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Agnieszka Kastelik

 

In October 2011 at Newark airport, New Jersey, landed Lufthansa plane with my family on board (model 2 + 1). We packed to suitcases a bit of our lives and we went to the American adventure. Me and my boys, my husband and our then four-year-old son Miki. Exploring the continent was to last only a year, but it’s the third one in the US!

To Pennsylvania

It all started in the Romanian land of vampires. We spent there summer holidays. Our rest at the Black Sea was interrupted by a sound of a phone. I looked at my husband trying to read the range of his faces. End of the conversation and then the question: "Are we going to the US for a year?!?". We went! My husband to work on an international project and I and Miki as companions. We settled in Pennsylvania on the suburbs of one of the three largest cities of the state. Our quiet town, surrounded by mountains, forests and lakes, we got to like it very much. This is how we live in the colorful melting pot of cultures and nations, in an attempt to combine Polish traditions and the American lifestyle.

We left with the awareness of one year-long adventure. I was very excited and ready for new challenges. I did not think then what I was leaving behind, because I was supposed to come back to it very quickly. Although the reality verified my assumptions, it was not a major issue to me. During the first year in the US we were visited by many friends and acquaintances. Our home is very open and we’re glad about every visit, and if it lasts a little longer than one evening, it is even better.

The first steps on American soil

Our trip was coordinated by an international corporation, which sent my husband to the project implemented in the United States. Everything was very well organized. First, we flew with my husband alone for a week. It was a trip to gen up on everything. We were assigned an attendant, who almost led us by the hand through all the formalities. 70 years old Lucy proved to be excellent, helped us find an apartment and school. She amazed me with her vitality and energy. She picked us up from the hotel and drove to all the necessary places. She showed us also the closest grocery stores and advised how to spend free time in the area. That was when I discovered how different life pensioners can have, and how much satisfaction professional work can give. Unfortunately, I regret to say that it is almost impossible for a person over 65 in Poland to find a job, whatever job. And the one that would give joy - forget it. In the US, people work a lot and very long. In libraries, offices, receptions very often you can meet elderly people, smiling and helpful.
Upon arrival we settled in an already furnished apartment, in a quiet well-kept neighborhood. Two weeks later Miki went the first time to the nursery, which we earlier chose for him. My four-year-old knew how to say "good morning", "restroom", "water." Now, after almost three years Miki is bilingual, fluent in English and doing really well at school as a first grader. Our son is perhaps the main beneficiary of this trip.

Circle of relatives and friends

The project which my husband was invited to attracted to the US people from almost every corner of the world, we were all the same. Far from home, on our own. Therefore, our first relationships centered initially around the company staff, with whom we went for trips, walked to dinners and had picnics in the park. The first closer acquaintance I made with the mother of a boy who went with Miki to the same group in the kindergarten. Carolina is a Colombian living in the US for 14 years. Although the ways of our children slightly diverged, we're friends to this day.

I currently have a stable circle of friends whose origins only confirm that the US is a multicultural and multinational country. Three weeks after our arrival in the United States my mother flew to us. She helped me in those first weeks, and her presence soothed longing for the rest of the family. We spent our first Christmas in the US together. Thanks to Mom on our Christmas Eve table there were twelve dishes, as at home.

Putting down roots in the suburbs

Arrival in the US opened my eyes to the world. Previously, we traveled quite a lot in Europe, but there we felt everywhere as at home, only the food was changing. America from the very beginning was completely different. I will not be the first one to say that in the US everything is bigger: roads, shops, cars, hmmm, people too, but this is maybe not that good ... My hometown seemed so tiny. Being here I could really notice the cultural differences and it made me realize how much I am attached to the Polish tradition. When I think about Poland, I have very mixed feelings. I feel the sentiment, I miss the wildness of Polish meadows and forests. Here, everything has its place and is arranged. I am writing it from the perspective of an inhabitant of the suburbs. The neighborhood in which we live is characterized by broad, smooth streets, evenly trimmed lawns, well maintained gardens. Thinking about all of this I kind of regret. Seeing how people live here, I realize how much still is to be done in Poland. I do not know whether the quality of life of an average Pole is the effect of the history or mismanagement of the modern state. But I do know that you can live in a different way. A better, calmer one.

Thanks to modern technology, keeping in contact with the loved ones is much easier than it used to be. In the morning I often drink with my mom afternoon tea. We talk on Skype almost every day. I use instant messaging mainly to catch up on family issues. With my colleagues and friends I exchange emails and text messages and talk through social media, most commonly Facebook.

