most of the candidates said that they had heard good opinions from current alumni and friends (44%) or found information on the internet (30%). Other channels of promotion were: fairs, admission office, and other media (radio, magazines, TV).

The second question was: Why Poland? Students answered that:

  • In Poland a tuition and living costs are much lower than in the US,
  • Undergraduate studies in medical sciences are not available in USA,
  • Diplomas are recognized worldwide,
  • Admission process is easy and accessible for US students,
  • Quality education and infrastructure is very high,
  • Location allows students to travel around Europe during study breaks.

After Prof. Dworacki’s presentation, an American student – Aaron Zak – from Medical University of Gdansk presented his perspective on studying medical sciences in Poland. He said that he chose Poland because of his Polish heritage, academic excellence and perspectives. It was also important for him that studies in Poland are much cheaper than they are in the U.S. After graduation, he would like to stay in Poland.

Dr. Krzysztof Bojanowski from the Faculty of Architecture, Cracow University of Technology presented an idea of a short-term program in architectural education for students in Europe. Since 1992, Dr. Bojanowski has been a coordinator of two-way student exchange program between the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee, and the Faculty of Architecture of the Cracow University of Technology. The first edition took place in 1989 with the Krakow branch of the Association of Polish Architects hosting the event. The first American student enrolled in the summer semester of 1993. Since then, around 600 students have participated in the project.

An important element of the program for UT students are lectures on European and Polish architecture, which are supported and complemented by the following study trips:

Central Europe: exploration includes keeping in mind the history of the continent

  • significant architectural objects and urban settings,
  • modern and ancient history influences,
  • visited cities: Graz, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague, Brno, and Zagreb.

Architectural Tours around Poland

  • duration: about 9 days (May)
  • visited cities: Warsaw, Gdansk, Gniezno, Malbork, Bialystok, Zamosc, and Kazimierz Dolny on the Vistula river
  • unique element: a visit to Karlowicz Philharmonic Szczecin

Berlin and Dresden tour

  • two cities that were partially destroyed during WWII,
  • Berlin: laboratory for urban design,
  • Annual photo exhibit – Urban stories.

Conclusion: Variety of activities, schedule is packed.

Core idea: follow-up after coming back from the U.S. (bottom-up)

Dr. Piotr Kmon from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow talked about scientific cooperation projects coordinated by AGH. Each year, in collaboration with foreign partners, the university conducts approximately 200 research projects. AGH is also focused on collaboration with business and industry.

Project Rigaku Corporation, Japan, USA

  • Rigaku Corporation – a leading producer of modern equipment for testing the contents and structure of materials
  • AGH achievements in the field of designing integrated circuits have opened up opportunities for collaboration with the Japanese company Rigaku Corporation
  • AGH students and doctoral students can enjoy the opportunity to do practical training in research and development centres in Japan

2010 – AGH started a project with Fermilab, Illinois, USA

  • Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) is a US Department of Energy, national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics.
  • US Argonne National laboratory: project on X-ray Photon Correlation Spectostropy

Other international activities:

  • at least two international conferences per year (
  • new studies launched in 2014 – Electronics and Microelectronics
  • guest lectures (well-known professors)
  • 45th EESCIRC Conference hosted by AGH. The conference provides an annual European forum for the presentation and discussion of recent advances in solid-state devices and circuits.

Conclusion: the main challenge lies in how to finance these projects to ensure equal access and participation.

Presenter: Dr. Katarzyna Maniszewska, Deputy Provost for International Cooperation, Collegium Civitas, Warsaw

How could we show American students that Poland could be an attractive place to study?

Summer schools

Collegium Civitas partners with SRAS, an American organization located in California, to organize a summer school program for American students. The program started in 2015 with 8 participants in one summer school course. In 2018, there were over 60 participants and six thematic courses devoted to security, criminology, cybersecurity, history and cultural diversity.

The framework of the summer school was structured in a way which would allow students to immerse themselves in Polish culture with pre-organized visits to museums, institutes, concerts, as well as carefully planned educational travel to Kraków. In addition, the participants visited Berlin where they learned more about the history of the Cold War.

Courses offered include: „Security Issues and Central Europe” (a broad overview of the challenges faced by the countries of Central Europe, NATO, and the European Union with an exploration of topics, such as intelligence, hybrid war, cybersecurity, resource security and the role of new and traditional media in state security), „CEE: The Road to Democracy” (an overview of the history of transition from communism to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe with focus on the development of Polish Solidarity movement and the processes that had led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany in 1990, and the collapse of the Soviet Union), „The History of the Holocaust,” and „Jewish Heritage.”

