Lasting from the 7 to the 13 September 2014, the trip was led by Michael Derrer, a business consultant specialising in Eastern Europe who also lectures at the Lucerne School of Business.
The itinerary offered a variety of inputs for the students, including lectures on the history and politics of Poland's long struggle for self-determination. As the tragic scene of fighting between a National Socialist Scylla and a Stalinist Charybdis, Warsaw was razed to the ground 70 years ago. Barely 25 years ago, the Poles seized the opportunity to determine their own destiny.
We had the rare chance of meeting key protagonists of the former Solidarnosc movement. During a visit to the presidential palace, the formal residence of the Head of State, we saw the rooms where important events of world history were conducted, including the founding of the Warsaw Pact and the Polish Round Table Talks of 1989 that heralded the fall of Communism across Eastern Europe.
The question as to whether Poland should adopt a liberal or a social economic system emerged two decades ago and is still being debated to this day. We attended a specially organised discussion involving two economists, each representing one side of the argument.
As a result of meetings with three local NGOs, part-funded by the EU's Accession Fund (to which Switzerland is a contributor) to provide support for the new EU countries, we received useful insights into the challenges currently facing Polish society. The visit we paid to Stadler Polska, a subsidiary of the Swiss Stadler Rail Group, and the discussion we had with its director enabled us to weigh up the opportunities and threats facing businesses with an international reach.
Although it's a fact that "Język polski jest skomplikowany – tak!" (yes, Polish is difficult), our friendly language tutor was able to teach us a few words and phrases every morning to help us communicate a little better with the people we met. We immersed ourselves in the local culture when it came to the traditional Polish cuisine and eating out in typical Warsaw restaurants. Thanks to our guide's original approach, we were taken to places on two afternoons that tourists would never normally think of visiting.
The students were not mere passive observers – they prepared their own SWOT analyses of Poland based on a reader containing up-to-the-minute articles. They also formed groups to develop a marketing plan for one of Poland's regions or design a project with a social objective.
The Swiss tend to think of Poland as a country on the periphery of Europe. Bearing in mind its impressive economic success in recent years, and with an eye on current geopolitical developments, the realisation is dawning that Poland has not only occupied a pivotal place in world affairs in the past, but is destined to play a significant role in Europe in the years to come.