Time flies. I’ve had a first hand experience of this statement quite often lately: when thinking of the things I haven’t done and would never have an opportunity to do; when I see photographs from the past and notice how some people have changed, and finally when I realize that it has already been a month since I changed my home address to Campbell Hall on College Avenue Campus.
My name is Mikołaj Pankiewicz (aka “Miko”), a freshman who wants to major in Computer Science. Coming to Rutgers was a big decision for me. It meant leaving my home country, Poland, and all the people I love; places where I made my first steps towards adolescent life, where I first achieved successes and had the first bitter pills to swallow. Places where I had fallen for someone and where I experienced a heartbreak. But most of all, I was leaving the past with all the memories, which shaped my personality and character.
I first visited New Brunswick just a few days before I moved in. Living far away from the US meant that I could only see these places on the internet. Places such as College Avenue Gym or the Football stadium were for me as real as the Neverland. I only knew them from my sister’s narration, who came to New Jersey 11 years ago and strongly encouraged me to try my best in a totally different part of the world. Her opinion and advice had a big impact on me, because her stories made me feel curious of what it’s like to study and live somewhere else than home. I was very happy with my life, but the concept of such an adventure and it’s possibilities was so enticing that I decided to try.
August 28th was definitely one of the most memorable days in my life. Since then a lot has changed!
After a month I’m able to see some big differences between the United States and my home country. I won’t mention the most obvious, such as more developed technology, beautiful roads and gigantic, spectacular skyscrapers. Instead, I will focus more on my personal impressions around Rutgers and people I meet everyday.
Poland is definitely not at the end of the world. Yes, we have McDonalds, Ikea and Color TV (someone actually asked me about that ! ). What we do not have are the people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
I was sort of afraid that my otherness and cultural differences between me and my peers would be considered as an oddness. I didn’t know how a polish person would be perceived from a perspective of someone born in the USA. I was prepared to face prejudice, while what I came across was the exact opposite.
From the very first day I was, and still am, impressed with the hospitality and openness that came from a lot of people. Their positive attitude helped with making new friends; a lot of my peers were interested why I chose Rutgers and how do I feel here. Many of them offered their help, which definitely made my process of moving and acclimating a lot smoother.
The other thing is the diversity. That is probably what every single foreigner notices when they move to the US and I was not an exception. My home country is almost entirely homogeneous; 97% of the population in 2014 were ethnic polish people, according to Wikipedia. Back there, seeing someone who was not a Pole was always somewhat unexpected, and through 19 years of my life I got used to only meeting people who looked like me. Here this aspect is an exact opposite. Taking a bus means to coexist with people from every single ethnicity or religion: muslims and jews, hindus and buddhists; asians, african-americans, hispanics and whites. And while I felt weird about it at the beginning, I also became fascinated with their ability to share their goods; to work, study and party regardless of all the differences among them.
Meeting people from all over the world was also one of the things I was looking forward to when choosing Rutgers and I’m very satisfied. I feel that every person provides me with a new perspective of looking at things, which provokes interesting discussions, not only about cultural differences. I’m very glad that I can learn from them.
After a month, I feel I can say that I found the right place. I’m a member of a Leadership-Learning Community, the Crew (rowing) team and a couple of clubs. I’m surrounded by great people, have an awesome roommate and every single day make a significantly bigger progress, in terms of coming out of my comfort zone, improving English and learning new things than I would If I had stayed in Poland.
It’s obvious that I miss home. I miss my mom’s healthy food (my stomach misses it even more…), common sense of my dad and smile of my younger sister. I miss the kindness of my grandpa and pierogi that my grandma always makes for the Sunday lunch. But thinking of them, it reminds me what my mom once said : “Home is where you can make your dreams come true”. And I feel like I’m home.