The Summer School Internship

  • 10 interns working on research projects under academic supervision by Terrorism Research Center experts.
  • The main thematic focus of the internship: the shifting paradigm of security. Students worked on topics that cover various security challenges, such as information warfare, security in the post-truth world, cybersecurity, the role of education in countering terrorism, the media in the strategies of terrorist organizations, prevention of mass shootings and active shooter situations, and radicalization and recruitment to terrorist organizations in the Information Age.
  • As a result of the Internship, a book titled „Security and Society in the Information Age” was published, containing papers written by interns, academics and experts on security issues.

Presenter: Gedeon W. Werner, Central European Institute at the Quinnipiac University’s School of Business in Connecticut

Prevailing question: What makes American students want to come to Poland?

MBA Program

  • Each year, they sponsor 2 Polish students for an MBA program with work visa (fully funded)
  • Student exchanges with Poland and Hungary since 2008 (Started with Hungary and expanded to Poland)
  • Bringing faculty – partner with Kozminski Academy through Erasmus plus program
  • Sponsoring artists in residence (art as ambassador): i.e. hosted 2 Hungarian art exhibits in Florida; hosted 3 artists in residence: two from Hungary and one from Poland
  • Student Consulting Project

Idea behind the program:

The program was established a few years ago. Students from both MBA program and other departments work together to provide a consulting service to the real company (8-12 graduate and undergraduate students). They work mostly with companies in Hungary (and one in Poland), which plan to enter the American market. The service is pro bono: students get course credit and a chance to gain experience, which will be reflected on their CVs (important for American students). The fact that they are working for a real company is also important for gaining real-life experience (weekly consultations through skype). Students are doing a thorough job and the product they give to the company is outstanding. The program is constantly looking for new companies to work with. Interaction with companies is based on needs assessment and measuring capabilities.

What the students say: thrilled that they are in real-life work situations; first-time work experience with real managers (even if it is a tiny company); young students who are happy to work for international companies (the only reward is a thank you note from Consul General); students enjoy exchanging ideas with their international colleagues

Global Business Affairs Polish Certificate Program

Geared toward students in Business School. Requirements include an Internship in Poland and a semester in Poland during their third year of study. The program also requires immersion in networking activities, meeting with Polish companies, learning about Poland etc.

Quinnipiac University is oriented toward very practical skills. Having a defined industry and not offering doctoral programs is how they survive among all the Ivy Leagues in the area.

What attracts American students to study abroad?

  • family roots: desire to explore their cultural heritage and experience Polish culture hands-on
  • costs: the affordability of the host country (Poland).
  • country where English language is spoken (Poland)
  • clear curricular difference: The point of studying abroad is to experience and learn about new cultures, not to sit in a classroom all day. Tailored programs for students that are not the same as they are in the U.S. are particularly successful in attracting American students.
  • housing supplied by the university abroad so that students don’t have to rent an apartment.
  • where friends go. Party town?Should be a country known for something unique and exciting.
  • Internships: American students are very aware of their importance in building successful careers

Young people for young people – this is what Poland should change – the history, martyrology will not sell the study abroad program. Rather, programs should cater for young students and their needs, and tailor their message for them.

Werner is sceptical about American students wanting to come for a full time 4-year study. American college experience is a rite of passage with socialization clubs, living in a dorm etc. and students don’t want to miss out on that. But 2+2 years programs or 3+1 are getting more recognition in the U.S.

Presenter: Dr. Christopher Medalis, International Education Expert, New York City

Dr. Christopher Medalis addressed the question of how to promote international exchange programs to American students by situating Poland within the larger context of Central-Eastern Europe. He largely focused on the example of Palecky Univiersity in Olomouc, Czech Republic, a large, comprehensive university (2nd oldest in the country) and the main employer in the region as a case study for creating successful study abroad programs for American grantees.

In his presentation, Dr. Medalis emphasized that Palecky University organizes 18 summer schools ( i.e. in Central European History, Art and Culture, International and Comparative Law, Human Rights and Refugee Rights etc.) including creating custom programs requested by their international partners, which he analyzed as a new trend. Dr. Medalis claimed that in order to start a successful collaboration with a company, it is good practice to offer them a summer school, and tailor it to their needs. These summer schools are open to Americans, generate publicity, and promote their programs through the availability of scholarships.

Dr. Medalis addressed several issues to consider when organizing summer schools. These include: tailor-made programs; courses can be taught either by U.S. faculty or local professors, or preferably by the combination of the two; the importance of university partnerships and scholarship availability; course credit recognition; ECTS guidelines need to be met; and it is recommended to issue the certificate of completion through study department.

Dr. Medalis also stressed out a very practical dimension of organizing a summer school for American grantees, namely: it is good to have student workers, staff and volunteers on board, as well as an academic director in order to show that it is a solid program that offers high-quality education. Summer school organizers should plan ahead of time, and appoint a program officer who will be available for consultations with American students 24/7.



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