“We’ll not forsake the land of our people…”

We landed in America – you can’t measure our happiness. Great big city of New York, busy streets, bright neon lights. It was not easy getting here. We began planning this trip more than six months prior to arriving in USA. We decided to take advantage of the popular program “Work & Travel”. The idea behind this program, create by the US government, is to allow students from all over the world to experience the American lifestyle. As part of this program, the US government provides the students with a work permit. Every participant receives the J-1 student visa allowing for four months of work and an additional month for traveling in the US. All together, 5 months to spend across the “Great Waters”.

Right after landing, we filled out a Social Security application. Every participant of the program receives his or her own SSN. This brings on the true feeling of freedom of a legal stay in the US. You can do whatever every American can: open a bank account, buy and register a car in your name, and fill out a job application with your own Social. Majority of the students want to take advantage of their work permit. Everyone begins an intense job search right away.

The decision to come to the US is made only by few, and it is very important to save your hard earned money. Most Polish students travel close to home and are very careful with their expenses. America provides many opportunities and temptations. Everything here seems cheap, except for food. In Poland, it is impossible to purchase a car with just a few weeks earnings. In America, it is not only possible but also necessary. But still one must save. Why? Majority of us borrowed money for this trip: from parents, friends, or the bank. Everyone invested about $2,000 in this program (including the airplane ticket and the $400 we had to present at the border). This sum is huge for a Polish budget. To compare, the average salary of a Polish teacher with 20 years experience is $300 per month. Everyone counted the days till he or she earned enough money to pay back the debt. We got lucky and reached this point after 2.5 months of working, but it was not easy with 14-hour days in one job and additional hours on the weekends at the second job. It was all worth it.  After reaching our goal, we could call our parents and state proudly, “I made enough to pay you back. From now on, I am earning for myself.”

We have been here for more than 4 months now. So what did we gain? Our English is better, we earned some money, but most importantly, we saw America! It is a whole different world and way of life. We were a bit disappointed, as it is different than portrayed in the movies. During the first few weeks, we were convinced that everything in Poland is better, nicer, healthier, and we want to return there as soon as possible. Now, it’s a bit different as we got use to America. But, I still value Poland much more. America is weird and ironically Americans are my idols. Per example, take a situation from about few months ago. I wake up and go to our work center and there I find christmas decorations: the tree, snowman, and presents. I got confused. Ha, ha – it’s July after all but I still asked, “What happened?” They moved the holidays to July, because the center is closed in December. That’s so American like.

At work, clients often ask if I would like to stay in the US. They are quite surprised when I reply “No”.  They all believe that there is no better county that the US. Naïve! As for Poland, they know… Here are some of the questions we entertained: “Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are all cities in Russia, right? You came from Poland in a car or on boat? You crossed that new bridge from Europe? Do you have in Poland: blenders, computers, Internet, microwaves, cell phones, etc.? They were always surprised when the answer to this last question was “Yes”. Still, they did recollect that Poland has something to do with Lik Walisa – I also wondered what this was. Later, I concluded that they meant Lech Walesa, of course.

And one more observation, there are many homosexuals here. I also think that after some time there will be even more gays, as there are not that many beautiful women here. I don’t know where they find the pretty ones for the movies. Maybe they borrow them form Europe? I think that is a logical explanation. Majority of Americans are overweight, which is not surprising due the quality of food here. The Americans notice this too, as they often ask me if there are thin women in Poland. I tell them we have many beautiful women.  Right away they like this country and want to go there.

I can’t wait for normal Polish food. Everything here is powder based. You can’t live too long on this type of food. I understand cake mixes, but powdered eggs or potatoes. This is going over board! After I return home, I will spread the slogan “It’s Better because It’s Polish”. Few days ago, we went to the supermarket. I wanted to purchase milk, just plain milk. But that’s impossible. There is vanilla, chocolate, vitamin D, vitamin K, and dozen others. But I never found just plain milk. That’s America for you.

In addition, I will never be able to pronounce “three” and “thirteen” correctly.  Americans don’t understand Poles or any other Slovaks when we say these numbers. In my opinion, it’s the other way around, and Americans are the ones not pronouncing these words correctly. From American woman, I often heard, “I like you accent. Where are you from?” I heard this so often that I began to believe that this was a pick up line, like the Polish “You have beautiful eyes.”
More importantly, we already saw New York and visited Niagara Falls. I drove a great car across three states. Unfortunately, it was an automatic. Manuals are only in sport versions of cars. We will definitely return to Poland!

Lukasz and Agnieszka
translated by Monika Glazar

Forum, 11/2002