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Family first

My earliest childhood memories include my grandmother — watching “Barney” reruns and eating scrambled eggs, sewing buttons onto scraps of fabric while she hemmed pants, reciting Polish poems and singing prayer songs — she was the most important person in my life. She taught me to be strong, smart, savvy and sassy. There’s a running joke in my family that when she came into my room to tidy up, there was nothing to clean because everything was in its place — I was just as organized as her. Or the time I didn’t want to put on tights and started kicking and screaming until she gave up. I was, and still am, ridiculously stubborn.

My parents are both Polish and I am a first-generation Polish-American. My parents left post-communist Poland at a time when everyone in Central-Eastern Europe was chasing the ‘American Dream’. They wanted a better life and found it in Connecticut, USA. Despite uprooting across the ocean, my parents wanted to preserve our roots and maintain Polish traditions and cultures. Because of this, I never identified myself as an ‘American’. That’s my birthplace, but being bilingual, traveling to Poland every other year and being an active member of the Polish community developed my identity as a Polish-American.

When I decided to move to Poland in 2016, I was looking to improve my resume and explore opportunities as a journalist internationally, but I also wanted to make up for lost time with my grandparents. Living thousands of miles apart for 23 years meant missing birthdays, holidays, and life’s little moments. My family was fortunate enough to spend summers in Poland every two years, and when my sister and I were little, my grandparents flew to the US for months at a time, but they’re getting older and can’t make the long journey.

My original plan was to stay in Warsaw for three months. When it came down to deciding to extend my stay for a year, I prayed for an answer. Sitting in a beautiful cathedral one rainy August night, I thought about my grandmother. I thought that I should stay longer, even if it’s just to be closer to her. No matter what would happen career-wise, even if I was unsuccessful, I would be with her and I can’t fail at that.

Every time I visit her in Ostroleka, my heart just bursts with happiness. Seeing her smile and laugh brings me inexpressible joy. I didn’t think I could love another human being as much as I love her. She has a beautiful soul and I could spend a lifetime listening to her stories. Each time we sit in the kitchen with tea and her homemade cakes, she reveals new juicy family secrets and delivers them better than a telenovela star. I could write a book just about her, and maybe one day I will, so be on the lookout for that, but my grandmother is a huge part of my life and I love her so much. She is my inspiration, my therapist, doctor, chef and best friend. I don’t know how much longer she will be on this Earth, and I will be completely devastated when God calls her up to his pearly gates so I want to squeeze in as many chuckles, stories, and hugs as I can.

Amidst all the chaos that comes with being a young, aspiring professional, I always find time to call my grandmother every night to share with her my success, failure, and all the good, bad (and occasionally absurd) things that I encountered that day. Even just a five-minute conversation lets her know that I'm okay and that I love her. I encourage everyone to do the same because you will never regret it.

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