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From International Student to Real Estate Investor. A Story of Rajen, Expat In Katowice

Rajen has arrived to Katowice, Poland in 2019 to study medicine. Recently, he’s become a real estate investor. We’ve asked Rajen about his impressions of the city, Polish rental standards, investment motivations, and many, many more Poland-related issues.

ABOUT: Rajen is a student of the Medical University of Silesia, living in Katowice since 2019. He’s also been a Wellcome Home tenant from his very first moment in the city, on 25 September 2019. And now, he’s become one of our real estate investors. Read the interview and know this inspiring story!

“And the more I stayed here, the more I felt at home.”

Wellcome Home: Rajen, we know you’re British, but the story of your family is quite interesting. Could you tell us more?

Rajen: Well… Ethnically, my family is from India. My parents were born in Kenya, but my grandparents are from India (one of them left India when he was 11). They came to the UK because they had a British passport, being born in a British colony. They’ve been living in the UK since the 1970s, so quite sometime now.

And what’s your story?

I’m a pharmacist in the UK. I finished my degree in 2012 and registered in 2013, so I did some work. But then I thought: “Actually, I want to be a doctor!”.

And it’s how you ended here? How, why?

I’m really curious. My first degree was done in Portsmouth, South England and I wanted something different. But… I graduated more than 6 years ago, and my qualifications weren’t enough in the UK. I had to search somewhere else, but still wanted to stay in Europe. I was considering Italy and Poland.

So why not Italy?

I hate hot weather. I was born and raised in the UK. I went to Italy in the summer and I said “Noooo” [laughs].  Especially with climate change, it’s getting hotter every year.

We also see climate change in Poland, we can have really hot summers too.

Oh, yes. I arrived here for the first time for my university interview in July 2019, and it was hot, something like 27 degrees. But still better than Italy.

Any other reason to come to Poland, apart from the weather?

We have a large Polish community in the UK, and I used to serve a lot of Polish patients in London. Also, Poland seemed something new. I had never visited. I thought about which city to go to, and of course, only Warsaw came into my mind. I went to see the university, and it was ok, but the fees there were a lot higher than what I could afford. I went back home and literally googled the Polish medical universities with an international program, and Katowice was on the list.

And what was a deal-making factor?

So… me being me, I thought: “Let me look at the most convenient place to get to. I’ll have to fly back home a lot”. And Katowice had three flights a day. Now, there are two, but it’s still ok and Kraków airport is close enough too.

We already know you’ve been to Katowice in July 2019 for the first time.

Yes, I came for the interview with my brother. Our first impression was really nice. It was actually completely different. It was Sunday and everything was open (I didn’t know it was trading Sunday and I realized this only a few weeks after [laughs]). And my brother said: “Ok, let’s spend a few days in the city, do your interview, and we’ll see”. And the more I stayed here, the more I felt at home. Then I thought it could work.

How long have you been waiting to be accepted?

Only a few days later I got the news about admission and my brother instantly started looking for flats! I know the university has dormitories, but I’m very picky. Even when I did my previous degree, I had my place.

And this is how you became a Wellcome Home’s tenant?

Yes, your company popped up on Google, and you had some really nice flats available. I still remember Marek’s [Wellcome Home founder] face on your website [laughs]. We arranged everything in advance so when I came here in September, I just saw my flat, signed a contract and that was it!

4 years later, you’re still with us. Later on, I’ll ask you for rental experience, but now tell me: was it difficult to settle in Poland?

I’m very fortunate I’ve traveled a lot. We travelled every year with my parents, I visited Eastern Europe and the Balkans before Yugoslavia collapsed. And this experience is quite good when you go to another country and you experience other cultures. And, as in any other country, the main barrier is always language.

Can you speak some Polish already?

It is not so easy! It’s going bad because sometimes, especially young people, ask me: “Oh please, switch to English”. And this isn’t helping, but it’s fine. If I go shopping, to the bank or even to the post office, I don’t have any problem. I can get a bus or train ticket too.

And do you think it’d be possible to easily communicate in Katowice without knowing any Polish?

My first semester was this. I had no Polish at all, besides basics like: “Dziękuję”. The funny thing is that when you go to the restaurant or café, there’s no language issue. But I still wanted to learn the language.

And do you think we’re foreigner-friendly? What’s your opinion about Polish people in general?

You are really friendly. I’ve seen many things in the UK, so nothing’s going to shock me. But for the 4 years I’ve been here, I had no issues. It’s not such a big city. I’m from London, I’m used to it. What I think is that people do stare at you a lot more, but I can understand this, I look different from the usual European. I can still walk out in the evenings here and there are no issues and nowadays, you hear it more and more, especially so in London. So then I find this place comfortable and if anyone says to me “Where do you live?”, I reply that I live in Poland. That’s my home.

