A Warm Welcome - Reflections of a Foreign Student in America

Eleven years ago I first stepped on American soil. I was accepted for graduate studies in Texas, and remember this as it happened yesterday. It was a hot summer afternoon in Dallas/ Fort Worth area. The chairman of the department, a Polish-American professor met me at the airport. Later that evening we went to the Texas two-step dance. I was even taken to the stage to answer some questions, since I was a kind of attraction - a newcomer from a country far away.

I appreciate greatly a warm welcome from people who did not even know me. It helped that I was from Poland and my host and professor was very interested in his country of origin. So my experience with Polish-American community was good and helpful from the very beginning. Since then I lived in different parts of the United States. It is amazing that people of Polish origin are everywhere, not only in Chicago and New York which I had a chance to visit, not only in Texas or in Maryland where I used to live, but even in Idaho where I am right now!

Since the very beginning I realized that not only a distance, a vast Atlantic Ocean, separates the USA from European continent. American lifestyles - in many aspects are just very different from European despite the fact that American roots are in Europe. Yes, we Europeans are very alike in spite of the hundreds of years of fighting and wars. I also realize how absurd was my anger which I felt towards a friend of mine from exotic Buryatia (near Baikal Lake) who I met first on a trip to Germany. She visited me later in Poland on the way to Germany. After a couple of days she stated frankly something impossible for me to comprehend: "you know Jaga, Poland is just like Germany". I looked at her amazed and I thought "how she dare to compare Poland to Germany? We are just so different, different language, culture, history, always enemies..." Now, I understand her better. Yes, Europeans have lots in common, similar food, similar behavior, similar cities with compact and cozy old towns, old beautiful churches and crowded streets.

The weather was really hot and really humid, especially in Texas when I arrived in August - a new experience for me; the city's appearance and atmosphere were very different - with skyscrapers, big streets, empty downtown after the working hours and a lack of sidewalks. People were very nice, open and friendly -also something different for me, since we Europeans are a bit snobby, not used to greet any strangers on the streets, but our streets are also full of people! Americans used to ask me, do these people work at all? So, maybe Americans are arrogant... in geopolitics but Europeans on the streets, at least if they do not know you.

Living in one culture for over thirty years then moving to a different culture changes and enriches the outlook to many things. I hope it gives me a healthy distance to Poland as well to my new home, the USA. Did I mingle completely in my new culture? I do not think so. I would never lose my "Polishness" even if I would like to, but why should I?

People who I meet on the street or in store immediately recognize my accent. Once a person asked me when I am from ... before I even said anything, this surprised me a bit so I asked how he knew. He pointed out that I behave in a European way since I ate with a fork and knife.... Besides, Although the best choice would be to get rid of some bad Polish habits (keep the good ones) and acquire all the good sides of American life - like the optimism and a hope for the future rather than Polish rambling about the past (at least this is how foreigners, especially Americans see us), it is just something I was growing up, not easy to change.

Today is the first time I meet with you as a columnist in Polish-American Journal, and I appreciate the opportunity that the editors gave me. I hope we will have a chance to discuss anything of your interest, especially if it is connected to Polish culture. I look forward to your feedback.

© Baba Jaga Corner
November 2004

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Check Welcome to Poland and Immigration articles.

I recommend

The Rough Guide to Poland, by Mark Salter, Jonathan Bousfield

I also recommend the guide below with beautiful photographs

Eyewitness Travel Guide to Poland (Eyewitness Travel Guides) by Teresa Czerniewics-Umer, Malgorzata Omilanowska, Jerzy S. Majewski, DK Travel Writers

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