Leaving your home country, moving across the ocean and leaving behind everything you have grown up knowing can easily cause nerves to soar with worries of the journey ahead. For Dominika Donjnikowski and her family, this new experience and complete life change was quite the opposite.
Excitement for new opportunities ahead and the creation of a future that would be different from their family’s back in Poland ultimately made the journey to the United States all that much easier.
Dominika’s father was the first in her family to arrive to the United States after the long process of entering into the lottery system finally paid off with him receiving his green card. Dominika’s family viewed traveling across the ocean to a new country as a blank slate to start anew, as they made the most of living in a new culture. A year after working hard in a small pizza shop, enough money was saved up for the rest of Dominika’s family to be reunited in their new home.
For Dominika, this life change her parents and older sister experienced would not be the same experience for her. Dominika is the first in her entire family to be born in the United States and the only one to have birthright citizenship. Growing up in the United States, however, did not take away her strong Polish roots.
Attending many Polish parades and attending Polish school on Sundays aided in keeping her family’s culture alive, all while embracing a new country with its own customs. Traditional Polish meals were cooked everyday, even in her elementary school lunches. Homemade Polish foods, like polish sausage, pickles and radishes, took the place of the average peanut butter & jelly sandwich.
“I always liked having different food than the other kids because I found it very unique and cool,” says Dominika.
Keeping their home country’s traditions and culture alive in Dominika’s household was a very important concept to her parents, despite now living an ocean away from Poland.
The cultural differences created difficulties, but Dominika overcame them with great strides of confidence, understanding at a young age that she had little choice to do otherwise. Not learning how to speak or write English until entering kindergarten set her apart from her peers at a very young age. Dominika’s parents did not understand the English language very well either. So at the age of 5, Dominika was learning English for the first time alongside her parents. Being able to learn a new language at the same time as her parents, was a unique experience — one that helped bring the family closer together.
Sacrifices, however, were made to support the life-changing decision to come to the United States and even decades later sacrifices are still made every day.
While in Poland, Dominika’s parents worked as a kindergarten teacher and as a publisher for a novel company. When they made the transition to living in the United States, their professions changed drastically – her father now working for a furniture store and her mother working as a housekeeper. Her parents’ constant grind and strong work ethic is evidently very instilled in Dominika’s own personality and mindset. She learned quickly how to be a very independent individual when she was younger, as her parents were still adjusting to their new culture at that time. Wanting to constantly improve herself and to take the opportunity to receive a college education is heavily-centered around making her parents’ sacrifices worth it.
“I don’t want to mess up the opportunity to go to college and further my education,” says Dominika.
Their sacrifices allowed Dominika and her sister to have a future filled with more opportunities than they could have ever imagined growing up. Working hard to make both her family back in Poland and her parents proud is not a want, but a need in Dominika’s life.