So happy to hear that! And let’s go to your experience at the university. What do you think about the standard of studying in Poland and your university in particular?

The problem we find from day one is that they segregated out the international students and the Polish ones. There’s no mixing, and I think that’s a bit sad. Even dealing with the office is fully separated. We have no interactions with each other.

How many are you in the group?

Initially for the first two years it was only six of us and then it jumped to 33. In year three we had more students coming in from Israel for 2 years. So there were a lot more of us.

And how is the program itself?

The standard has been amazing and we’ve learned so much. The planning that they put in and the level of learning they’ve given us has surpassed even our expectations, really. You know, lectures are one thing, but the way the program is being set now from the 5th year, it’s just amazing. We always tell the students who went back home: “Why did you leave?”

What got me more was the student’s life. When I started in 2008 in my first degree, we had a typical student life, and I don’t see students having that here. They tend to stick in their groups and their ‘Ligota bubble’. We’ve not had the chance to interact with Polish students very much. And I think if we did try to go up to them, we’d feel kind of shy and embarrassed.  I think the other thing is I’m the eldest in my class, and I can see a generational gap. The first day I walked into class, they thought I was the teacher [laughs].

Can you see that Katowice has changed in these four years?

It’s got a lot busier, I’m seeing a lot more people and more construction work. When I came in 2019, it was different.

Have you discovered other parts of Poland? Do you enjoy the country?

Yes, I love it. I’ve been to Kraków and Warsaw several times. I still need to go to Gdańsk, I want to go to Masurian Lakes. There’s always something new to explore, like the countryside. And the fact that you can just go, maybe not even 10 minutes out of the city center, and there are forests and lakes. Even in the city, it’s green!

How do you enjoy your free time here?

Sometimes if I get bored, I sit on the tram to go to the other end and then come back just to see where it is. I’ve become an old person [laughs]. I sit on the bus and just go around, knowing the neighborhood and exploring different areas.

Is there anything you miss in Poland?

I cook a lot and I miss my Indian spices. Initially, when I came here, I used to order them online or I’d have to bring them from home. Now I buy them at Mickiewicza [Street] but not all of them. You can get most things here, but in the UK there’s an Asian grocery store at every corner, and you will find all the exotic vegetables and fruits we use. And that’s the main thing I miss. The smell is one of the factors that make a home. When I enter my home, that smell is like: “Yeah, that’s my home. It reminds me of my place”. And that’s one of these things. I find cooking therapeutic.

I think the other thing is just having family around. Yeah, it’s the most basic stuff and the most important one.

What is your rental experience like?

I found that the standards you have are quite high. Outside the building could look funky, even derelict, but inside it’s high standard. I came with the misconception that I couldn’t find anything like this. And I was quite surprised, actually. It helped me to feel at home.

How do you like your location at Damrota Street?

Because of the flat’s position, it’s quiet, there’s peacefulness, and it’s easy to access in and out of the city. And it’s really quick to get to the university because the bus stop from Mariacka is my main bus. I also like the old buildings with character. I love my area, and it’s close enough to the city, but not so busy. It’s so peaceful.

And in terms of the apartment, do you think the Polish residential standard is different from the UK?

There aren’t many differences. I think we probably could have a lot more places which aren’t as modernized as you have here. I’ve rented in the UK because I’ve worked all over the country and the standard wasn’t as high as here. If it’s an old place, they haven’t done much work inside. But if it was a new place, it was brand new. Nowadays, people are changing these places, and they’re all going to the same standard and the same level that we have here.

Let me mention another important topic: investment. We know that you decided to invest in the Katowice residential market. Why?

I’ve always wanted to get property. And back in the UK, this is not going to be possible for me based on my income. Getting mortgages and the price of property is just crazy.
When I first came to Katowice, we rented an Airbnb on top of the office and the gentleman there was actually from the UK. He said: why don’t you think about buying a flat? And I sat on this for a few years, saying to myself: “I don’t know where I see my future”.

And as I was more into Poland, especially now when COVID was finished, I was in my third year and things opened up a lot more. I thought to myself: “Maybe this is the place where I see my future?” I still plan to possibly stay in Poland. If my language improves, I can still do my specialty and work in Poland. So let’s start forging some sort of future. And that’s how I ended up buying the investments here.

I know you opted for a new investment and a new building. So was it a hard decision to make, or you relied on Wellcome Home’s recommendation?

I said to Magda [Wellcome Home CEO]: “This is my budget. What can we do?” and she gave me a few options. Her idea was to buy a bigger place and split it into more units. And it’s something I don’t mind doing, but in this case, I can’t sell this as individual units, it still becomes one. So that’s a bit of a risk for me. Within a week, Magda came to me with a new place in those towers [Global Office Park].

