I am originally from Poland, but exactly seven years ago I chose Belfast to become my home. This was a conscious decision. I knew exactly where I was going and it felt exciting to see what I had learnt during history and geography lessons at school and University.
But the more you know about a place before coming to live in it, the more shocks you experience when it turns out not to be exactly how you thought it would be.
Belfast is not a place of conflict or intolerance any more. It is exciting and welcoming. I fi nd myself falling in love continuously with every place that I visit.
At the beginning, I wasn’t intentionally seeking any type of relationship with the local people I met, but I found most of them quite friendly. I realised that Belfast is trying to overcome its stereotypic image and actually, it is doing very well.
After so many years spent here, I now feel proud when I discover that some great international cultural event is coming to Belfast, like the MTV awards or Red Bull Crushed Ice, because this means the image of the city is improving all over the world. People feel like coming to Belfast to experience its vibrant and bright side.
My heart speeds up when I read new surveys which show Belfast in a good light, calling it the safest place to live in Europe or the most diverse friendly place in UK. I feel safe in Belfast. However there are things that you sometimes cannot control in your head, after all you have read or heard..
East Belfast, 9pm, local shop; a middle aged man in the queue in front of me started chatting to me. A brief conversation on the weather was going well and suddenly the guy asked: “are you from Poland?” A shiver ran down my spine. “Yes, I am” – I said.
“It’s great to see people from all over Europe here. Welcome! …and you have nice eyes!”
“Thank you” – I said and blushed a little. Not because he thought I had nice eyes. But because for a second, I doubted that he might actually have had good intentions asking me if I was Polish…
I doubted this because of recent racist attacks, I doubted this because I had heard so many stories, and I doubted this because I also had stereotypes in my head. But I have learnt my lesson. Ashamed that I actually thought that this lovely man would have had bad intentions, I realised that we (foreigners) have to open up a little bit more to the people of Belfast, as well as the other way round, so we can live together in a united community…