In my surroundings there are not many Polish people. There are no cultural events, such as the ones in New York or Chicago, organized typically for the Polish audience. The first Pole, who I met was a houseman supporting the housing estate where we live. He came a few days after our arrival to ask if everything was okay and hearing my name smoothly switched to Polish. Later, for a long time I didn’t meet any Pole. Currently I make friends with only three Polish families, whose stories could be material for a very interesting documentary.

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The emigration bottom line

I consider the pace at which I had to become independent in a foreign country my greatest success. I don’t think about failures, I do not live in the past. I try to turn failures, the larger and the smaller ones, into positive achievements. I learned this approach here. I believe that the phenomenon of emigration has absolutely positive effect on the man. Of course, everything depends on the circumstances in which somebody left their country, but in fact travels educate, and so it happened in my case. I am much richer in experience. Furthermore, emigration made me appreciate more what has been given to me. Life has proved that nothing is forever. Today I can be in America, tomorrow in Europe, and yet another day in Australia. Appreciating every moment I feel happier. I also look at my loved ones who stayed in Poland with different eyes. I think more about them, I notice them more. My mother laughs that she has talked with me more since I left.

I didn’t pack much to my emigrant suitcase, in order to leave room for the new stuff. Leaving Poland I was not particularly sentimental because I knew I wasn’t leaving forever. As a person I took with me confidence in my own value and belief that I can get by. The trip to the United States brought a lot of new experiences. The first time in my life I had dinner on the occasion of Thanksgiving, I saw the sincere joy of Americans when on 4th July they watched fireworks, and over their heads flew the F-16, I asked the neighbors for candies on Halloween. All these holidays, how commercial, fit here very much and are in a way true.

I left the old, stately continent for a new world with huge spaces and diverse landscapes. Thanks to the trip I made a lot of my dreams, often the mundane ones, come true. If I had not left, I wouldn’t have read books on the blanket in Central Park, watched a play on Broadway, seen the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, admired colorful neon signs in Las Vegas and marveled at the Hawaiian beaches. It's all here much more accessible. Americans dream, in turn, about traveling to Europe. When we talk, they think about Rome, Paris, London or Barcelona. Therefore, I am glad that I can watch both the old and the new world.

I am up to date with what is happening in Poland. In our TV package we have TVN24 news channel and basically if we watch TV, it is usually TVN24. I work at the computer every day so in free time I browse information portals, such as Onet.pl and Gazeta.pl.

Obviously we miss the most the loved ones. Especially on Sunday, which was always synonymous with small family meetings. We are all very close to each other and I know that for our loved ones on the other side of the globe it is sometimes hard. From the most mundane things I miss Polish food products. In the beginning it was very difficult for me to find myself in local stores. Everything nicely packaged, big and shiny fruits and vegetables. And I wanted a Polish beet drawn straight from the ground! I miss also Polish sour flavors: sour rye soup, barrel sauerkraut, low-salt cucumbers. Of course there are Polish shops but the prices are horrendous. After two years I have already learned where and what to buy. I buy vegetables from farmers at a small market, we try to bake bread ourselves, and the rest I buy in stores proven and accepted by me and my boys.

A look from the other side of the pond

In retrospect, I look at Poland as at my house, where still there is much to do. The quality of life of older people, the level of public education and support for the unemployed, these are only some of many items on my list of reflections. Wholeheartedly I remain a Pole and I am proud of it. At the same time I absolutely feel that I am a citizen of the world. I am glad that I travel. It broadens the horizons very much. Teaches how to get by in new situations.
I think the biggest obstacle for the Polish is their own self-esteem. Still we perceive ourselves as second-class citizens in a foreign country. Often those who leave their countries are people with higher education, with a master's degree, engineers, who must start from scratch on foreign soil. The main thing is have a good opinion about of yourself and not to give up. To take the initiative and fight for your dreams.

A piece of Poland in the global village

In our home we speak Polish, we celebrate Polish holidays with due tradition, we read Falski’s "Primer" and recite Bełza’s "Who are you?". Together with our son we make dumplings, croquettes and borscht and sour rye soup. The world is now a global village, so it only depends on us how we will cherish our traditions, and where we live does not matter too much. It is important to feel Poland in the heart.

The circumstances of our arrival were quite specific, so I cannot say anything about the initial barriers and limitations. The United States accepted us with open arms. I am very grateful because I met on my American path good, helpful and smiling people. This selflessness keeps amazing me. I learn it from my American friends, and it brings great results. To keep memories for a longer time I write a blog www.mojezyciewameryce.blogspot.com. It gives me a lot of joy and already now I like going back to my posts.