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Agata Zgrzębska

 

The trigger to my departure was a holiday in 2004. I went to my uncle, he was the only person who I had in the States at that time. When I came to the US, I was 20 years old. In Poland I had finished the first year of studies (after returning from the States I was going to change the subject). My main purpose to stay in the US was to experience freedom and independence. In Poland I had a good life, even very good. I was a district councilor, I worked quite resiliently with friends in the City Hall in Gdynia, we had plans for the future. Development plans, which involved the whole f Poland.

There were moments of hesitation if the stay in the US was the right decision ... The thing which kept me in the States was mostly love for Sergiusz. Although we both come from Gdynia (we even went to the same high school!), we met only in Chicago.

I was friends with my high school form mistress. During the first month of my stay in the States, one day I called her and I said that probably I would stay there because I liked it. She said: "Agata, do you remember when I was telling you about our graduate Sergiusz who went to Chicago? Maybe you can meet, go for a coffee and it will somehow make your time more pleasant?". When we met, I had a crush on him. Sergiusz was my guide in America, he showed me everything he had learned being there. He was very caring. Today our son is four years old.

Medical case

At the moment I work in the US as a medical assistant. Upon arrival, I did not feel pressure to pursue a career. At some point of time it was stabilization which became the most important. As every emigrant I started in the cleaning service, but after two weeks I was dismissed. I worked in a restaurant, at the bar. While working behind the bar, one evening some client told me "Agata, you know what? You're a cool woman, but a terrible barmaid...". I really liked it. Then I worked as an assistant in the company, which put wooden floors, I made quotations and somehow I ended up in a medical office. The doctor took me in with no experience. In Poland I had passed my high school final in biology, but I never thought it would ever come in useful. When I saw for the first time how a tooth was extracted, I found out that I am not afraid of blood, although all my life I had a different impression.

I decided that it was the right direction. I started working in a medical office, where I worked for three years as a secretary and an assistant of a chiropractic. It was there that I tried to get information on my further development and education. I heard that I couldn’t go to any school because I did not have documents. Not having yet fully legalized residence, I became a phlebotomy and an ECG technician. I intend to keep working in this profession. My goal is to become a nurse. Not a doctor, but a nurse. A nurse has more contact with the patient, is closer to a man. I dream about studying nursing. Studies is an issue of a large financial commitment and time. Maybe for my 40th birthday. Adult education for people over 40 is now very popular in the United States.

Problems with the visa

When I came to the States, I was granted a tourist visa for half a year. Once I managed to extend the visa. I wanted to change it later for a student visa. I went to a town college to learn English, which is not allowed while staying with a tourist visa. At that time I didn’t know about it, we were wrongly advised by somebody. I was refused the visa, so as a result I lived in the US illegally. Sergiusz supported me and said: "Be patient." In 2007, he got the green card. He went to Gdynia and returned with an engagement ring. At the airport he immediately knelt down and gave me the ring. We got married in 2008.

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Illegal emigration destroys a man terribly. At the beginning of my stay in the US I did not feel emigrant pressure. I did my best not to think about what could happen. However, at the moment when our son was born, I went crazy. I felt fear that I could lose everything what was the most important to me in my life - my boys. Then I began to be afraid of driving a car. I was afraid of everything. Although I always tried to keep calm. But when a child appeared, the fear always accompanied me. All the voices that warned: "Watch out for the immigration office; be careful because they can deport you" started haunting me. When you have a child and life begins to fall into place, you look at the reality in a different way. The more you have to lose, the more afraid you are.

I work in a Polish medical office and I have a lot of contact with Poles. Half of the female patients come here for sedatives. Without them they are unable to function. I haven’t come across such nervousness in a healthy person. These are people so destroyed by the awareness of deportation that their condition can be seen with the naked eye. You can recognize a person who stays illegally right away. Trembling hands, wandering eyes. I'm young, but it also took a toll on my health. There was a period when I had panic attacks. The best way to cope with them was sitting at home. The culmination of stress came when I was to receive the green card. I simply ran amok. The man doesn’t sleep, overeats or doesn’t eat at all. Personally, I do not know any person who has been deported, but among friends circulate stories about people deported to Poland.

For ten years of the stay in the US I had no proof of identity. My husband bought me health insurance and that was my only document. If you are an illegal immigrant, even banal shopping can be a stressful situation. If you want to change something in a shop, for example too small a blouse, the shop assistant asks you for the proof of identity. You say that you have no proof, and you can show her health insurance that does not have a photo. Then you come across her eyesight. She already knows you're here illegally. Terrible feeling ... In the end I got the green card and now I stay in the US legally.

The world in miniature

It took me a long time to get used to the local landscapes. I like hills, hummocks, and in Chicago it is flat, I did not like it. The streets here were too broad, I did not feel this climate. Gdynia is not a small town, but walking around the city I felt that it was more cosy. In the beginning I did not feel this Chicago climate at all, even though downtown Chicago is beautiful. Each building, doesn’t matter how many times watched, every time looks different. Every time delights.

America is huge! For nine years, when I could not fly by planes because of the nonregulated immigration status, we drove with Sergiusz back and forth all over the United States. We drove across America: New Orleans, Florida, Colorado ... The diversity of the US is wonderful. It's as you travelled the length and breadth of Europe. Those trips made great impression on me. It was also quite an experience to see the Pacific Ocean. We were at its shore in Santa Monica where Sergiusz ran the Polish Festival for Irena Jarocka. My dream is to see the statue of Liberty in New York, it has for me a symbolic meaning.

Poland in the heart

In the US I missed my family. The ordinary people. Poles in Poland are different than Poles abroad. So far I cannot find myself. For so many years that we have spent in the US, we have made one Polish friend - Tomek Trela. Among other people you can see envy, jealousy. When we started falling in love with each other and our life began to fall into place, we started losing friends. It is like that everywhere. However, in the United States there is greater struggle, more greed, more jealousy. My friends had greater souls. My impression is that those are the people who understand me more. 70 percent of my friends have left and they are no longer in Gdynia.

I took to the United States a monthly pass, my student book, a diary, memories of my family and a sense of Polishness. I perceive myself a Pole, that’s how I feel. Maybe it's because I'm a romantic. I still have only the Polish citizenship. I celebrate all Polish holidays. In my heart the first place belongs to Poland, and I think it will continue to be like that. And I am grateful to the United States, because I cannot say anything bad about the country where I live, which feeds me and gives me a job.