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I sounded like a greenhorn, but I made it

By Luke Siuty | July 14th, 2010

My story began in Witow, a small village in Poland. I lived in a house with my brother, mom, and dad, who worked in the nearby town of Zakopane. My dad’s parents and two sisters lived in the United States, where they moved in 1980 or so. In 2003, we joined them.

We lived in an apartment above my grandparents and my aunt in Chicago, in the Polish neighborhood. I got quickly enlisted in Polish school and regular school. It was a strange inversion for me. I didn’t like the Saturday school at all because, since I was very proficient in my native language, I was put a class higher. That resulted in peers with whom I didn’t connect at all. They were older and most of them were American born. In the Chicago public school, they put all the Polish kids together in a class with a Polish teacher, so even though we all studied regular subjects just like everyone else did in English, I still used Polish to communicate with my peers.

When I got to 8th grade, we moved to a southern suburb and I went to a junior high there. There were no Polish programs, no Polish teachers, and very few peers were Polish. It was the first time, really, that I was forced to speak English, which I knew quite well and was good in “theory” like writing and reading. But with speaking, I sure sounded like a greenhorn.

Then I got to high school, where I was a quiet freshman, slowly making friends. I was different than many Polish people or other immigrants. I joined our high school newspaper. I was driven for honors classes. My confidence rose as the year progressed as I joined more activities and spoke out in class more often.

Long story short, my “career” was successful enough to gain admission to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Here I am today, working with immigrants who may have struggled a lot with everyday life, the English language and the pressure sometimes felt from other people. I have great understanding about those problems. Yet have I already forgotten what it’s really like to be an immigrant?

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