July 4th

I’m generally not an extravagant patriot, so 4th of July bears more meaning as my Polish Mama’s birthday than a national holiday. Hence the excessive Kielbasa (capitalized as a sign of respect) feasting coupled with absurd Zywiec consumption every fourth.

Mamisia on her 67th birthday!

But something struck me today as I walked across Manhattan to catch my bus home.

This country is a place where I can live and celebrate the 4th of July in my Polish ways, and that’s OK. In certain ways, this dual citizenship identity is encouraged and celebrated.

In this place, I found and married a man who looks and speaks differently from me, and comes from the other side of the world.  Here, my closest circle of friends include children of Nicaraguan and Indian immigrants.  In the northeast U.S., this diversity is greeted with a smile.

Most importantly, this is a place where I can openly question people’s biases. It’s a place where I have been presented employment options that are equal to those of the opposite sex.

In short, the United States is a place where I can truly be an individual.  Where I’m free and welcome to be exactly whom I want to be, regardless of how confusing or silly my story might seem to others.  And for all of that, I am grateful and blessed to call this place my home.

Statue of Liberty view from the Liberty Park in Jersey City.
Statue of Liberty view from the Liberty Park in Jersey City.

How can I help 100 people?

Starting now (4PMM May 22nd) and ending around August 31, I’ll be doing everything possible to help people.

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HERE IS MY PLAN:

This Summer, my new project is to try to help a 100 people.  Help them learn a new skill, explore an idea, or go somewhere they’ve been dying to go or do something they’ve been dreaming to do and putting it off.  It doesn’t matter if it’s something small or a complete long shot.  

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP!

Before I give a shot at doing my tiny piece of saving the world, I need your help.  Please, pleeease fill out this 1 question survey to help me figure out what are the skills/projects I should focus on this Summer to reach the most people. I promise, I’ll pay it forward soon 🙂

THANK YOU! And cheers to an amazing Summer!!!

How to travel to Cuba, background.

Cuba has been my obsession since age 7.  I first fell in love with the island when my mom told me stories of pre-revolutionary Cuba; the ‘American playground’ was her cynical description of the golden years of the 50s. I can’t even tell you why, but I romanticized the island, dreamed of visiting it and even spending a few years of my life there.   I blame my mom’s vivid image of white sand beaches, clear waters, great dancers and wonderful people.  How could you not fall in love?

I moved to the United States at age 16 and quickly became a US citizen, which delayed my dreams of visiting Cuba.  As a law abiding and proud new American, I took a decision to stay away from the island.  Instead of traveling, I learned Spanish and salsa dancing, and I read books about Cuban culture and history. I was convinced that the embargo wouldn’t last long, and I wanted to be prepared for when this happened.

This year marks about 20th anniversary since I first learned about Cuba.  I still haven’t visited the island, but in the light of President Obama’s eased restrictions, I can feel my window of opportunity opening.  But first, I would like share with you some of the tricks and travel tips for Cuba that I discovered over my years of research.  Stay tuned.

Radek

Radek Sikorski is an extraordinary politician, journalist and a visionary for the future of Poland.  His clear and pragmatic ideas, composure, integrity and patriotism have always impressed me.  Since I can remember, I’ve admired his diplomatic skills as a Foreign Policy Minister and a Minister of National Defense.    He is one of the strongest role models in Polish politics and as such he has exerted a significant influence over my career choices.

Mr. Sikorski has lived through many struggles of the Polish history.  He lived through the Polish fight for democracy, experienced the oppression of liberties under the martial law.  He was at the center of the democratic transition of the 90s and was present at the triumph of Poland in the 2004 European Union enlargement.  He has also experienced the life of an émigré while studying at Oxford and understands the international complexities well.  Most recently, he has been recognized for his plea to German leadership in the European Financial Crisis and his appeal to support Ukraine in their struggle for democracy.

He is a self-made man and that’s what I like about his story the most.  His parents, much like my dad, worked as civil engineers.  His family has some loose ties to the military, but his accomplishments are attributed to his own ambition.  My favorite fun fact about Radek is that he worked in a pub and at a hotel reception to support his life in England.

But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that Radek has achieved as much as he did because of his first mentor, Zbigniew Pelczynski – Oxford politics professor who helped Polish students pave their way to success in academy and politics.  After much research, I realized that it was by complete accident that Radek landed in Oxford and it was the push of Mr. Pelczynski that made him realize his potential.  His first nomination as a Deputy Minister for National Defense was certainly a result of his professional accomplishments, but it came at a favorable time – when Poland needed a global leader to serve as a gate to the West.

It was his determination and courage what made this great man, but the help of luck and mentors certainly made it easier.  Here’s an excerpt from the Foreign Affairs Journal, interview with Mr. Sikorski:

“You’re a proud and passionate Polish patriot. You are also a proud European. You’re a proud Westerner. How do such overlapping identities play out in the twenty-first century?
Being European does not supersede one’s national identity; it adds another layer. In Europe, we have regional patriotisms and local patriotisms. Europe is another locus of our identification. Often, you discover your European identity while traveling or living abroad, just like Americans have discovered the reverse while staying in Europe. Being in the European Union helps us to build a successful Poland and therefore strengthen a new Polish pride based on success rather than on the wrongs that we suffered in the past.”

I could not agree more. And, I cannot wait to get to start his book ‘The Polish House’ on our upcoming vacation to the Dominican Republic.