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Sergiusz Zgrzębski

Sergiusz Zgrzębski playing as support before “Ich Troje” concert

In 1986 my grandmother from Gdynia emigrated to the United States. My father left Poland when I was 8 years old. The US Embassy refused to grant a visa to me six times. Reasons for refusal? "We are afraid that you will not return to Poland." It was only when I studied that they knew that I would have to go back and I got the visa. In 1999, I went for the first time. Then again, in 2000 and 2001. In 2002 I received a bachelor degree and left Poland for longer.

Music and journalism

In Gdynia I was a musician. I played in many bands, among others in Apteka, Groovekojad, Boober. I know all the rock pubs in Gdynia. In fact, I cut my teeth on playing. I finished Catholic High School in Gdynia, and then Melchior Wańkowicz Higher School of Social Communication in Gdynia. I received a very good education. My beginnings as a reporter in Poland looked like this: we got the worst topics and improved news for hours. A real school of life and hard school of writing news. Classes at the university in Poland were led by journalists from "Journal of the Baltic." They trained us so well that in the US I had no problem to get a job.

Currently I work in the US as a reporter and journalist of Polish Radio in Chicago. Once I saw an ad in the US, they need a journalist. I went to the interview, did the task assigned to me, and ... I got a job. They were surprised at my level. In my work I deal with all the topics – social, political, criminal. Twice a week I work as a news presenter.

I also work in the Polish private television in Chicago as a journalist and reporter. I started working in the radio newsroom on the morning shift. After a few years I was promoted and got offered a job in television. We broadcast from dawn to dusk. For five years I was also a correspondent for TVP Polonia. I am glad that it happened that I work on Polish affairs. Because of the work I am up to date with all the events in Poland.

In the US I studied for four years at Columbia College Chicago. At this university studied, among others, Piotr Walter and Janusz Kamiński. I graduated from the faculty of television direction in 2006 with the title of a bachelor. Even in college I started working for television. In college, with my skills and knowledge gained at the Polish university I was a significant student.

Many people graduate at my faculty, but not many get work in television. I learned what the production of television news, documentaries look like. Immigrants have to make up with hard work. I remember how I bought a laptop and edited material at nights. In this way I could improve my skills.

The American melting pot

When I came to the US, I experienced the culture shock. I remember sitting on the porch of the house of my father and still I thought: "I cannot believe I'm here." I watched American cars. Later, you realize that this is a country made up of immigrants. In the US you can meet all nationalities. In general, whites are in the minority. My son came to me and said, "Dad, in the kindergarten they tell me I'm white like a zombie." We live in the Albany Park district in Chicago: 56,000 people say here 33 languages. There are Sudanese, Ethiopians, African-Americans, the people of the Middle East, Jamaicans, Koreans...

I always had a talent for languages and that’s why English was not a great obstacle for me. I sang in rock bands, I had memorized all the Red Hot Chili Peppers CDs, and it helped me improve my English. In Warsaw I passed the TOEFL exam. To study in the States, you must speak the language fluently. Already in America, I went to a course preparing to studies. I had to make high school again- general education: Math, history, geography, everything in English. My American literature course book counted 5000 pages. I was always really poor at Math and I failed it in the US. Algebra in English? The thought of a set made my hands shaking. Hard stuff. But I was the best in class at Spanish.

I contacted my mother by phone and we wrote letters to each other, it was still the era before Facebook. My mother died in 2010. Our relationship was difficult, surprisingly, emigration made it deeper. I remember our many hours’ phone calls. My mother was a graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics. We had much to talk about, because politics and economics are my hobbyhorses. We debated for hours on the phone. We had telephone debates about the economic plan of Balcerowicz, the place of Poland in the world, Polish strengths. I always called my mother on Saturdays. It was my little ritual.

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We Poles are bad to each other. I remember how I started work on the radio. I made a report about a basement where lived fifteen Polish women at the age of 60. The guy took their passports and kept saying: "Do not go over the fence. And if only some of you will let the cat out of the bag, will be immediately deported." Of course they worked physically cleaning houses 15 hours a day. Modern slavery. Unfortunately, we do not value ourselves as Poles. We're not good for each other. We like to persecute, exploit each other. We do not respect ourselves.

From Poland I took with me a guitar and thousands of CDs. Poland gave me music and a sense of community. Music brought me up, gave clout, confidence, love for art. I took with myself manners and go-aheadness. And it paid off in the States. The beginnings in the US were tough, because I worked in a restaurant as a waiter. Sometimes I had dark thoughts, I thought I'd be a waiter all my life. But I had in the US family - grandma and dad. The family gave me great support.

The choice of America

I earned it to feel American. It is a country made up of immigrants. There, everyone is from somewhere. The hardest is the definition of emigration. What kind of criteria we’re talking about? How many generations back you can feel an immigrant? I think that today there is no emigration anymore. The world is open. Boundaries have been blurred, thanks to the availability of flights today I am here, tomorrow I can be on the other side of the world.

I feel I’m American. I chose a new homeland, but I celebrate Polish holidays, I respect the Polish president. I have no complexes, I do not feel worse. It’s sad that the country is forcing many young Poles to emigrate. No one forced me, I came because I wanted to. I knew I could get a chance for a better life in the US. I came, I liked it and I stayed. Many of my friends returned to Poland, they failed to arrange their lives and left, for example, for somewhere in Europe. It is wandering. It is a huge pity that the Polish state does not care about young people.

In the US mutual trust is appreciated very much. The letter of the law is respected here. This is a country for the people. There is a sense of community, we're all in the same boat, so we have to help each other, we have to be good to each other. The fundamental values: humanity, empathy, mutual aid are regarded. In Poland, hardly anyone will answer you with a smile on the street.