Editor’s note: Aleksander is a former SPP student and currently attends university in his native land of Poland. He’ll be a temporary guest on the SPP Blog, offering his story and advice along the way. Read Aleksander’s Introduction here.
Deciding to pause your life in your homeland isn’t easy. Trust me – I have been through this. For some, having a fresh start is much desired; for some it’s not. For those who don’t want to start a new chapter in their life, I have only one cliche for you: get out of your comfort zone. Growth happens outside your comfort zone. If you’re worried that you won’t adapt to a new environment, think again. Humans have colonized nearly all of Earth (besides Antarctica, where there are no permanent human settlements).
How did I come up with the idea to study in the United States?
Long story short: a representative of the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, came to my school once. He was talking about studying abroad in the U.S. I loved the idea right away, so I pulled my phone out of my pocket and texted my parents. The decision changed my life forever.
How did I prepare for my trip?
The preparations lasted for about five years. I wanted to leave the year after I learned about the possibility to study in the U.S., however, after some thought, it was not a smart idea. If I studied in the U.S. right away, I would most likely have to take the same classes all over again later on in Poland. The fire to study abroad slowly burned out as the years passed. Luckily, my parents didn’t give up that easily.
When I reached 11th grade (or as we say it in Poland, the second class of high school), my parents and I decided studying abroad my senior year would be the best idea. I chose the U.S. over other countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. I looked for many different programs and schools, but one that caught my attention was a school in downtown Miami, Florida. Sounds perfect, right?
Well, not really.
At first, sure: all the hype about Miami is perhaps not false, but it would have been extremely hard to get a high school diploma for that school. That meant there was a possibility this would be a wasted academic year. Second of all, it is way too hot there for me. For all the people not familiar with Warsaw’s climate, temperatures range from -6 C to 24 C (sorry Americans, time to get on the same page as the rest of the world). Lastly, it was way out of my parents’ financial range.
Then I began checking out different schools in the Midwestern USA. I didn’t quite like what I saw: all of the schools were in the middle of nowhere. I am a big city guy.
At last, I found out about St. Paul Prep, which seemed like a perfect match for me. It does get reaaaally cold there (Minnesota), but I suppose it would be easier to adapt to the excessive cold than the excessive warmth. What’s also worth mentioning is that Minnesota is one of the “healthiest” states in the U.S. I also knew I would be able to get a high school diploma, and the price was okay, too.
Next step was getting a visa, but that was a rather straightforward process. The worst part about it was standing in line in front of the embassy. That’s it.
How was the flight to the U.S.?
The transatlantic flight could have been something pleasant, if not for my height (I’m 189cm. I did not have much leg room).
When I arrived in Mini-soda (speaking of soda: Minnesotans use the word “pop” in reference to sugary, carbonated beverages), it turned out that my baggage was missing. I had to give my address to a representative of the airline I was flying with, and my baggage was brought to me later that afternoon. Whew!
How were the first days in St. Paul?
I won’t lie to you: the first night might be really tough. You will realize that whether you like it or not, you’ll be studying in St. Paul, Minnesota, for 10 months (Of course, I still had a few opportunities to visit my family and my hometown throughout the year). Regardless, I was still feeling homesick. I even cried myself to sleep that night. But this sadness passes, I assure you! Try to stay occupied the first few weeks. Try to get used to another language being spoken everywhere. Try to leave all the stereotypes (fat Americans everywhere, shootings everywhere, etc) back home.
Since I was placed in a family close to downtown St. Paul, I went on a walk on the first day after my arrival. I was impressed with what the city looked like. I even went to visit SPP. My first impression? “Wow. I’m going to study here.”
The next day, pictures for IDs were taken. My first encounter with SPP stuff. Even before the start of my new adventure, I knew somebody from Poland. One of the best pieces of advice I can give: get to know somebody from your home country before you leave. I can’t stress enough how much easier things were, thanks to the fact I had known somebody before arriving at SPP.
How will I get to know other people at SPP?
Worry not. SPP organizes a camp, where you’ll get to make new friends and hang out with your new buddies. How was it? Sadly, “keine Ahnung”, as the Germans say. That’s because I missed the camp due to an illness.
In my next post, I will describe how awesome it is to study at SPP. Make sure to follow SPP’s social media pages to follow along!
Aleksander Jess (@AJWRSW)