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Inside The Mind Of A First-Generation Polish-American College Student

Inside The Mind Of A First-Generation Polish-American College Student

It’s finally that time of the year again — the time of the annual European Union Film Festival in Chicago. Like a book, a film begins with a character or situation we care about. Having spent most of my adult life as an immigrant, including relocating, jumping bureaucratic hurdles and dealing with social strains, I have tremendous respect for any immigrant experience, including its joys and its struggles. So I instantly admired the story of World Sport Chicago’s Scholar Alexandra Skital, a first-generation Polish-American college student, who is gearing up for her graduation from Purdue University in May.

When you tour around mom and pop ethnic restaurants in Chicago, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a positive human experience. Tasting delicious Pierogi topped with fried onions, you come to a conclusion that Polish immigrants who were seeking a better life have indeed found it. However, as the documentary “The Fourth Partition”, which portrays Chicago as the center of Polish culture at the dawn of the 20th century, explains, Polish people were often portrayed as ethnically inferior and worked in some of the most dangerous factories and mills in the city. A cultural shift in a “melting pot” of global cultures has helped to create conditions for a stronger social safety net, However, immigrants still face numerous snags. Language barriers. The lack of cultural capital. Family members are left behind.

Much has been said about the struggles and obstacles of the first generation students. These discussions are often co-opted by questions of race, overlooking other elements of poverty, such as nationality and native language. “Low-income, first generation students are in the minority at Purdue. When other students heard me speaking Polish to my parents over the phone, many were surprised and told me that I was the first Polish person I met,” Skital explained.

In an economy where better jobs are demanding more and more networking, education, and technological know-how, it’s getting harder and harder for young children to overcome the knowledge and cultural gaps. Young people need access to mentors and role models who can help them overcome these obstacles and achieve their goals. And that’s what the WSC Scholarship Program is all about.

Being both a first generation American and college-student, I was overwhelmed by the application process, and my parents didn’t have the means to help me. They weren’t familiar with the schools and the system,” Skital said. “World Sport Chicago gave me so much more than just a scholarship. I was very lucky to have Stephanie Miller as my mentor. The program has provided me with a strong network to navigate through college. It pushed me to be the best student, athlete and person.”

WSC Scholar Alexandra Skital.

WSC Scholar Alexandra Skital

Skital who will be earning her degree in Business Management with minors in International and Strategic management, has already accepted a job offer with MB Financial Bank in Chicago. She is also planning on applying to MBA programs in the future and will run her first marathon this summer.

But even though riches don’t remain out of Skital’s reach, her hard work has been paved with multiple barriers. “When I joined Purdue, I found myself working over 30 hours a week, having a full schedule of classes, and remained an active athlete swimmer. I was extremely stressed and had regular breakdowns with tears. My grades were slipping and I eventually came to the point where I realized something had to change,” Skital reflected.

Indeed, something has to change. Skital’s story brings a soft acceptance of conflicting feelings — optimism and setbacks, isolation and inclusion — feelings, I believe, are common to every nomad since the dawn of humanity. And this is what really matters. Or at least should matter — the humanity. Skital is able to have the life she has because World Sport Chicago and its dedicated staff have offered her the same kind of treatment they offered to the students of any background. I owe so much to World Sport Chicago and I’m so incredibly thankful for being a part of this incredible program. I wouldn’t have attended Purdue without the help from WSC. Thank you a million,” Skital concluded.

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