The Polish High School Experience

As an exchange student, every day I find new aspects of American culture. Although European schools have a lot of similarities to United States, I have found couple of differences and I would like to share them with you.


Laura Rozden, '22, Contributor

As an exchange student, every day I find new aspects of American culture. Although European schools have a lot of similarities to United States, I have found couple of differences and I would like to share them with you. Now it’s time for me to take you on the exchange straight to typical Polish high school! Let’s go!

The first big difference is the celebration of the beginning and the end of the school year. It is our tradition to return to school in elegant clothes. We wear black and white, but sometimes navy blue is acceptable. On September 1st, the beginning of the Polish school year, the headmaster announces any changes for the school and wishes us luck in our studies. Then we can go to our classroom with our class and teacher, where we are given the schedule. Our school year ends on June 25th, when students get awards for different achievements. All students receive certificates to commemorate their school year. We sing our anthem and march with our school’s flag at both the beginning and end of the year.

On the first day of high school, new students are divided into groups of 20 to 30 people. Each group is classified with its own letter, from A-Z, and they spend every class with each other till graduation. Each school each offers different types of classes, so when a student chooses a school, they must look at the classes carefully.  Classes in titles are said to be extended (like AP), but they last from the beginning of the high school until graduation. There are also technical high schools, where instead of extended classes, every student has professional-technical classes. The technical schools last 5 years instead of 4, but everyone during graduation gets title that allows them to start working. The extended class students attend university.

In our schedule every day of the week is very different. There is no standard start or end of the school day, because our classes range from 6-8 classes a day. There is always a 5-10  minute of break between classes, and students use this time to talk with friends, do revisions, or eat something. There is no lunch at Polish schools.

Our grades range between 1 (the worst) and 5 (the best). Sometimes student can earn a 6, if they win an award in a competition or do something extra for the class. We don’t have anything that I could compare to credits; grades are the base. Everyone whose grade is over a 4.75 gets a gift, usually a dictionary or a gift card.

We love organizing school trips! Some of them are just to the cinema, theatre, some of them are for couple of days. Sometimes we go camping and sightseeing in Polish cities. Some high schools organize even longer trips, usually for a week abroad. Schools travel to countries like France, Greece and Italy.

Although theatre is rare in Polish high schools, teachers and students organize small shows, often based on just having fun! The students watch the plays during school. We organize something for our school society for St. Andrew’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Woman’s Day. Usually initiative goes from students and teachers only support us if it’s needed!

In European schools, free exchanges are offered from Erasmus+, which is funded by European Union. Five students and a teacher travel for free for a week to the partner school. For this opportunity we have to complete an application and write essays. We are graded, so students with 5 the highest score can go! We are hosted by local families and we go to school to compete! We meet teenagers from usually 3-5 different countries!

We barely have a dress code! Our rules let as wear what we want, as long as it’s not just underwear and we feel comfortable in the outfit. We’re allowed to wear short skirts, colorful t-shirts, big earrings, rainbow makeup. If someone prefers just leggings and hoodie, it’s OK!

In Polish schools students don’t use computers. We need to have notebooks and textbooks for each subject. We also have chalk boards to write on, so the teachers can double-check our notes. In every class there’s Polish emblem and cross. Teachers have journal, where they put all our grades and attendance, sometimes positive or negative comments on our behavior! We don’t have quarters grades, we work by semester only. What more, we don’t have exams every year, there’s only one, when student are in the last grade.

Now, during a  global pandemic, a lot of things have changed. I’m almost sure that one day everything will come back in that way it was before COVID-19 and every student will be able to enjoy school more than now!

Although all of the schools have the same purpose, to help students in learning, every single country has different methods of organization. There are as many advantages as disadvantages in every single one. Let me know which school system you like better!