And what do you like the most about collaborating with Wellcome Home?

It’s the fact of how easy it’s been. I’ve had everything I’ve asked for.  Magda has guided me on what to do. And she’s been very helpful throughout the whole process. The entire team is helpful, even for the rental. As an investor, you need even more support and it has been excellent. It just happened within two to three weeks. I hope the restoration process will be as smooth as the purchasing one.

I’m pretty sure it will. Do you have any plans of investing more, maybe in the future?

The way it happened initially was the fact that I had worked six years before coming, so I saved up for my education. The interest I’ve earned from that was enough to put towards the place. We’ll see how this goes, but yes, by all means, I would look into getting more.

What about your personal long-term plans?

I’ll graduate in 2025. I will do my postgraduate training here, which is one year. And then it’s the case of seeing which way to go, because once I complete the training, then Europe is open. My idea was possibly to do my specialty here if my language is good enough. Or maybe go to Ireland if I want to because there would be no language barrier.

Can you imagine yourself staying in Poland for good?

I can. I really can. Like I said, it’s home now. The only thing that’s stopping me properly is the language as such.

Do you attend any courses or do you learn by yourself?

Initially, the university gave us classes and then, one of my Polish patients back in the UK had a language college. She asked if I wanted classes and I said: “Of course, I would love to”. So she arranged for me to have classes here, and I dragged my friend with me. 

We have online classes once a week and we’re stepping it up that way. It’s going a lot better, and we enjoy our Polish classes.

I’m really happy to hear that because many foreigners don’t see an interest in learning Polish.

Yes, I still see the shock on my patients’ faces when they come up to the counter. The first thing they’re shocked at is that I can say their name properly. And they sit there and they look at me. And then I ask them a question in Polish and they stand back [laughs]. I can understand a little bit and I can speak a little bit.

The friend that I’ve dragged into learning Polish is a Polish citizen, but he lives abroad, so he doesn’t know Polish at all. He has a greater need to learn it because he wants to live here. I know that if I sometimes slack, he will drag me along because he has the biggest need to learn the language. So we’re learning it together.

You’re such a positive person and you always have a to-do attitude. Is there anything that annoys you in Poland?

Paperwork. Everything has to be signed, stamped, with 10 copies. I’m partially used to this because when we go to India, we have to deal with a lot of things, and even the simple thing of closing a bank account will require so many bits of paper. 

Coming to Poland, I thought maybe you’ll be at the same level as the UK. But when I applied for my registration card, they asked for two copies of my passport, a copy of my bank statement, and a copy of my plane ticket… I looked at them and asked: “Why do you need all of this?” And then I saw something which I only ever see in India:  he [office worker] opened the cupboard and there were hundreds of files.

We’re doing better every time in Poland. We have an official app and many digital solutions. But still, paper is paper. Assuming you’ll leave Poland one day, will you miss anything?

I know sometimes people don’t like the fact that things are closed on Sundays. We used to have this in the UK back in the days and I like that because it’s family time. It’s nice when you’re out on Sundays and you see families walking out or just doing something together. 

And what I’ve noticed now back in the UK, there are no family days as such. It’s just nice to see this here. There’s a feeling of community, there’s a feeling of pride which I think we’re now losing in the West very slowly, and I don’t like that. Even when I go home in the summer, I miss this, really. I see people going to churches. In the UK, churches are empty. I’m not Christian, but it’s nice to see this as part of the tradition also.

You aren’t Christian. How do you spend Christmastime? Do you celebrate it in any special way? You also have a break at university here, so that’s why you can afford a smaller break, right?

I’m Hindu, and I actually have to say we celebrate Christmas more than I do holidays of the Hindu religion. It shows how commercial it’s become. Usually, I’m home for Christmas. We decorate our house a lot more than we would for Diwali, for example. We have a huge tree. You find these little reindeers and Santa Clauses everywhere. My grandfather always said to us: “We’re not Christians or any of the other religions, but you can still go into a church or a place of worship, appreciate the beauty inside, and pray. There’s nothing wrong with this”. I’d love to spend Christmas here one day.

I want to ask you something as a conclusion. What would you say to your foreign friend, asking if it’s worth coming to Poland?

I’d tell anyone to come. If my friends ask me where to travel, I’d say to go to Poland. You can come to Kraków if you wish to, but I’d say visit both cities, along with Katowice. It’s so close.

The only thing that stops students from coming here versus anywhere else is the tuition fees for international students. They are the same as what we would pay back in the UK. When I started here, there weren’t many UK students because the fees were the same, but the cost of living was lower. You could still move here and live better, so I’d tell anyone to just give it a go. Do something different and try Poland. Why not?

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