Travel, Poland, America
My Two Countries: Poland and America
Two flags flying proud
When I meet new people in Poland, and a few sentences in, they hear my American accent, I generally get some sort of notion of confusion from their end (“But why? Why this way, when everyone wants to move the other way around?”) and some combination of a few other questions:
- Where in the US are you from?
- How long have you been here?
- Did you speak Polish at home?
- Are you staying for good?
To which my answers are pretty simple, really:
- New Jersey, the state next to New York on the East Coast
- A year and a half (obviously this one’s changed with time)
- Yup! But my parents were basically my only contact with the language. (Who, side note, being as incredible as they were and are, gave my brother and I the choice of soccer vs. Polish school as both took place on Sundays. Soccer was the clear winner).
- Maybe? Probably? I love it here, but too hard to tell. Who knows what life will bring!
But there are two questions that lead me to reflection every time they’re asked:
- Do you miss anything about America?
- What do you like in particular about Poland?
I think both of those can be rephrased to a symmetric format: what do you like about X? And what does X have that Y doesn’t? (and vice versa). So, what better time than mid-travel between X (Poland) on my way to Y (America) than to think these through? :)
America: My wings
They say separation makes the heart grow fonder. I agree. Absence gives you fresh eyes. I’ve been outside of America for a year and seven months now, so I’ve had a bit of time to think ponder the country I haven't seen in a while. Personally, the best way to understand why I love America, is to think about the things I’m excited for in the very near future.
This past May, my friend Iryna and I spent a few days visiting my cousin (cousin’s wife’s brother, but let’s just say cousin to keep things simple) Sebastian in Valencia. One afternoon, when we were biking through the central park*, we passed three fields: rugby, soccer (with girls playing, which you still rarely see in Poland), and baseball. One after the next I would turn my head and with excitement shout to Iryna that “OH! I played that growing up!” So the level of organised sports through school or through the local community is something that’s unique to America (at least compared to Poland) and something I am hugely grateful for. Soccer in the fall, basketball in winter, softball in spring, rugby and swimming in the summer. Skiing and snowboarding after school, pole vaulting, piano, violin... I had an incredible childhood, filled with activities - on the field and off. Every kid should have the chance to grow up in a lake-, forest-, and good-people-filled town like my Denville.
But beyond that moment of sport-and-Spanish-spurred patriotism, the easiest way for me to think through what I miss about America, is to think about the things I’m excited for and hope to do in the very near (very, very near, as in tomorrow) future. I’ll be in New Jersey for a little under a week. I can’t wait to:
- Swim in my Rock Ridge lake. The lake a few minutes walk from my house, around which every season revolved. Walks with Mom in the fall, swimming in the summer (all day, everyday), ice skating in the winter, fishing with Dad and Martin in the spring.
- Eat Oreo Cream ice cream at our town’s local ice cream shop, Denville Dairy
- Drive! With windows down. And country music blasting on the radio.
- Go to COSTCO! And eat all the free samples, and buy all the classics (Ling Ling Chinese potstickers, Honey Bunches of Oats, and spinach and cheese ravioli)
- Hang out with friends from middle and high school
- Cook dinner and watch a movie with mom (is The Crown still on Netflix?)
- Play tennis with dad
- And repeat.
Throw in a visit to Philly and DC to see best friends, catch up with old professors from Penn (especially the one I have to thank for supporting my interest in data viz, and helping me make a career out of it, Cade Massey), and refuel my America pride with a visit to the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial (my favorite), and a week in San Diego to visit my brother, Martin, and you have what I miss and love about America.
Poland: My roots
Poland has given me so much over the past year and a half:
- A job I like (where like is actually an understatement) - the possibility to work remote up to 100% of the time but an office if you don’t want to, 8 hours a day with no expectation of a minute more, the general perks you would expect from IT, but best yet, daily conversations with authentic teammates
- Incredible (and incredibly sincere) new friends, that just get me
- Much closer relationships with extended family
- Getting to know family I didn’t even know I had - for an example, see “Sebastian” above
- Adventures on top of adventures on top of adventures
- New activities / new sports (Muay Thai, canyoning)
- Courage in new situations (not as easy when you can’t 100% communicate what it is you want to say)
- Acceptance of what you can’t really change (like, for example, the accent I can’t hear but everyone else can)
- All my favorite foods (pierogi z mięsem, gołąbki, surówki, zupki, szarlotka etc.) but approached with a natural mindset of eating to live, not living to eat
- Being less cheap. Make less money, but I’m more willing to spend it, more willing to share it.
- More time outside of work. You always hear about the company initiatives to foster a healthy ‘work-life balance’. But if work and life are one and the same, there’s no balance necessary. It’s the clear boundary, that provides the balance. 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work (ideally something you enjoy), and 8 hours to NOT work. So simple, but for some reason so hard to come across or implement in America (or at least in my US experience / those of my friends)
- Picking wild mushrooms, blackberries, and raspberries in the forest. And apples, plums, blueberries, currents and pears in the garden.
- Deeper understanding of my Catholic faith
People, food, faith, adventure, family. I certainly had each of these to a certain extent in America, but what Poland’s really given me is depth. It’s the depth that goes beyond what I like to do and how I like to spend my time. It’s a depth that touches who I am and who I am beyond myself alone. It’s about my ancestors, about our language, about the culture, history, and traditions that connect us. These roots are mine whether I’m in Poland or America or anywhere else for that matter. The difference though? I can finally feel them. I don’t just know they’re somewhere, I know they’re here.
But in the end...
...it really is simpler than I thought. What I love about Poland is what I love about America. And vice versa. It's not really the location that matters, it's a way of life, a way of living. It's about gratitude, it's about faith, it's about freedom, it's about family, it's about nature, it's about working to build a fulfilling life, not about finding fulfilment through work. That's my America. And that's my Poland.
*Valencia’s central park is a super interesting thing in itself! The jardin is a huge park where there used to be a river. The river dried, but the land didn’t go to waste. Now home to grass, palm trees, fountains, courts, playgrounds, etc. Because of what used to flow in it’s place, it’s quite a bit below the level of the city, which leaves you with super cool feeling - walking on the river bed.