It’s official—as if we didn’t know—I cannot get citizenship in Poland by descent. I turned over every stone. I did as much research into my great-grandparents and grandfather as I could, but I hit a wall. I couldn’t find a loophole. I sure tried!
I did learn quite a bit about my Polish family. I continue seeking small details whenever I have some spare time. I am grateful that I could find as much information as I have so far. I felt sad that much of our culture was lost instead of being handed down from my grandfather to my mother and then to me. But those people are gone now and I’m on my own.
As I’ve said before, my family took great pains to change our last name and hide our Polish-ness. My mother stopped speaking Polish words around me once I was old enough to repeat them. My grandparents even chose to leave their home in Cleveland’s Slavic Village around 1965.
What Makes Me Feel So Connected to Poland, Then?
I’ve always felt drawn to our family’s Polish culture, even as a kid. I once used my coffee shop job money as a teenager to buy a small Polish dictionary. I had hoped I could learn, or re-learn, some words. My mother wasn’t quite willing to help me, but she did remind me of a few words our family used.
Our family’s stance was stubborn. We were American first, Polish second. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, all my friends had strong cultures. I was envious of my Hindu, Jewish, Asian, South Asian, Latin, and Arab friends. They had amazing celebrations, languages, dress, dance, music, and ties to their cultures. I simply didn’t have the equivalent. I wanted to get in touch with being Polish (and Swedish). I didn’t know where to begin. That Polish dictionary was my only touchstone.
(For the record, I can find more on my Polish ancestors than I can about my Swedish ancestors! If you’re into researching your Polish genealogy, you may find this hard to believe, but it’s true!)
The Onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic Made Me Hunger for Poland
I moved the week the pandemic began in 2020. I had an a-ha moment as I unpacked my great-grandparents’ photo. It’s a lovely black and white picture of them with my mother, then a baby, standing next to the Christmas tree. They were standing in my grandparents’ house in the Polish neighborhood of Cleveland. I remember looking at their photo and thinking, “You two survived a pandemic. What would you have to tell me now about surviving this one?”
Looking into my family’s background took me on a beautiful journey.
Inspired by the idea that I could find the answer to the above questions somehow, I began my research into the lives they lived. How and why had they come to the United States from Poland? What makes a teenager get on a steamer ship to come to the United States? My great-grandparents were brave young people who came to a country they didn’t know. They had nothing. They spoke no English. Their only plan was to work, start a family, and become Americans. They had no country to return to, after all.
For the moment, I can’t travel. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have gotten on a plane to Poland by now. I’ve been researching my Polish genealogy for over a year. For now, learning to speak Polish online will have to do. I’m also reading about Polish history and following Polish news. I’ve also tried to re-create my grandmother’s recipes!
Once the Pandemic is Over Though…
I have to see Cleveland’s Slavic Village and the places my great-grandparents called home in Ohio. I also have to see Poland! I want to see where Wincenty and Wladyslawa came from, even if those places are not in Poland. (More likely in modern-day Belarus).
But The Question Remains: Should I Apply for Polish Citizenship by Presidential Grant?
Now that I can’t find a loophole to gain Polish citizenship by descent, I need to feel into the decision I need to make. Knowing it will be a lengthy and difficult process—how passionate am I? Not to mention, it will be expensive. It’s also not a guarantee. There are going to be many difficult places along this journey where I could lose my motivation to work toward this.
Why don’t I get a tourist visa or do the digital nomad thing to see Poland? Will that scratch the itch? Why do I need this to be “official” and become an actual citizen? Am I Polish citizen material? Will my application be denied after years of effort and expense? That’s a very real risk.
Am I willing to take this risk?
The more I ask myself these questions, the more I feel a plan is taking shape. I can get to Poland. I can experience the country of my ancestors and find more ways to feel Polish along the way. Yes, I want to belong there. I want the label and privileges citizenship brings.
The journey appeals to me. I may not gain citizenship, but I will continue to grow as a Polish-American woman. I may not need a red passport to feel Polish. There are many ways I can get in touch with my Polish heritage from right where I am.
Then I saw this video, and I realized that some of what I am feeling is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
The man in the video makes modern Poland make so much sense! Especially to someone like me, who has yet to go experience the country firsthand. He answers every question a person could have and paints Poland in a beautiful light. It’s too bad my grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t live to see the Poland he describes! (They left—stateless—in the early 1900s). As someone who spends time each week writing about DevOps, the skills gap, and coding — this video speaks to me.
I watched another video in which he says, “Poles come home.”
That really hit me in the heart.
There are others like me, who hunger for Poland and we can’t explain why. Now, there’s still a part of me that wants to spend winters —or entire years— enjoying beach weather. But the deepest part of my soul is crying out for Poland, too. (Which also has beaches, but not quite the Caribbean beach weather that is my first choice).
Is Life in Poland Better?
In some ways, I can’t help but think life in Poland could be superior to the life I live in the USA. I don’t want to look to Poland to solve the problems created by my U.S. citizenship. Poor healthcare, high taxes, low quality of life, divisive politics, and high crime rates are some of the problems making it exhausting to live in the United States.
Since I work in tech marketing, Poland could have professional opportunities for me. But, I am no longer a 9-5 worker who works in an office. I’m a freelancer and fledgling entrepreneur. Would Poland be good for that?
Some current news reports say yes:
GEM Poland Report Underscores Strong Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Country
Polish Women Most Entrepreneurial in EU, 5th in the World
“‘According to TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021, “Poland is becoming an important European tech ecosystem after experiencing record levels of investment and growth in recent years.” According to a report by Dealroom, “Poland has also long been known as home to a pool of great developer talent – the largest in Central and Eastern Europe at 401K, over twice the number of Romania in second place (139K).’”Yahoo Finance
Perhaps a longer blog post (at a later time) about the business climate of Poland is warranted.
For now, I am weighing the decision on whether to dedicate years of time, money, and effort to becoming a Polish citizen by Presidential Grant. Is it a risk I am willing to take? I think so. I don’t know that I can decide this overnight. It’s a big step.
What I am decided on is taking the journey.
After surviving Covid-19 and not working for a third of this year, this isn’t yet financially possible right now. But what is possible? I can learn the language. I can learn the history.
I don’t think I can avoid pursuing this.
It’s in my heart and soul to explore this. As I recover and get stronger, I can look into making travel future plans. At the point when it makes sense, I’m sure the pieces will come together. The right time will meet the preparation. I’ll document the journey here, including all the things I learn.