The Immigrant Song

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 sisters 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 its like to study and live somewhere else than home. I was very happy with my life, but the concept of such an adventure and its 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!

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Elmer Boyd Park on Cook/Douglass Campus. My road to the Boathouse.

After a month Im able to see some big differences between the United States and my home country. I wont 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 didnt 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 Im 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. Im very glad that I can learn from them.

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One floor, six different worlds: Rutgers in a nutshell.

After a month, I feel I can say that I found the right place. Im a member of a Leadership-Learning Community, the Crew (rowing) team and a couple of clubs. Im 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.

Its obvious that I miss home. I miss my moms 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.